Denise Vansant’s Cave Girl at the Beach provides Paleo foods to go.
Diane “V” Capaldi says the Paleo lifestyle has eased the effects of multiple sclerosis.
Many enthusiasts became familiar with the Paleo diet via the Whole30 Program, which follows the same concepts: Certain food groups, such as sugar, grains, dairy and legumes, could negatively impact one’s health. Participants follow the diet for 30 days to see how they feel and experiment.
Heather Hook of Wilmington is one of them. Hook decided to try the Whole30 when she couldn’t slide into a little-worn suit for a professional event. She hadn’t realized how much weight she’d gained until she had to put the suit back on the hanger and wear something else. She and 30 friends formed a Facebook page to encourage each other for the next 30 days.
Giving up sugar was an initial challenge. “You don’t realize that so many things have sugar in them, from alcohol to salad dressings,” she says. She didn’t lose significant weight, but she felt more energetic—and she stopped craving sugar. She continued following the principles and has since lost 40 pounds. That little-worn suit fit beautifully the last time she needed it.
She and Vansant are more relaxed about what they eat when they travel. At home, Hook says it helps to plan her meals for the week. “You feel dumb and awkward when you go out, asking for no sauce or a specialty plate, but most restaurants will adapt,” she says.
Like the Paleo diet, DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) stresses vegetables and fruits—up to four-to-five daily servings of each. Sweets are limited to less than five servings a week. It also espouses a low-sodium, high-potassium diet to help lower blood pressure, and it promotes whole-grain products. DASH has been shown to lower the risk of heart attack, stroke, heart failure, some types of cancer and type 2 diabetes. No wonder DASH has gotten high marks. U.S. News and World Report ranked it first overall on a list of 35 diets.
There’s also a version of DASH for people trying to lose weight. “The DASH eating plan happens to be perfect for weight loss because it’s based on foods that are naturally filling and satisfying … it is a plan that people enjoy following for a lifetime,” says Marla Heller, a registered dietitian and author of “The DASH Diet Action Plan” and, most recently, “The DASH Diet Younger You: Shed 20 Years—and Pounds—in Just 20 Weeks.”
You can go on the DASH diet without enrolling in a program; there are several books and websites devoted to the subject. Heller offers free support groups on Facebook. She suggests starting with the right amount of fruits and vegetables each day as a foundation. Then add the low-fat and nonfat dairy, nuts, beans, seeds, lean meats, fish, poultry and eggs. Next, incorporate the mostly whole grains and heart-healthy fats.
Unlike the DASH diet, the Dr. Dean Ornish Program for Reversing Heart Disease is a structured approach, developed by Ornish, a professor of medicine at the University of California, San Francisco, and founder of the Preventive Medicine Research Institute in Sausalito.
Medicare and several private insurers may fund the program if the insured meets certain criteria, such as having had a heart attack in the past 12 months, stable angina, a heart valve repair, a coronary artery bypass, a coronary angioplasty or coronary stenting or a heart or lung transplant. (Interested participants that don’t meet an insurer’s criteria can pay themselves.)
The diet stresses plant-based foods, predominately fruits, vegetables, beans and whole grains. Fat is limited to 10 percent of the total daily calories, and cholesterol is limited to 10 milligrams or less per day. There’s no caffeine other than some green tea, and tobacco is verboten. (Some say it’s more challenging to give up coffee than red meat.)
Participants attend 18 four-hour sessions (two sessions a week), where they learn to prepare plant-based meals and introduce fiber into their diets. “Most people don’t eat enough fiber, and if you add it too quickly, it can lead to digestive problems,” explains Debra Dobles, a registered dietitian and the Ornish dietitian and medical nutrition therapist at Beebe Healthcare. Participants also learn to cook without oils.
Exercise and stress reduction are key elements. “Many of the participants have gone through a tremendous amount of health and personal stress,” Dobles says. They learn meditation and yoga. There are also group discussions. “It’s a motivator,” she explains. They provide “love and support.” The program at Beebe is expected to start in late spring.
Flexitarians primarily follow a plant-based diet, but they are “flexible,” meaning they eat meat, poultry or fish in moderation, according to the Mayo Clinic. They may go meatless several days a week—or more. “It’s a rapidly growing trend for lots of reasons,” says Patricia Haddock, president and co-founder of VegRehoboth, which organizes the Rehoboth Beach VegFest. (It’s scheduled for July 12-14 this year.)
“While not yet completely vegetarian or vegan, these people know that plant-based meals are better for their health, for the environment and for animals,” she says. “We see so many [flexitarians] at our events. They eat mostly plant-based and do it on their own terms—without any rigid rules. Every meat-free meal helps.”
Gretchen Hanson, owner of Hobos Restaurant & Bar in Rehoboth Beach, would agree. “Everyone knows that eating more plant-based meals is better for you. Period,” says Hanson, who holds classes to teach home cooks how to make dishes without animal products. Think of meat as a flavoring or garnish, Hanson says, rather than the focus of the plate. Not only is this a healthy way to eat, but it also makes steroid-free, grass-fed and organic products more affordable.
Gretchen Hanson of Hobos Restaurant & Bar in Rehoboth Beach prepares a healthy dish.
The four lifestyle diets share some characteristics, namely incorporating more fruits and vegetables into your diet. But there are differences. The Ornish diet, for instance, favors beans. The Paleo diet does not. The Paleo diet allows coconut oil. The Ornish diet steers participants away from saturated fats. Even olive oil is out for Ornish followers seeking to reverse heart disease. “For one person, an avocado is great. For another, it’s not,” Hanson notes. “I might thrive on oat milk. Another person can’t eat oats.”
No matter the diet, keep it simple. All these plans turn their backs on refined sugars and packaged products that have a lengthy list of unpronounceable ingredients. Advises Hanson, “Cook from scratch with no processed foods.”