Eating a healthy diet that is low in fat, high in fiber and rich in fruits and vegetables may seem fraught with sacrifice, but it actually adds to a sense of personal satisfaction, according to a new study.
Previous studies have shown that people who follow this type of diet reduce their risks of developing heart disease, some forms of cancer, stroke and diabetes.
"Participants who adopted and maintained the [study] eating plan for four years reported greater confidence in their ability to care for their health, greater belief that food choices would improve health and more awareness of health and nutrition messages," says lead author Donald Corle of the National Cancer Institute.
All the participants in this study had experienced a polyp in their large bowel; 194 people agreed to change their diets to prevent a recurrence and 200 people continued their typical eating regimen. On average, study participants were about 60 years old when the study began in 1993.
"Contrary to common perceptions of low-fat diets, participants did not report any detrimental effects of the eating plan on taste, cost, the convenience of shopping for and preparing foods, their overall health assessment and general well-being or satisfaction with life," Corle says.
The study is published in the August issue of the Annals of Behavioral Medicine,
Those on the healthy diet were counseled to obtain approximately 20 percent of their calories from fat, to consume 18 grams of dietary fiber per 1,000 calories and to have three-and-a-half servings of fruits and vegetables per 1,000 calories. This worked out to five-to-eight servings per day.
The participants also kept detailed records of the food they ate and received more than 60 hours of counseling on behavior modification techniques and nutrition, which included assistance with meal preparation and recipe modification, .
Over a four-year period, participants were asked to rate the effect of their dietary changes.
The questions asked of the participants "focus on changes in self-perceived physical and emotional well-being, satisfaction with diet and self-care," the investigators say. "Our findings suggest that a low-fat, high-fiber, fruit and vegetable-enriched eating plan can be adopted without negative impact on overall perception of quality of life."
The only hint of difficulty was in maintaining the diet while eating away from home, with those eating the healthier diet reporting more problems when eating with others than did people who did not modify their diets. This aspect of eating requires more research, Corle notes.
Corle speculates that the counseling, combined with increased availability of low-fat products in supermarkets, helped make the healthier diet more convenient for participants.
"In fact, many positive changes in quality of life perceptions were reported by participants. These data provide evidence that adoption of a low-fat, high-fiber, and high fruit-vegetable eating plan can be recommended without fear of negative" results, Corle says.