Nutrition Advice Makes Heart-Healthy Diet More Satisfying

December 2002 - People who received dietary counseling to help them lower their cholesterol levels reported higher levels of satisfaction with their quality of life and health care than individuals who tried to lower their cholesterol in other ways, according to a new study.

Although conventional wisdom suggests that high cholesterol patients will balk at switching to a heart-healthy diet, assuming that the changes will inconvenience them or restrict their enjoyment of food, the study authors noted an opposite effect.

"Contrary to popular belief, there is no apparent reduction, but rather an improvement, in some measures of quality of life and patient satisfaction with medical nutritional therapy for high cholesterol," say Linda M. Delahanty, M.S., R.D., of the Diabetes Center of Massachusetts General Hospital and colleagues.

Patients who received the medical nutritional therapy reported being more satisfied with their ability to manage their cholesterol, their health care visits, their appearance and eating habits and their overall health. The counseled group also said that they didn't feel deprived of their enjoyment of food, inconvenienced while shopping or preparing food or restricted from eating out on their new diet plan.

The study results are published in the December issue of the journal Annals of Behavioral Medicine.

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In the study, half of a group of 90 high cholesterol patients, women and men ages 28 to 66, received special counseling from a registered dietitian or nutrition professional as part of their medical care for their condition. For six months, the dietitians provided personalized feedback on diet changes, as well as educational materials ranging from brochures, handwritten individual instructions and even recipe suggestions.

The other half of the group received only usual care for high cholesterol from their personal physicians, consisting mostly of verbal advice and preprinted handouts on how to reduce cholesterol levels.

The counseled group significantly lowered their cholesterol levels, improved their dietary intake and activity levels, and lost more weight compared to the usual care group. But the researchers said an even more important finding was that the counseled group experienced these healthy gains while maintaining or improving their quality of life.

Delahanty and colleagues surveyed both groups on the effects of their treatment on their enjoyment of food, the convenience of preparing a low-fat diet, their knowledge about ways to control cholesterol and their satisfaction both with their self-care routine and with their counseling or doctor's visits.

The survey results showed that individuals receiving nutritional counseling felt better about their overall health and more satisfied with their care after six months than traditional care individuals did, an effect that continued six months after the study's completion.

Delahanty and colleagues suggest that follow-up studies are needed to see if these results differ in high cholesterol patients with different ethnic and income backgrounds, as well in older patients where the psychological effects of dietary changes might be more significant.

This research was funded in part by the American Dietetic Association Foundation, the E.P. Charlton Charitable Foundation and the Massachusetts General Hospital Clinical Research Center.

Source: Health Behavior News Service