Older people who eat healthy diets 'lead longer lives'

healthy foods Volunteers in the 'healthy food cluster' ate more fruit, whole grains, poultry, fish and low fat dairy

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Older people who follow healthy diets may live longer, a study suggests.

Research in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association found those who ate a low-fat diet that contained lots of fruit and vegetables lowered their risk of dying over 10 years.

The study compared the diets of 2,500 US adults aged 70 to 79.

Those who ate a high fat diet rich in ice cream, cheese, and whole milk, had the highest risk of death.

The study showed that 12 extra people in every hundred survived over the ten years, if they ate healthily.

Participants were split into six different groups, according to how often they ate certain foods.

The groups were: healthy foods; high-fat diary products; meat, fried foods and alcohol; breakfast cereal; refined grains and sweets and desserts.

Those who had a "healthy foods" diet ate more low-fat dairy products, fruit, whole grains, poultry, fish, and vegetables.

People in this group had healthier lifestyles too; smoking less and being more active than other participants.

The groups

  • The high fat dairy products cluster contained 332 people. 109 of them died over the 10 year period - 34%.
  • The "sweets and desserts" cluster contained 339 people. 104 of them died over the 10 year period - 32%.
  • The healthy foods cluster contained 374 people. 77 of them died over the 10 year period - 21%.

They also ate lower amounts of meat, fried foods, sweets, high-calorie drinks, and added fat.

The "high fat dairy products" cluster ate more ice cream, cheese and whole milk and yogurt. They ate less poultry, low fat dairy products, rice, and pasta.

Researchers found that those who followed a predominantly high fat, dairy products diet, had a higher death risk than those in the healthy food group.

No significant differences in death risk were seen between the "healthy foods" eaters and the "breakfast cereal" or "refined grains" eaters.

Lead researcher, Dr Amy Anderson, from the University of Maryland, said the results suggest "older adults who ...consume relatively high amounts of vegetables, fruit, whole grains, low-fat dairy products, poultry and fish, may have a lower risk of mortality".

Saturated fat

British dietitian Lucy Jones, who is a spokesperson for the British Dietetic Association, said that saturated fat and trans fatty acids (a type of fat found in processed foods) were a common factor for those in the higher risk groups.

What should older people eat?

  • Foods rich in starch and fibre
  • Iron-rich foods
  • Vitamin-C rich foods
  • Calcium-rich foods
  • Foods rich in folic acid
  • Plenty of fluids
  • Source: Food Standards Agency

"The most harmful food groups appear to be the 'sweets and desserts' group and the 'high fat dairy group' in terms of risk of death," she said.

"These groups are both high in saturated fat and trans fatty acids in addition to calories, contributing to obesity and high cholesterol."

However, she noted that participants were not controlled for their weight and body mass index, which, she said, could mean that the increased risk of death was linked to being overweight.

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