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Good diet never grows old

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Older adults who eat a healthy diet tend to live longer than those who indulge in desserts and high-fat dairy products, according to a new study in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association. With the projected doubling of our older population by 2030, what people put on their plates may be even more important.

For 10 years, researchers followed the eating habits of 2,500 healthy seniors aged 70 to 79. They found people who ate ice cream, whole milk and other high fat-dairy items had a 40% higher risk of dying during the decade of study than those who ate a healthful diet. People who ate sweets such as doughnuts, cakes, and cookies had a 37% higher risk of dying in that same 10 year study period.

The seniors were placed into one of the following 6 dietary categories depending upon what they ate: 1) Healthy foods 2) High-fat dairy products 3) Meat, fried foods and alcohol 4) Breakfast cereal 5) Refined grains and 6) Sweets and desserts. The people with the more healthful diets not only lived longer they also reported having a better quality of life, for a longer period of time than others.

“Our study and several previous studies suggest that it may be important what people eat at any age and that people can perhaps increase their quality of life and survival by following a healthy diet,” explains lead author Amy Anderson, Postdoctoral Researcher with the University of Maryland's Department of Nutrition and Food Science.

Eating healthy meant including more low-fat dairy products, fruits and vegetables, whole grains, poultry and fish in the diet as opposed to meat, fried foods, sweets, highly sugared drinks and other fatty foods. The healthy group got only 3% of their calories from high-fat dairy products such as cheese and ice cream, for example, while the high-fat dairy group got 17% of their calories from these foods. The healthier group also ate fewer sweets with only 6% of their calories coming from these treats compared to 25% by those in the desserts group.

The study noted that in the past century, the leading causes of death were from infectious diseases. Now people are dying from chronic illnesses such as heart disease and cancer, which are often tied to what we eat.

“I think this research is important, especially now with the baby boomers entering these older age groups. So if people have a higher quality of life and survival , if they're healthier, this can reduce the cost of health care and improve people's daily lives in general,” says Anderson.

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