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Healthy Eaters Live Longer and Better
People who follow current nutritional guidelines and consume a diet high in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, poultry, fish and low-fat dairy tend to have a better quality of life and a longer life than those who get most of their calories from high-fat dairy foods and sweets. These were the findings of a new study funded by the NIH's National Institute on Aging. They make official what dietary research has been showing for quite a few years.
The Health, Aging, and Body Composition (Health ABC) Study of over 2,500 adults aged 70 to 79 found that those who ate the healthiest foods had more years of healthy life and better levels of biomarkers like folate, vitamin B12, beta carotene, vitamin C, and vitamin E.
During this 10-year study, participants completed a food frequency questionnaire consisting of 108 food items. Study participants were then grouped according to their overall dietary pattern and monitored for the remainder of the study.
Researchers grouped people into six dietary patterns or clusters according to the food groups that contributed the most calories to their diets:
For example, study participants in the High-Fat Dairy Products cluster consumed more calories from ice cream cheese, and 2% and whole milk and yogurt and consumed less poultry, low-fat dairy foods, rice, and pasta. The Sweets and Desserts group ate more doughnuts, cake, cookies, pudding, chocolate, and candy and consumed less fruit, fish and other seafood, and dark green vegetables.
The Meat, Fried Foods, and Alcohol group was the most common eating pattern with 27% of the study participants falling into this category.
People in the Healthy Foods cluster (14.5% of the study participants) had a higher intake of low-fat dairy foods, fruit, whole grains, poultry, fish, and vegetables and a lower consumption of meat, fried foods, sweets, high-calorie beverages, and added fats. This cluster included a higher percentage of women, Caucasians, and people with a higher level of education and fewer pack-years of smoking.
After adjusting for sex, age, and race those in the Healthy Foods cluster had a lower risk of death than the High-Fat Dairy Products cluster, the Meat, Fried Foods, and Alcohol cluster, and the Sweets and Desserts cluster. After further adjusting for educational level, physical activity, smoking, and total calorie intake, the Healthy Foods cluster still had the lowest death rate compared to the High-Fat Dairy Products and the Sweets and Desserts clusters which had the highest death rates.
Those in the Healthy Foods cluster also came out on top with higher levels of folate, vitamin B12, beta carotene, vitamin C, and vitamin E than most other clusters.
Older adults are notoriously at risk for deficiencies of vitamin B12 and folate. These deficiencies are linked to an increased level of homocysteine in the blood which in turn has been related to conditions such as a decline in cognition, dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, heart disease, stroke, and death.
Inadequate levels of antioxidant nutrients (beta carotene, vitamins C and E) have been linked to an increased risk of chronic diseases such as cancer and cardiovascular disease.
According to the authors of the study, "…patterns associated with mortality in this and previous studies have features in common. Virtually all studies linked a dietary pattern high in food groups such as vegetables, fruit, whole grains, poultry, fish and low-fat dairy products to lower mortality compared to other dietary patterns. "
It is projected that the number of adults 65 years and older will double by the year 2030 reaching 973 million. Currently the leading causes of death are nutrition-related chronic diseases such as cancer and cardiovascular disease. The authors of the study concluded that "….adherence to [the Healthy Foods] diet appears a feasible and realistic recommendation for potentially improved survival and quality of life in the growing older adult population."
This study is published in the January 2011 issue of the Journal of the American Dietetic Association.
January 3, 2011
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