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Eat Right for a Long, Healthy Life

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Seniors who regularly eat a diet rich in fruits, veggies and whole grains, live longer those whose diets were rich in sweets, fat, or fried food

Specific dietary nutrients, such as vitamins and minerals, are essential for health and longevity. But a study in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association found that a person’s overall dietary pattern may be what’s most important for enjoying a long, healthy life. The study revealed that older people who regularly eat a diet rich in whole foods such as fruits, veggies and whole grains, live longer those whose diets were rich in sweets, fat, or fried food.

A balanced diet wins again

In this study, 2,582 men and women (70 to 79 years old), participating in the Health, Aging, and Body Composition (Health ABC) Study, filled out dietary questionnaires to assess their overall dietary pattern and were followed for ten years. Participants were placed, according to the predominant foods they ate, into one of six dietary pattern groups which included: Healthy Foods; High-Fat Dairy Products; Sweets and Desserts; Breakfast Cereal; Refined Grains; and Meat, Fried Foods, and Alcohol.

Results showed:

  • People who followed the Healthy Foods dietary pattern enjoyed more years of life than the other groups. Those who followed this pattern typically ate an abundance of low-fat dairy products, fruit, veggies, poultry, fish, and whole grains, and ate less fried foods, meat, or added fat.
  • The Healthy Foods group had better nutritional markers such as higher levels of folate, vitamin B12, and beta carotene compared with the High-Fat Dairy Products and Sweets and Dessert groups.
  • After controlling for factors that could invalidate the results, such as education level, physical activity, and smoking, the High-Fat Dairy Products and Sweets and Dessert groups had a significantly greater risk of dying compared with the Healthy Foods group.

“In the past century, the leading causes of death have shifted from infectious diseases to chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease and cancer, which may be influenced by diet,” said Amy L. Anderson, PhD, and her colleagues from the Department of Nutrition and Food Science, University of Maryland, College Park, MD. “As the older adult population increases, so does the need to identify how dietary choices affect quality of life and survival.”

Tips for a long life

In addition to eating plenty of whole foods such as fruits and veggies, here are three of the most important things you can do to enjoy a long, healthy life:

  1. Watch sugar intake. Glucotoxicity—too much sugar in the body—leads to a cascade of events, which can lead to premature aging and chronic disease. Limit the amount of sugar you eat and choose healthy snacks over highly processed and high-sugar options. Read food labels in the grocery store and look for sugar and fat content, opting for low- or no-sugar and low- or non-fat products.
  2. Limit calories. Being overweight or obese is a major risk factor for an early demise, so restrict calories based on a doctor’s recommendations in order to maintain a healthy weight.
  3. Drop the bad habits. Hopefully, by now, most of us know that smoking and drinking in excess significantly raise the risk of disease and a shortened life-span. Kick the habit for a long, healthy life and if you drink, drink in moderation. And stay clear of second-hand smoke, which increases the risk of death and disease as well.

(J Am Diet Assoc 2011;111:84–91)

Jane Hart, MD, board-certified in internal medicine, serves in a variety of professional roles including consultant, journalist, and educator. Dr. Hart, a Clinical Instructor at Case Medical School in Cleveland, Ohio, writes extensively about health and wellness and a variety of other topics for nationally recognized organizations, websites, and print publications. Sought out for her expertise in the areas of integrative and preventive medicine, she is frequently quoted by national and local media. Dr. Hart is a professional lecturer for healthcare professionals, consumers, and youth and is a regular corporate speaker.

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