Eat This, It's Okay

Diet choices may not affect heart health among older populations

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Chris Galloway, M.D.

(RxWiki News) Limit the sugar and skip the fatty foods. With two-third of Americans being overweight, that's what nutritionists may often tell consumers to help them stop diseases related to having extra pounds.

But diets high in sugar and fat may not affect the odds of getting the diseases among older adults, a recently published study has found.

Though the results don't mean older adults should eat whatever they want, older individuals can consider their food options with less stress on how it affects their health.

"Eat a balanced diet."

The study, led by Pao Ying Hsiao, postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Nutritional Sciences at Penn State University, looked at how the diet and nutrition of 449 elderly adults affected their health.

Research interviewed participants, who averaged about 77 years old, several times over a 10-month period on their diet and eating history.

After looking through participants' electronic medical records, researchers tracked what kinds of diseases developed over a five-year period, including diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure and metabolic syndrome, which is a collection of potential causes for these problems.

Based on the records and interviews, researchers identified three dietary patterns and grouped patients into them based on their food habits.

Those in the "sweets and dairy" group ate large proportions of dairy-based desserts, sweetened coffee and tea, milk and baked goods.

The "health conscious" group ate a variety of foods covering the different food groups, and the "Western" group consumed more bread, fats, fried vegetables, eggs, soda and alcohol.

The chances of developing hypertension differed between the three groups. Among all the participants, 76.5 percent had hypertension, compared to about 27 percent with heart disease, 30 percent with type 2 diabetes, and 56 percent with metabolic syndrome.

For other diseases related to being overweight and obese, the odds of getting those diseases did not differ between the groups.

The odds that the "sweets" group would develop hypertension over the five-year period was more than twice as likely as those who were considered "health conscious."

"Although dietary patterns were significantly associated only with hypertension in this study, older adults should still be encouraged to consume balanced diets that enhance quality of life while also providing pleasure from food," researchers wrote in their report.

Almost 30 percent of the patients died by the end of the five-year period. Deaths and diet patterns were not linked, researchers said.

"We don't know if the participants had been following these dietary patterns their entire adult lives, but we suspect they had been because people don't usually change dietary practices all that much," said Gordon Jensen, MD, PhD, co-author of the study and head of the Department of Nutritional Sciences at Penn State. in a press release.

"The results suggest that if you live to be this old, then there may be little to support the use of overly restrictive dietary prescriptions, especially where food intake may already be inadequate. However, people who live on prudent diets all their lives are likely to have better health outcomes."

The authors noted they had a limited time period to test patients. People over the age of 75 have low rates of diseases, which may skew results.

In addition, some other link between diet and health could be affecting results.

The study, funded by the USDA's Agricultural Research Service, was published in the January 2013 issue of the Journal of Nutrition Health and Aging. The authors do not report any conflicts of interest.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
January 18, 2013
Last Updated:
January 30, 2013