No Magic Foods but Maybe a Magic Diet for Longevity

People always ask me what is the “best” food to eat or supplement to take for healthy aging. Despite the hype surrounding the latest and greatest magical food or pill (acai, pomegranate juice, glucoasamine, etc.) the better question might be what is the best dietary pattern for long life? A recent research paper published in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association (January, 2011)looked at dietary patterns of over 2,500 adults over a ten-year period. The men and women were between the ages of 70 and 79 when the study was started.

Researchers identified dietary pattern clusters and labeled them as:
1) healthy food cluster
2) high fat dairy products cluster
3) meat, fried food and alcohol cluster
4) breakfast cereal cluster
5) refined grains cluster
6) sweets and desserts cluster

Researchers found that that the 374 people who were in the healthy food cluster had a significantly lower risk of mortality (death)than the other clusters. The healthy food cluster included low-fat dairy foods (low fat yogurt or frozen yogurt, skim or 1% milk) fruit (fresh, canned or frozen), vegetables (not French fries, though), whole grains, poultry (not fried chicken) and fish and seafood (again, not the fried variety). They also found that those in the healthy food cluster got more exercise and had more non-smokers.

Two other interesting findings in this study; one of them unexpected. The unexpected finding was that eating red meat was not associated with higher mortality. That is good news because many older adults shun red meat thinking that all red meat is high in bad fats. Choosing lean cuts of red meat and keeping portions in check is a good way to get needed nutrients (zinc, iron and vitamin B12) that may be lacking in an older person’s diet.

Another finding was that those who ate foods from the healthy cluster had higher blood levels of 2 B-vitamins (folate and B12) that help to lower a blood protein, homocysteine. High levels of homocysteine have been linked to poor cognitive function, dementia, and Alzheimer’s disease.

So, this new year,take a look at your whole diet instead of focusing on a single food or nutrient for good health and long life. And, don’t forget to exercise like this older couple I spotted walking in Budapest.

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