Diet restrictions might not matter after a certain age, study finds

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Restricting the diet of people 75 and older may not make them healthier, according to a recent study.

The five-year study involved 449 Pennsylvania residents, most of who were in their mid-70s. The participants self-reported their diets on a regular basis to Penn State and the Geisinger Healthcare System researchers, who classified each diet in one of three categories: sweets and dairy, health-conscious, or Western.

“The ‘sweets and dairy' pattern was characterized by the largest proportions of energy from baked goods, milk, sweetened coffee and tea and dairy-based desserts, and the lowest intakes of poultry,” the university said. “The ‘health-conscious' pattern was characterized by relatively higher intakes of pasta, noodles, rice, whole fruit, poultry, nuts, fish and vegetables, and lower intakes of fried vegetables, processed meats and soft drinks. The ‘Western' pattern was characterized by higher intakes of bread, eggs, fats, fried vegetables, alcohol and soft drinks, and the lowest intakes of milk and whole fruit.”

The researchers used electronic medical records to correlate each person's diet with cardiovascular disease, diabetes mellitus, hypertension and metabolic syndrome. The researchers discovered only one link between diet and these conditions, finding increased hypertension among those on a “sweets and dairy” diet. This led them to conclude that extremely restrictive diet regimens for this age group are likely not needed.

Those who have healthy eating habits throughout their lives are likely to be healthier than those who eat poorly, noted researcher Gordon Jensen, M.D., Ph.D., head of the Department of Nutritional Sciences at Penn State. However, once the 75-year threshold is reached, dietary changes may not make much difference.

The study was funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Agricultural Research Service and appears in the Journal of Nutrition Health and Aging.

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