The diet appears to be linked to greater health and wellbeing
Maintaining health and well-being in aging populations is critical.
Dr. Cecilia Samieri, PhD, researcher currently at a INSERM and Universite de Bordeaux, Department of Nutritional epidemiology, conducted this new study while at Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston.
Dr. Samieri and colleagues examined the association between dietary patterns in midlife and prevalence of healthy aging in a cross-sectional observational study.
The study consisted of 10,670 women who participated in the Nurse’s Healthy Study, were free of chronic diseases between 1984 and 1986 ,aged late 50’s to early 60’s with an median age of 59 years. Women provided information on health an average of 15 years later.
Researchers evaluated their diets. Diet quality in midlife was identified using the Alternative Healthy Eating Index-2010 (AHEI-2010) and Alternate Mediterranean diet scores, averaged from 2 food-frequency questionnaires (1984 to 1986). “Healthy” aging was defined as survival to 70 years or older with maintenance of 4 health domains: no major chronic diseases or major impairments in cognitive or physical function or mental health.
According to Dr. Samieri, "The Mediterranean diet is characterized by greater intake of [fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole grains] and fish; lower intake of red and processed meats; moderate intake of alcohol; higher amounts of [monounsaturated fats, mostly provided by olive oil from Mediterranean countries]; and lower amounts of [saturated fats],"
After multivariable adjustment, greater adherence to the Alternative Healthy Eating Index-2010 in midlife was related to 34%greater odds of healthy versus usual aging. Greater adherence to the Mediterranean diet was related to 46%greater odds of healthy aging
When the 4 components of healthy aging were examined separately both diets were significantly associated with greater likelihood of no major limitations in physical function and mental health.
In their conclusion the researchers write “Better diet quality at midlife seems to be strongly linked to greater health and well-being in persons surviving to older ages.”
This study did not look at men but past studies on diet and healthy aging have found no gender differences, "so it seems reasonable to believe that the benefit would be similar,” said Dr. Samieri. She adds that the assumption needs to be proven.
She notes that the analysis suggests that the overall healthy diet patterns had a greater impact rather than any individual food.
Other studies also have found that healthy diets such as the Mediterranean diet are linked to better long-term health, but this new study is only observational.
Connie Diekman, Director of University Nutrition, Washington University, St. Louis, member of the Academy for Eating Disorders and The Obesity Society, stated that other studies also have found that healthy diets such as the Mediterranean diet are linked to better long-term health, but this new study is only observational, that means "cause and effect cannot be conclusively linked.
In closing she adds "We know that healthier behaviors in women, and men, become a pattern, and thus a lifestyle that promotes health.”
This study is published in the Annals of Internal Medicine.