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The Deadliest Diets

Study ID's 2 Eating Patterns That Make Older Adults Die Sooner
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WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD

Dec. 22, 2010 -- Two specific eating patterns increase the risk of death for older adults, a 10-year study finds.

Compared to people who ate healthy foods, men and women in their 70s had a 40% higher risk of death if they got most of their calories from high-fat dairy foods or from sweets and desserts.

University of Maryland researcher Amy L. Anderson, PhD, and colleagues monitored the eating patterns of 2,582 adults aged 70 to 79. They found that these diets fell into six patterns or clusters.

After adjusting for risk factors such as sex, age, race, education, physical activity, smoking, and total calories, "the High-Fat Dairy Products cluster and the Sweets and Desserts cluster still showed significantly higher risk of mortality than the Healthy Foods cluster," Anderson and colleagues found.

The six dietary patterns were:

  • Healthy Foods: Higher intake of low-fat dairy products, fruit, whole grains, poultry, fish, and vegetables. Lower intake of meat, fried foods, sweets, high-energy drinks, and added fat.
  • High-Fat Dairy Products: Higher intake of ice cream, cheese, 2% and whole milk, and yogurt. Lower intake of poultry, low-fat dairy products, rice, and pasta.
  • Sweets and Desserts: Higher intake of doughnuts, cake, cookies, pudding, chocolate, and candy. Lower intake of fruit, fish and other seafood, and dark green vegetables.
  • Meat, Fried Foods, and Alcohol: Higher intake of beer, liquor, fried chicken, mayonnaise/salad dressings, high-energy density drinks, nuts, snacks, rice/pasta dishes, and added fat. Lower intake of low-fat dairy products, fiber/bran breakfast cereal, and other breakfast cereal.
  • Breakfast Cereal: Higher intake of fiber/bran and other breakfast cereals (especially the latter). Low intake of nuts, refined grains, dark yellow vegetables, and dark green vegetables.
  • Refined Grains: Higher intake of refined grains (such as pancakes, waffles, breads, muffins, and cooked cereals such as oatmeal) and processed meat (such as bacon, sausage, ham, and other lunch meats). Lower intake of liquor, breakfast cereals, and whole grains.

Several of the groups got an unusually large amount of their total calories from just one food group:

  • The sweets and desserts cluster got 25.8% of its total energy from sweets.
  • The refined grains cluster got 24.6% of its total energy from refined grains.
  • The breakfast cereal group got 19.3% of its total energy from cold cereals other than those full of fiber and bran.
  • The high-fat dairy products group got 17.1% of its total energy from higher-fat dairy foods.

 

Healthy Eaters Live Longest

Overall, people in the healthy foods cluster had more years of healthy life and a lower death rate than all other groups. Moreover, their blood tests came back with significantly more indicators of health than the other groups.

But not all of the study findings were so predictable.

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