Is there a benefit to eating a more nutritious diet, no matter what your age?
I’ve always said yes to this question and was relieved that an article in The New England Journal of Medicine confirmed this advice I so freely dispense. The data is from 74,000 health professionals participating in a long-term study of health behaviors.
Researchers analyzed dietary data and mortality from 1986-1998. They found that a 20 percentile improvement in diet scores was associated with an 8-17 percent reduction in total mortality By contrast, worsening diet quality over 12 years was associated with an increase in mortality of 6-12 percent.
Two takeaways from this study: A few small changes can result in a 20-percentile improvement. Eat 1-2 more servings of vegetables a day, enjoy fatty fish a few times a week, or start adding fiber-rich beans to soups and salads. Fresh fruit, too, is good.
The second takeaway is that if it tastes good, these changes become part of your usual intake. This is lifetime eating, not a quick fix. And this doesn’t mean indulgences are forbidden as long as the majority of your foods are bursting with nutrition. Most of the subjects were 60 years or older — showing that it is never too late to improve your diet.
Another analysis of this same data set was published this month in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology. These researchers looked at the type of plant-based foods associated with lower cardiac risk. The heart disease risk was lowest in people who ate fruits, vegetables, beans, nuts and whole grains such as oatmeal and brown rice. Less nutritious plant-based foods such as highly processed grains including white bread and white pasta and sugared drinks did not provide the same heart benefit.
For tips and more, go to heart.org
Sheah Rarback is a registered dietitian on the faculty of the University of Miami Leonard M. Miller School of Medicine. Follow her on Twitter @sheahrarback.