Looking to age gracefully? Then you might want to think twice about that cheeseburger with a side of fries you were planning for lunch.
According to a new study that appeared in the American Journal of Modern Medicine, the grease and fat that are common in a traditional Western diet-think burgers and fries, pizza, Southern fried chicken, and mac and cheese-are linked to a greater chance of developing chronic diseases as we age.
“The impact of diet on specific age-related diseases has been studied extensively, but few investigations have adopted a more holistic approach to determine the association of diet with overall health at older ages,” said Tasnime Akbaraly, lead author and researcher at the department of epidemiology and public health at the University College London.
The study followed 5,350 British men and women with a mean age of 51 over the course of 16 years. Every five years, researchers compiled data including their eating habits, hospital records, and mortality rates. The study compared those unhealthy eating habits with those who adhered to the Alternative Healthy Eating Index, a program developed by a Harvard team as an alternative to USDA guidelines.
“We examined whether diet, assessed in midlife, using dietary patterns, and adherence to the Alternative Healthy Eating Index (AHEI), is associated with aging phenotypes, identified after a mean 16-year follow-up,” Akbaraly added in an interview with Medical Daily.
They found that those who followed the AHEI diet plan were less likely to develop age-related illnesses and more likely to remain healthy and highly functional than those whose diet included more fatty foods. The study addressed a variety of factors including cardiovascular, metabolic, musculoskeletal, respiratory, mental, and cognitive functions.
“We showed that following specific dietary recommendations such as the one provided by the AHEI may be useful in reducing the risk of unhealthy aging, while avoidance of the ‘Western-type foods’ might actually improve the possibility of achieving older ages free of chronic diseases and remaining highly functional,” Akbaraly said.
Being more aware of how the foods we eat impact our overall health may provide the incentive to improve public health education programs, Akbaraly added.
Experts have long suggested that a Mediterranean diet that includes fish, fruits and vegetables, whole grains, nuts, and healthy oils is the best choice for good health. Now we know it’s a better choice for internal and external good looks, as well.