"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," lead investigator Tasnime Akbaraly, PhD, Inserm, Montpellier, France said.
"We examined whether diet, assessed in midlife, using dietary patterns and adherence to the Alternative Healthy Eating Index (AHEI), is associated with ageing phenotypes, identified after a mean 16-year follow-up," Akbaraly said.
The AHEI is a validated index of diet quality, originally designed to provide dietary guidelines with the specific intention to combat major chronic conditions such as cardiovascular diseases and diabetes.
Investigators analyzed findings from the British Whitehall II cohort study, which suggest that following the AHEI can double the odds of reversing metabolic syndrome, a condition known to be a strong predictor of heart disease and mortality.
The research team sought to identify dietary factors that can not only prevent premature death, but also promote ideal ageing.
Researchers followed 3,775 men and 1,575 women from 1985-2009 with a mean age of 51 years from the Whitehall II study.
Using a combination of hospital data, results of screenings conducted every five years, and registry data, investigators identified mortality and chronic diseases among participants.
The outcomes at follow-up stage, classified into 5 categories were:
Ideal ageing, defined as free of chronic conditions and high performance in physical, mental, and cognitive functioning tests - 4.0 percent
Nonfatal cardiovascular event - 12.7 percent
Cardiovascular death - 2.8 percent
Noncardiovascular death - 7.3 percent
Normal ageing -- 73.2 percent
The study determined that participants with low adherence to the AHEI increased their risk of cardiovascular and noncardiovascular death.
Those who followed a "Western-type diet" consisting of fried and sweet food, processed food and red meat, refined grains, and high-fat dairy products lowered their chances for ideal ageing.
The findings are published in The American Journal of Medicine.