High sugar, high fat diet could be fine for over 75s

Kimberly Gillan
Friday, January 18, 2013
Image: Thinkstock

A diet high in sugar and fat appears fine for the elderly according to US research that suggests overly restrictive diets in old age might be unnecessary.

The researchers from Penn State University studied 449 older Americans with an average age of 76.5.

They quizzed them four or five times over 10 months about what they'd eaten that day.

Five years later they compared the diets and health records and found no real relationship between diet and diabetes, cardiovascular disease or metabolic syndrome.

There was also no link between what they typically ate and their risk of dying.

However, those who ate lots of sweets and dairy, displayed an increased risk of hypertension.

"We all know that adverse dietary patterns, such as a Western diet containing high amounts of fat or a diet containing high amounts of refined sugar, are associated with adverse medical conditions and health outcomes for many people," researcher Pao Ying Hsiao, from Penn State University in the US, said in a media release.

"But until now, the health effects of these types of poor diets have not been characterised for people who live to 75 years of age and older."

Since most people follow a similar diet for most of their lives, the researchers assumed this group was the same, and that there does not appear to be any evidence that it's worth forcing older people onto restrictive diets.

"The results suggest that if you live to be this old, then there may be little to support the use of overly restrictive dietary prescriptions, especially where food intake may already be inadequate," said Gordon Jensen, head of the Department of Nutritional Sciences at Penn State University.

Jensen also suggested that a bit of extra weight could be beneficial for older people.

"Historically, people thought of older persons as tiny and frail, but … recent reports even suggest that there may be survival benefits associated with overweight and mild obesity status among the elderly," he said.

However he pointed out that maintaining a healthy diet from a young age is still the best advice for living a long, healthy life.

"People who live on prudent diets all their lives are likely to have better health outcomes," he said.

The Dietitians Association of Australia (DAA) told ninemsn that although over-75s should focus on quality nutrients from fruit, vegies, grains and lean meats, there is room for extra treats.

"If people live into their mid-70s, overly-restrictive diets are not generally the way to go," the DAA spokesperson said.

"This is the time of life where a person should still aim for a healthy diet, but they can afford to relax a little with their eating habits. However, when you’re younger, following a healthy diet based on the Australian Dietary Guidelines is linked with better health."

The study was published in the Journal of Nutrition Health and Ageing.

Do you have a story for us? Email us at healthwellbeing@ninemsn.com.au

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