How to live longer: The diet most associated with ‘super seniors’ – seen in the oldest old

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The path to longevity is precarious for many reasons, not least because chronic diseases often come knocking. However, researchers are trying to provide a workable blueprint by establishing the lifestyle decisions most amenable to longevity. Research into dietary approaches of “super seniors” produced some eye-opening findings.

“Very few people live to eighty-five years and older (the ‘oldest old’), and even fewer live to this age without developing chronic diseases,” wrote the study researchers.

It is therefore important to understand the relationship, if any, of modifiable factors such as diet on healthy ageing, they noted.

They also highlighted the death of research into diet among healthy oldest old, especially in North American populations.

To remedy this, the researchers aimed to characterise dietary patterns among “super-seniors” within the Canadian Healthy Ageing Study (CLSA).

The CLSA is a national longitudinal study of 50,000 Canadians aged 45 to 85 years.

The aim of the study was thus to assess the dietary intake of a population of men and women 85 years and older who were free of chronic diseases and compare dietary patterns to adults aged 65 to 86 years using data from the Canada-wide population-based study of ageing.

The researchers hypothesised that compared to the younger cohort, older healthy adults would have dietary patterns that more closely follow guidelines for chronic disease risk reduction such as more frequent consumption of fruits and vegetables, whole grains and lean protein.

However, the research did not necessarily cohere with this hypothesis.

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Two dietary patterns were identified; a Western diet characterised by french fries, red meat, processed meat and a nutrient-rich diet which included fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts and seeds among other healthy food choices.

Higher scores for both dietary patterns were associated with increased odds of being a super senior, however, only the Western dietary pattern remained associated with adjustment for confounders.

The researchers concluded: “This study contributes new evidence on dietary patterns and healthy ageing in a Canadian population. The nutrient-rich dietary pattern was not associated with being a SS [super senior] after adjustment for confounders, but the highest quartile of the western dietary pattern was associated with greater odds of being a SS.

“This was in contrast to our hypothesis as the western dietary pattern was predominantly characterised by consumption of foods considered to be less healthy including processed meat, red meat, sauces and gravies, fried and non-fried potatoes, high sugar snacks, salty snacks and high fat dairy products.”

They added: “Nonetheless, it is important to note that the Western dietary component contained other foods that did not meet our threshold for component loading (e.g. poultry and eggs) but may have still contributed to associations.”

It’s also important to note that processed foods and red meat are significant risk factors for poor cardiovascular health and bowel cancer.

How the researchers gathered their findings

For the study, 122 super seniors aged 85 years or older and free of cancer, cardiovascular or pulmonary disease, dementia and diabetes were recruited.

Comparisons were made to 12,626 participants aged 65–86 in the Canadian Longitudinal Study of Ageing who completed the same 36-item food frequency questionnaire that queried consumption over the prior 12 months of nutrients and foods thought to be important for ageing.

General dietary tips

According to the NHS, the key to a healthy diet is to eat the right amount of calories for how active you are so you balance the energy you consume with the energy you use.

The health body explains: “If you eat or drink more than your body needs, you’ll put on weight because the energy you do not use is stored as fat. If you eat and drink too little, you’ll lose weight.

“You should also eat a wide range of foods to make sure you’re getting a balanced diet and your body is receiving all the nutrients it needs.”

It’s recommended that men in the UK have around 2,500 calories a day (10,500 kilojoules). Women should have around 2,000 calories a day (8,400 kilojoules).

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