Traditionally, the benefits of aging include getting away with speaking one’s mind, being forgiven for forgetfulness, and tossing fashion convention to the wind. But now a new study adds perhaps the best reward of all for reaching old age: The silver-haired set can throw dietary caution to the wind because eating healthfully no longer matters.
For people who have passed the 75-year mark, a diet high in sugar and fat doesn’t make a difference — and overly restrictive diets may not improve health at all, according to researchers.
"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," says study author Gordon Jensen, head of the Department of Nutritional Sciences at Penn State.
The study, which appears in the Journal of Nutrition Health and Aging, followed a group of 449 people for five years. Participants were on average 76.5 years old at the beginning of the study; and were categorized as eating according to one of three different dietary patterns: “More healthful” which had relatively higher intakes of fruit, vegetables, whole grains, eggs, nuts, legumes and dairy; “Westernlike” which was characterized by an intake of starchy vegetables, refined grains, meats, fried poultry and fish, oils and fats; and “low produce, high sweets” which was defined by high saturated fat, and low dietary fiber and vitamin C intakes.
During the course of the study, researchers identified whether the participants developed cardiovascular disease, diabetes mellitus, hypertension (high blood pressure), and metabolic syndrome. The results revealed no connection between dietary pattern and prevalence of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, metabolic syndrome, or mortality in the participants. Even though there was evidence of increased risk of hypertension in people who followed the “low produce, high sweets” pattern, the conclusion was nonetheless surprising.
And not only that, but recent reports "suggest that there may be survival benefits associated with overweight and mild obesity status among the elderly,” Jensen noted.
The moral of the story? Make it to 75, then eat cookies to your heart's content.
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