December 12th, 2012 at 10:00 am
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Food fight: diet vs. heart attack and stroke

by Dorian Martin

Research shows improved diet is a weapon in the fight against heart attacks and strokes, cutting potential cardiovascular risks. If food is one of the best medicines available, are elders eating the right foods? It turns out they may be doing better than some other age groups, and those nutritional choices may help to protect their health — but there’s a lot of room for improvement. I keep coming back to the importance of good nutrition for caregivers and elders; for example, you can read another blog post about my efforts to influence my father’s eating habits and lifestyle.

Seniors’ diets get passing, but low, score

Research supported by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion analyzed the quality of diet nationwide using the Healthy Eating Index-2005, based on the 2005 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. The researchers interviewed 8,272 individuals concerning what they ate during the course of one day. This group included 1,296 participants who were 65 years old and above, with 3,286 children between the ages of 2 and 17, and 3,690 adults aged 18-64.

One of the more interesting research findings is that those who are 65 and older may have a healthier diet than other age groups. This senior group earned a score of 65 — as compared to a score of 56 for other groups — but that’s still low given the Health Eating Index perfect score of 100. The study notes the potential for improved public health through better diet.

Reduced risks for seniors with heart trouble

A study by McMaster University in Canada found that a heart-healthy diet may protect people who already have cardiovascular disease from recurrent heart attacks and strokes. This study looked at 31,546 adults who averaged 66.5 years of age and who had cardiovascular disease or related organ damage. The researchers asked these participants about their daily diet during the previous year, specifically the fruits, vegetables, grains and meats consumed as well as the ratio of fish to meat. In addition, the researchers asked about each person’s lifestyle, including exercise, smoking and alcohol consumption.

In follow-up research five years later, an analysis of food choices showed that a heart-healthy diet resulted in the following reduction in health risks:

  1. Cardiovascular death: 35 percent
  2. Congestive heart failure: 28 percent
  3. Stroke: 19 percent
  4. New heart attacks: 14 percent

“Physicians should advise their high-risk patients to improve their diet and eat more vegetables, fruits, grains and fish,” said Dr. Mahshid Dehghan, study author and a nutritionist at the Population Health Research Institute at McMaster University. “This could substantially reduce cardiovascular recurrence beyond drug therapy alone and save lives globally.”

An article on nutrition discusses potential challenges for caregivers as they make efforts to improve seniors’ eating habits. Lifestyle changes may not be easy, but this research shows that a healthier diet can pay off.

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