Having a diet that is rich in fruit, vegetable and whole grain and low in added sugar, sodium and processed meat could help promote healthy cellular aging in women, a study of the University of Michigan (UM) showed.
UM researchers used telomere length to measure cellular aging in the study.
Age is the strongest predictor of telomere length: telomeres shorten in length during each cell cycle.
They examined the diets of a nationally representative sample of nearly 5,000 healthy adults and how well they scored on four evidence-based diet quality indices, including the Mediterranean diet, the DASH diet and two commonly used measures of diet quality developed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.
For women, higher scores on each of the indices were significantly associated with longer telomere length.
“We were surprised that the findings were consistent regardless of the diet quality index we used,” said lead author Cindy Leung, assistant professor of nutritional sciences at UM School of Public Health.
All four diets emphasize eating plenty of fruit, vegetable, whole grain and plant-based protein and limiting consumption of sugar, sodium and red and processed meat.
“Overall, the findings suggest that following these guidelines is associated with longer telomere length and reduces the risk of major chronic disease.”
“The commonality to all of the healthy diet patterns is that they are antioxidant and anti-inflammatory diets.
“They create a biochemical environment favorable to telomeres,” said Co-author Elissa Epel, professor of psychiatry at the University of California, San Francisco.
In men, the findings were in the same direction, but not statistically significant.
“We have seen some gender differences in previous nutrition and telomere studies,” Leung said.
Men tended to have lower diet quality scores than women. Men also had higher intakes of sugary beverages and processed meats, both of which have been associated with shorter telomeres in prior studies.
Nevertheless, recent studies have shown that telomeres can also be shortened due to behavioral, environmental and psychological factors.
Shorter telomeres have been associated with an increased risk for heart disease, type 2 diabetes and some cancers.
“The key takeaway is that following a healthy diet can help us maintain healthy cells and avoid certain chronic diseases,” said Leung.
“Emphasis should be placed on improving the overall quality of your diet rather than emphasizing individual foods or nutrients.”
The study has been published in the American Journal of Epidemiology.