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The study included 7,319 adults from 39 to 63 years old who answered food and health questionnaires and had periodic medical exams over a span of 18 years. Using a dietary assessment tool called the Alternative Healthy Eating Index (AHEI), each participant was given a score based on nine characteristics of a healthy diet:
The AHEI was developed as an alternative to tools that measure how closely people adhere to a Mediterranean style diet, and is believed to better reflect the healthy eating habits of Americans and the English.
This study found the following:
Of all the healthy dietary habits, moderate alcohol consumption was the most strongly associated with lower risks of both cardiovascular and all-cause deaths. Commenting on their findings, the study’s authors noted that the relationships between AHEI scores and cardiovascular deaths and deaths from all causes had more to do with moderate alcohol intake and high nut and soy consumption than the other eating habits that were part of the index. Their findings especially highlight the important role of nuts and soy foods in a healthy diet.
Fruits, vegetables, and trans fats did not seem to contribute to mortality risk in this study, but many prior studies confirm that they play important roles in cardiovascular and general health. The study’s authors noted that fruit and vegetable intakes were high and trans fat intake was very low in general among the people in the study, limiting their ability to compare the protective effects of these basic healthy eating habits with poor eating habits.
So, what is the take home message from this study? Even if you already eat lots of fruits and vegetables and avoid trans fats, you might still be able to improve your diet:
(Am J Clin Nutr 2011;94:247–53)