Unfortunately it's true, avoid sweets and booze and you'll live longer

John von Radowitz

Healthy eating really can help people live longer, research has shown.

A study comparing the diets of 2,500 older Americans found that "high fat" individuals were 40pc more likely to die over 10 years than those who preferred "healthy foods".

The researchers defined a "healthy foods" diet as one which contained more low-fat dairy products, fruit, whole grains, poultry, fish and vegetables.

It was also characterised by a lower consumption of meat, fried foods, sweets, high-calorie drinks and added fat.

Scientists divided the food preferences of participants, aged between 70 and 79, into six different dietary "clusters".

These were classified as "healthy foods", "high-fat dairy products", "meat, fried foods and alcohol", "breakfast cereal", "refined grains," and "sweets and desserts".

The "high fat dairy products" category had higher intakes of foods such as ice cream, cheese, whole milk and yoghurt, and lower consumption of poultry, low-fat dairy products, rice and pasta.

A 37pc higher risk of dying was associated with the "sweets and desserts" cluster, and a 21pc increased risk with the "meat, fried foods and alcohol" cluster.

No significant differences in death risk was seen between "healthy foods" and the "breakfast cereal" or "refined grains" clusters.

In total, 374 of study participants made "healthy foods" a predominant part of their diet, while 693 preferred "meat, fried foods and alcohol".

Lead scientist Dr Amy Anderson, from the University of Maryland in College Park, US, said: "The results of this study suggest that older adults who follow a dietary pattern consistent with current guidelines to consume relatively high amounts of vegetables, fruit, whole grains, low-fat dairy products, poultry and fish, may have a lower risk of mortality.

"Adherence to such a diet appears a feasible and realistic recommendation for potentially improved survival and quality of life in the growing older adult population."