A new study has found that the leading causes of death are no more infectious diseases but chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease and cancer - which may be affected by food habits.

Researchers investigated eating patterns of over 2500 adults between the ages of 70 and 79 over a ten-year period and found that certain diets were associated with reduced mortality.

By determining the consumption frequency of 108 different food items, researchers were able to group the participants into six different groups as per their food choices:

Healthy foods- 374 participants

High-fat dairy products- 332

Meat, fried foods, and alcohol- 693

Breakfast cereal-386

Refined grains-458

Sweets and desserts-339

‘Healthy foods’ group ate more low-fat dairy products, fruit, whole grains, poultry, fish, and vegetables, and lower consumption of meat, fried foods, sweets, high-calorie drinks, and added fat.

‘High-fat dairy products’ group had higher intake of foods such as ice cream, cheese, and 2 per cent and whole milk and yoghurt, and lower intake of poultry, low-fat dairy products, rice, and pasta.

End results indicated that ‘High-fat dairy products’ group had a 40 per cent higher risk of mortality than the Healthy foods cluster and the ‘Sweets and desserts’ group had a 37per cent higher risk.

No significant differences in risk of mortality were seen between the ‘Healthy foods’ cluster and the ‘Breakfast cereal’ or ‘Refined grains’ clusters.

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,” said Amy L. Anderson at Department of Nutrition and Food Science, University of Maryland.

"Because a substantial percentage of older adults in this study followed the ‘Healthy foods’ dietary pattern, 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.”

The study will be published in the January 2011 issue of the Journal of the American Dietetic Association.