The research contradicts previous findings suggesting the opposite effect.
A high fat diet is is not recommended for the general population, but for frail and sick older adults the greatest nutrition risk they face is malnutrition, rather than overweight or obesity. As people age appetite often decreases, raising the risk of protein-energy malnutrition – meaning inadequate calorie or protein intake.
Past research suggested higher fat diets could help older adults prevent this form of malnutrition.
Testing this theory, this latest study saw 725 Swedish men and women aged 53–80 years complete a dietary intake and lifestyle questionnaire in 1997 and their nutritional status assessed again when admitted to hospital in 2008–2009.
“Contrary to our expectations, a high energy intake from total fat, SFA [saturated fat] and MUFA [monounsaturated fat] among middle-aged and older adults increased the risk of developing malnutrition ten years later,” researchers from the Uppsala University and the Karolinska Institute in Sweden wrote in the British Journal of Nutrition.
However, these findings only applied to individuals with a body mass index (BMI) of less than 25 kilograms per m2 at baseline.
“These findings suggest that preventive actions to counteract malnutrition in older adults should focus on limiting the intake of total fat in the diet by reducing consumption of food with a high content of saturated and monounsaturated fat, such as full-fat dairy foods, solid fats, processed meat and sugar sweetened foods.”
In the follow-up phase, 383 (52.8%) of the participants were at risk of malnutrition and 52 (7.2%) were malnourished.
The chance of being at risk of malnutrition increased for each additional percentage point of energy intake from total fat (by 6.5%), saturated fat (by 11.8%) and monounsaturated fat (by 17.3%).
For the odds of actually being malnourished this increased by 10.6% for total fat, 19.6% for saturated fat and 27.2% for monounsaturated fat.
“[Protein–energy malnutrition] is associated with greater health-care costs, worse quality of life and preterm death. The identification of modifiable risk factors in the diet is thus desirable for taking preventive action before malnutrition develops,” they wrote.
Source: British Journal of Nutrition
Published online ahead of print, doi:10.1017/S0007114515002317
“A high energy intake from dietary fat among middle-aged and older adults is associated with increased risk of malnutrition 10 years later”
Authors: L. Söderströma, A. Rosenblada, E. T. Adolfssona, A. Wolka, N. Håkanssona and L. Bergkvista