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The Mediterranean Diet: 3 Things We’ve Learned

The Mediterranean diet has been linked to many health benefits, including the reduced risk of cardiovascular disease, some cancers, chronic diseases, and better weight control. 

The Mediterranean diet is characterized by a greater intake of fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole grains and fish, a lower intake of red and processed meats, moderate intake of alcohol, higher amounts of monounsaturated fats (mostly provided by olive oil), and lower amounts of saturated fats.   

#1 - Mediterranean Diet May Lead to a Longer Life

A study by researchers from Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH) showed that a greater adherence to the Mediterranean diet is associated with longer telomeres and that even small changes toward a healthier diet can make a difference.  

Telomeres are the repetitive DNA sequences at the ends of chromosomes. These chromosome tips become shorter every time a cell divides, and their length is a reliable indicator of aging in humans. Shorter telomeres have been associated with an increased risk of aging-related diseases and a decrease in life expectancy, while longer telomeres have been linked with longevity.

The Mediterranean diet appears to hinder telomere shortening, which is accelerated by stress and inflammation, because the diet features a foundation of fresh plant-based foods – fruits, vegetables, whole grains and nuts – that contain large amounts of antioxidants, compounds noted for their anti-inflammatory properties.  

* To learn about how sticking to a Mediterranean diet and how that may lead to a longer life, read about the research in The British Medical Journal.

#2 - The Mediterranean Diet May Lead to Healthier Lives for Women

According to research from BWH, middle-aged women who follow a heart-healthy Mediterranean diet may live a healthier, longer life.

The study showed that women who eat healthier not only live longer, but are also less likely to have any major chronic diseases and were more likely to have no impairments in physical functioning, mental health, or thinking skills. The research did not, however, prove a cause-and-effect link between better eating and longer life.

In this research, those women who closely followed the Mediterranean diet were more likely to live past age 70 without heart disease, diabetes, or other chronic diseases. They also were more likely to be classified as “healthy agers” than those who didn’t follow the diets closely or at all.

*To learn more about how a Mediterranean diet may lead to healthier lives for women, read about the research in the Annals of Internal Medicine.

#3 - Healthy Eating May Help You Maintain Mobility as You Age

Investigators from Brigham and Women’s Hospital showed that women who maintained a healthier diet were less likely to develop physical impairments later in life compared to women whose diets were not as healthy.

The study also found that a higher intake of vegetables and fruits, a lower intake of sugar-sweetened beverages, trans fats and sodium, and a moderate alcohol intake, were each significantly associated with reduced rates of physical impairment.

Among individual foods, the strongest links to better physical function were found with increased consumption of oranges, orange juice, apples and pears, romaine or leaf lettuce, and walnuts. However, researchers noted specific foods generally had weaker associations than the overall score, which indicates that the quality of the overall diet is more important than individual foods.  

Seven Tips for Eating Mediterranean-Style

  1. Use fish and poultry as your main protein sources, while limiting red meat
  2. Fill your plate with vegetables
  3. Choose whole grains that are minimally processed
  4. Use olive oil as your main fat source (use small amounts to prepare food, or as salad dressing)
  5. Limit consumption of unhealthy fats (saturated and trans fats)
  6. Consume small amounts of yogurt and cheese, mostly as a topping or side dish
  7. Try fresh fruit for dessert

Learn more about managing your weight by adopting a Mediterranean diet.