Sticking with a Mediterranean diet throughout most of your life may pay off with a disease-free old age, according to researchers in Boston.
Replacing red meats with bean-based protein, and saturated fats with olive oil are are familiar ways to avoid chronic diseases such as heart problems and diabetes. And studies have linked the Mediterranean diet to longer life.
But how good is the quality of those extra years? To find out, scientists at Harvard School of Public Health and Brigham and Women’s Hospital reviewed dietary data gathered from surveys involving 10,670 women in their late 50s and early 60s. After answering questions about what they ate, the women agreed to provide the researchers with their health records and answered questions about their diets fifteen years later. Overall, the women who ate more plant-based foods, whole grains, fish, healthy fats like olive oil, drank moderate amounts alcohol, and ate very little red and processed meats, were healthier than those who didn’t follow a Mediterranean diet. The healthiest women, who were able to avoid 11 chronic diseases such as heart disease, diabetes, or Parkinson’s, had consistently stuck with a Mediterranean diet throughout most of 15 year study period. They also showed no impairment in cognitive function or any of the physical disabilities that afflicted some of their counterparts who hadn’t followed a Mediterranean diet.
In fact, as the scientists reported in the Annals of Internal Medicine, the women who consumed more vegetables and fruits, whole grains, and lean meats like fish, during their middle age were about 40% more likely to live past age 70 without chronic disease or physical and cognitive impairment.
Understanding how to help more elderly achieve such disease-free aging is increasingly important as the population continues to age, thanks to improvements in medical care and better understanding of aging risk factors. Olive oil and nuts can increase levels of healthy HDL cholesterol, which protect the heart from damaging atherosclerosis, and fruits and vegetables provide antioxidants, like flavonoids, that reduce the inflammation that can age cells. There may be no Fountain of Youth, but there is a way to make aging less debilitating and less taxing on the body, since living well may become as important as living longer.
By Alexandra Sifferlin