Eat Mediterranean: Live longer?
When you really look at what a “Mediterranean diet” is, you quickly realize what it is not—a “diet.” Rather, eating Mediterranean means that you eat a diet rich in fish, nuts, vegetables and fruit, and make some smart substitutions when you cook.
This is a good thing, considering that a recent study in the Annals of Internal Medicine found that, at least among middle-aged women, those whose diets closely resembled Mediterranean-style eating—more plant-based foods (fruits, vegetables and nuts); whole grains and fish; less red and processed meats; and moderate amounts of alcohol—had about a 40 percent greater chance of living healthfully beyond age 70. “Healthfully,” in this case, means living free of 11 chronic diseases measured in the study, including kidney failure, cancer (excluding non-melanoma skin cancer), Type 2 diabetes and Parkinson’s disease. Furthermore, the participants showed no physical disabilities, no signs of cognitive impairment and no signs of mental health problems.
But what efforts do you need to make to reap these health benefits?
“It’s not that difficult of a change to make to your diet,” says Mary Carroll, a registered dietitian with Advocate Condell Medical Center in Libertyville, Ill. “Rather than being a complete dietary overhaul—like going gluten-free—eating Mediterranean foods means making key choices when you cook or snack. For example, when you’re cooking, you use olive oil rather than butter.”
Other Mediterranean choices include:
- Plant-based meals, with just smaller amounts of meat and chicken, when they are used
- More servings of grains, fresh fruits and vegetables, nuts and legumes
- Foods that naturally contain high amounts of fiber
- Plenty of fish and other seafood rather than red meat
- Olive oil, a healthy, monounsaturated fat, as the main source of fat used to flavor and prepare foods
- Food that is prepared and seasoned simply, without sauces and gravies
- Dairy products, fish and poultry consumed in low to moderate amounts
- Eggs consumed zero to four times a week
- Wine consumed in low to moderate amounts
Are there any down-sides to eating Mediterranean?
According to the American Heart Association, Mediterranean-style diets are close to the AHA’s dietary recommendations, but they don’t follow them exactly. The AHA states that “The diets of Mediterranean peoples contain a relatively high percentage of calories from fat. This is thought to contribute to the increasing obesity in these countries, which is becoming a concern.”
However, the AHA also states that “people who follow the average Mediterranean diet eat less saturated fat than those who eat the average American diet. In fact, saturated fat consumption is well within our dietary guidelines.”
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