The Mediterranean diet isn’t just famous for being heart-healthy. New research indicates there’s much more to the story, and embracing this diet might lower your risk of passing away from any cause by a significant 29%, according to studies on elderly adults.
Keep reading to learn what the science says about this eating plan’s ability to help you live longer. Plus, why the Mediterranean diet for seniors, in particular?
Does a Mediterranean diet help you live longer?
The University of Barcelona, in collaboration with the U.S. National Institute on Aging, has revealed new research suggesting a strong link between a Mediterranean-style diet and longevity, particularly for those above 65.
Over a span of 20 years, the study tracked 642 seniors–predominantly women–gauging their adherence to the Mediterranean diet via specific markers in their blood and urine, such as polyphenols and various vitamins. By the study’s end, 425 participants had passed on; 139 from heart complications and 89 from cancer.
Intriguingly, those whose markers indicated a strong adherence to the Mediterranean diet had a significantly lower risk of mortality. While it’s long been touted for heart health and potentially curbing diseases like Alzheimer’s, this study further solidifies the Mediterranean diet’s position as a key to a longer, healthier life.
How to adopt the Mediterranean diet for seniors
The Mediterranean diet is inspired by what people have been eating for years in places like Greece, Italy, and nearby Mediterranean regions. It emphasizes whole, natural foods and healthy, balanced meals.
Here’s a snapshot of what to fill your plate with:
- Whole grains like quinoa, bulgar, and whole wheat bread and pasta
- Vegetables, such as spinach, kale, broccoli, and sweet potatoes
- Legumes like kidney beans and chickpeas
- Fruits like apples, melons, and berries
- Nuts, such as almonds, pistachios, and walnuts
- Seeds like sunflower, chia, and pumpkin
- Herbs and spices, such as garlic, basil, coriander, and oregano
- Heart-healthy fats like olive oil and avocado
- Seafood, such as salmon, tuna, and shellfish in small to moderate amount
- Poultry like chicken and turkey in small to moderate amounts
- Dairy products like cheese and unsweetened yogurt
And you’ll be avoiding or limiting these foods to special occasions:
- Red meat like beef and lamb
- Processed meats, such as sausages, hot dogs, and deli meats
- Highly processed foods like fast food, packaged meals, and snacks
- Added sugars, found in sodas, cookies, candies, and packaged snacks
- Refined grains like white bread, white pasta, tortilla chips, and crackers
- Trans fats, found in margarine and fried foods
- You can also enjoy wine in moderation on this diet. Just limit yourself to two glasses a day for men, and one glass for women.
More benefits of the Mediterranean diet for seniors
Here are a few more reasons the Mediterranean diet is a great choice for seniors, as well as health-conscious people of all ages.
Improves heart health: Research shows the Mediterranean diet can reduce your risk of heart disease by up to 24%. This finding emerged from a comprehensive review of 16 studies with over 722,000 women.
These heart-healthy benefits are largely due to three important staples of the diet:
- Olive oil. Rich in heart-friendly monounsaturated fats, olive oil can reduce blood pressure and “bad” LDL cholesterol. This is crucial if you’re over 65, given the higher risk of heart issues. Nuts and seeds help out, too, providing more of these beneficial fats.
- Fatty fish. Seafood like salmon, herring, and mackerel are packed with omega-3 fatty acids, which combat inflammation, cut down triglycerides, and reduce risks of stroke and heart failure.
- Antioxidants. Antioxidants play a pivotal role in curbing the damaging effects of oxidized LDL, a contributor in plaque build-up. Eating lots of fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, legumes, and nuts provides these protective compounds.
Helps maintain cognitive health: Research suggests the Mediterranean diet may act as a shield against neurological conditions like Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and dementia.
One standout study from the University of Newcastle, Australia, even revealed those who followed this diet had a 23% reduced risk of developing dementia compared to those on standard diets. This is likely due to the Mediterranean diet’s richness in vitamins, omega-3s, and antioxidants, which reduce cognitive impairment and damage from oxidative stress.
Embracing the Mediterranean way of eating might not only add years to your life, but also enhance the quality of those years.
Fights cancer: Since the Mediterranean diet provides a powerhouse of antioxidants, polyphenols, and essential nutrients, it can help combat harmful cell growth.
Antioxidants are protective agents that shield the body from harm caused by free radicals (natural by-products of our body’s chemical activities that can damage cells and lead to tumor growth).
Studies also show omega-3 fatty acids, abundant in the Mediterranean diet, help prevent certain cancers like breast and colon. These beneficial fats fight inflammation, slow the growth and spread of cancer cells, and hinder the creation of new blood vessels by these cells.
Supports a healthy weight: The Mediterranean diet can promote weight loss, due to its emphasis on lean proteins like fish and chicken, complemented by complex carbs like whole grains and sweet potatoes. These foods help keep hunger at bay.
Healthy fats like olive oil and avocado also keep you satiated between meals, reducing snack cravings often triggered by the refined carbs like salty and sweet snacks prevalent in a typical Western diet.
Improves sleep quality; The Mediterranean diet might enhance sleep quality, especially for older adults experiencing sleep issues.
One key reason is the diet’s richness in omega-3s. Omega-3s help regulate norepinephrine, a stress hormone. Overly high levels of this hormone can disrupt REM (rapid eye movement) sleep, making omega-3s crucial for restful slumber.
Try the Mediterranean diet for longevity: The Mediterranean diet is more than just a trend; it’s a ticket to better health, especially for seniors. This simple, yet deeply nourishing eating plan supports everything from heart health to sleep quality, and offers protection from serious illnesses. So if you’re looking to add more golden years to your life and more life to your years, the Mediterranean diet might just be your best bet.