Mediterranean diet helps women live longer, research shows

  • New research has found that the Mediterranean diet reduces the risk of death by almost 25%.
  • The study also found that the diet reduced the risk of cancer and heart disease.
  • Dietitians explain how you can integrate the diet into your eating plan.

The Mediterranean diet has been a popular eating plan for years, with an arsenal of scientific evidence supporting its many benefits. Now there’s even more research that suggests it’s worth giving it a try. New research shows that the Mediterranean diet can help women live longer.

That is the main conclusion of a new one JAMA network opened study. For the study, researchers followed 25,315 women for up to 25 years and analyzed information about what they ate, as well as 33 biomarkers, including measurements for insulin resistance and cholesterol levels.

The researchers found that women who followed a Mediterranean diet had a 23% lower risk of death from any cause. They also had a 20% lower risk of dying from heart disease and a 17% lower risk of dying from cancer.

“For women who want to live longer, our study says watch your diet,” senior author Samia Mora, MD, cardiologist and director of the Center for Lipid Metabolomics at the Brigham and professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, said in a statement . “The good news is that following a Mediterranean diet could result in a reduction in the risk of death by about a quarter over a period of more than 25 years.”

Why might this be the case and how can you try a Mediterranean diet if you’re interested? Experts break it down.

Why can the Mediterranean diet help you live longer?

It’s important to point out that the study simply found a link between strictly following a Mediterranean diet and living longer – but that didn’t happen. prove that following this eating plan will help you live longer. Still, experts say it is certainly possible.

“There are so many well-documented health benefits of eating this type of diet — including eating only certain components of this type of diet,” says Deborah Cohen, DCN, associate professor in the department of clinical and preventive nutrition sciences at Rutgers University. School of Health Professions. “Health benefits include a reduced risk of hypertension or high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, metabolic syndrome, certain types of cancer and a lower risk of cardiovascular disease, all of which contribute to morbidity and mortality in this country.”

The Mediterranean diet is “rich in antioxidants, anti-inflammatory compounds, and fiber, all of which contribute to its protective effects,” says Scott Keatley, RD, co-owner of Keatley Medical Nutrition Therapy. Foods such as fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds – which are encouraged in the Mediterranean diet – are high in antioxidants such as vitamins C and E, flavonoids and carotenoids, he says. “These compounds help neutralize harmful free radicals in the body, which can damage cells and DNA, potentially leading to cancer and other diseases,” he explains. “By reducing oxidative stress, antioxidants help protect against chronic disease and cellular aging.”

But the Mediterranean diet also includes foods rich in anti-inflammatory compounds, such as omega-3 fatty acids in fish and polyphenols in olive oil and red wine. These compounds help reduce chronic inflammation, which can lower the risk of cardiovascular disease and cancer, Keatley says.

This diet is packed with fiber-rich foods such as fruits, vegetables, legumes and whole grains. These help regulate your digestive system, encourage regular bowel movements and reduce the risk of colorectal cancer, says Keatley. “Fiber also helps maintain a healthy weight by promoting satiety and reducing overall calorie intake,” he points out. “Additionally, soluble fiber helps lower cholesterol levels by binding to cholesterol in the digestive system and removing it from the body, supporting cardiovascular health.”

The Mediterranean diet emphasizes healthy fats such as monounsaturated fats from olive oil and polyunsaturated fats from fish and nuts. These healthy fats help raise HDL (good) cholesterol and lower LDL (bad) cholesterol, “reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease,” says Keatley.

Finally, this diet recommends limiting ultra-processed foods. “Reducing or eliminating these types of foods from the diet would generally be beneficial,” says Cohen. Karen Ansel, RDN, co-author of Healthy in a hurry, agrees. “The power of the Mediterranean diet isn’t just about what you’re going to eat,” she says. “It’s also about what you don’t eat, especially since the diet is low in red meat, which can be problematic for heart health, and low in added sugars that can lead to overweight and obesity, hidden risk factors for cancer.”

Basics of the Mediterranean Diet

Although the Mediterranean diet is much talked about in health circles, you may not know exactly what it entails. In general, it emphasizes having plenty of fresh fruits, vegetables, oily fish and olive oil.

The meal plan recommends eating plenty of these foods:

  • Fruit and vegetables
  • Fish and other types of seafood twice a week or more
  • Olive oil
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Beans and legumes
  • Whole grain
  • Fresh herbs

The Mediterranean diet also allows these foods in moderation:

  • Poultry
  • Eggs
  • Dairy milk, cheese and yogurt
  • Red wine (maximum one glass per day for women and two glasses per day for men)

But the diet suggests that you should limit your intake of these foods:

  • Refined grains and oils
  • Red meat or cold cuts
  • Ultra-processed or packaged foods
  • Foods with a lot of added sugar, such as pastries or sweets

How to follow a Mediterranean diet

It can be overwhelming to think about a whole new eating plan. If you’re interested in following a Mediterranean diet, dietitians recommend starting slowly. “Start the diet by thinking about foods you should be eating more of, not less,” says Keri Gans, RD, author of The small change diet. She suggests doing things like having a serving of fruit for breakfast, eating whole wheat bread for lunch and getting plenty of vegetables for dinner.Try new seafood recipes and ways to enjoy more legumes,” Gans adds.

Ansel says it’s important to keep in mind that the Mediterranean diet is “incredibly flexible.”

“You’ll find a wide variety of produce, whole grains, beans, legumes, fish and seafood to choose from, as well as small amounts of poultry, eggs, cheese and yogurt,” she says. Once you get started on the diet, Ansel suggests eating at least two servings of produce at each meal and fresh fruit for snacks and desserts. “If that seems like a lot, start with one serving of produce per meal and slowly increase to two as you get the hang of it,” she says. “Then slowly swap out whole grains whenever possible and swap meat for beans.”

Also try to eat fish like salmon twice a week, says Keatley. “Swap processed grains for whole grains, such as whole wheat bread, brown rice and quinoa,” he continues. “Replace butter and margarine with olive oil for cooking and dressings. Making these gradual changes can make the transition smoother and more sustainable in the long term.”

If you want extra guidance, Gans suggests talking to a registered dietitian, if your budget allows. They can “help individualize the diet according to your personal goals,” she says. There are also plenty of Mediterranean diet cookbooks to help you create delicious Mediterranean diet breakfast recipes and lunch and dinner options.

Korin Miller is a freelance writer specializing in general wellness, sexual health and relationships, and lifestyle trends, with work appearing in Men’s Health, Women’s Health, Self, Glamor and more. She has a master’s degree from American University, lives by the beach and hopes to one day own a teacup pig and a taco truck.

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