Published on: November 4, 2013
by Elizabeth Agnvall for AARP:
Once again, the Mediterranean diet is winning out in the diet wars–this time for both physical and brain health. A large new study finds that women who follow a healthy diet during middle age have more than 40 percent greater odds of surviving past the age of 70 with no chronic illness, physical impairments or memory problems. In other words, the kind of spry old age we all hope to have.
For this study, researchers reviewed dietary surveys of 10,670 women in their late 50s and early 60s who took part in the long-running Nurses Health Study. They answered questions about their cognitive and physical health 15 years later. The researchers scored the women based on their diet and found that women who followed the Mediterranean diet had 46 percent greater odds of healthy aging.
Previous studies have found that the Mediterranean-style diet lowers risk of cancer and heart disease, but this research is one of the first to study the link between diet and 11 common chronic diseases–such as cancer, diabetes, kidney failure, COPD–as well as brain health.
A number of studies have found the brain benefits from individual foods common in this diet—omega 3-fatty acids, moderate alcohol, fruits and vegetables—but this study found an even greater benefit when all of these foods were eaten together, said lead researcher Cecilia Samieri of Harvard Medical School. That suggests that ”overall healthy patterns had a greater impact than any individual component,” she wrote in an e-mail from France.
The Mediterranean diet includes lots of vegetables (excluding potatoes) fruits, nuts, whole grains, legumes and fish plus alcohol (often red wine) in moderation. It has more of the healthy fats from olive oil and other sources and fewer unhealthy fats from butter, cheese and red meat. It includes few red or processed meats.
Samieri said they didn’t explore why the Mediterranean diet is so helpful for healthy aging, but because they adjusted the statistics to account for the women being overweight, having high cholesterol and high blood pressure, other biological mechanisms may be involved. Samieri speculated that the diet may help lower inflammation and physiological stress on the body, which are both linked with most common chronic diseases and health problems in older people.
We asked Samieri if she eats a Mediterranean diet at home in Bordeaux? “Of course!” she wrote. “In addition to fruits, vegetables, fish and whole grain products, I would recommend using olive oil as a main fat source for cooking and seasoning at home.” We didn’t ask her, but assume that she must also have plenty of opportunity to add excellent red wine to her diet. In moderation, of course.
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