Eat a Mediterranean Diet to Age Well!

By Debbie Jeffery, RDN LD

A study, published in the journal BMJ, suggests a Mediterranean diet may guard women against aging at the cellular level.  Women in the study who ate more Mediterranean foods, such as vegetables, fruit, nuts legumes, unrefined grains, fish and olive oil, and drank moderate amounts of wine had longer telomeres in their blood cells.  Telomeres, a marker of aging, are sequences of DNA that form protective caps at the end of chromosomes.  Telomeres get shorter every time a cell divides, so their length is thought to be a measurer of a cell’s aging.  The Mediterranean diet is rich in antioxidants and anti-inflammatory compounds, and it may buffer that shortening, explains the study’s senior author, Immaculata De Vivo, an associate professor at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School.

The study included nearly 4,700 women who were participating in the Nurses’ Health Study, a long-term study following the health of more than 120,000 nurses working in the US.  The researchers scored the women’s diets on a scale from zero to nine, with the higher number indicating greater adherence to the Mediterranean diet.  They learned that women with higher scores tended to have longer telomeres than women with lower scores.  The findings showed that healthy eating in general was linked with longer telomeres but the strongest connection was observed among women who followed the Mediterranean diet.  The diet is based on a high intake of plant foods (fruits, vegetables, nuts, and legumes), modest amounts of fish and poultry, and very low consumption of red meat with olive oil as the major source of fat.  Wine is consumed in low to moderate amounts and usually with meals.

The study shows that the Mediterranean diet which is known to reduce the risk of heart disease and some cancers is now associated with slower aging.