While a definitive definition of the so-called “Mediterranean Diet” remains elusive, longevity experts all agree that strict adherence to its basic tenants high in veggies, legumes, and unsaturated fats and low in dairy and meat should add years to your life.
Pinning down the exact foods that make up the Mediterranean diet can be difficult, simply because there are so many different countries and regions that make up the area, all with somewhat different cultures, cuisines and ethnicities. Therefore the diet, by its very nature has a range of definitions.
But in general, the commonalities found across the region is that it’s a diet high in vegetables, fruits, legumes, nuts, beans, cereals, grains, fish, and unsaturated fats such as olive oil. It usually includes a low intake of meat and dairy foods.
For years doctors and nutritionists have been lauding the overall benefits of the Mediterranean Diet. However, recently one of the first studies to specifically link the diet to lengthening lives has been published. The study which was designed to look closely at the links between nutrition, food choices, and length of our lifespan was published in the British Journal of Nutrition. The key finding was that closer adherence to the so-called “Mediterranean Diet” can reduce risk of death from all causes by a whopping 25 percent when compared to those who had lowest adherence to the diet.
“We all know that [the] Mediterranean diet is good for health, but there are few studies focusing on the elderly,” said Marialaura Bonaccio, an epidemiologist at the Mediterranean Neurological Institute, IRCCS Neuromed, and first author of the study.
Bonaccio and her team took a deep dive into the health and diet of 5,200 individuals aged 65 and over from the Molise region in Italy, who were recruited as part of a larger study between 2005 and 2010, and followed up until 2015, during which time 900 deaths occurred.
Participants completed a food questionnaire reflecting their diet in the year before signing up, and each was given a score for how close their diet was to the Mediterranean diet on a 0-9 scale.
The results revealed that those who adhered most closely to the Mediterranean diet were also more likely to undertake more physical activity in their free time.
When factors including age, sex, activity levels, socioeconomic status, smoking and BMI were taken into account, those with a high adherence to the diet (scoring 7-9 on the scale) had a 25 percent lower risk of any cause of death than those who only scored 0-3.