More Good News about the Mediterranean Diet

Related topics: Alzheimer's Disease, Eating Right, Heart Health

March is National Nutrition Month, so we're celebrating with more good news about the Mediterranean diet. The Mediterranean diet is so-named because it is based on the eating habits of people who live in countries that border the Mediterranean Sea. Like most healthy diets, it puts an emphasis on eating lots of fruits and vegetables, fish, nuts, beans, whole grains and healthy fats like olive oil. It uses fresh herbs and spices in place of salt and avoids or limits things like processed foods, butter, red meat and sweets. Unless they are advised otherwise, adherents are also able to enjoy red wine in moderation.

Several new studies, released in the last year, provide us with more good news about the health benefits of this way of eating.

It may lower your risk of diabetes.

Diabetes is a disease on the rise and is currently the seventh leading cause of death among Americans. It also increases your risk for other conditions, including hypertension, heart attack and stroke. Nearly 30 million Americans have diabetes. It is especially prevalent among seniors, with over 25 percent of elders estimated to have the disease.

According to research presented at the American College of Cardiology, people who ate typical Mediterranean fare had a 21 percent reduced risk of diabetes compared to the control group. Among people at high risk for cardiovascular disease, the results were even more dramatic: People in this group had a 27 percent reduced risk of developing diabetes.

"Adherence to the Mediterranean diet may prevent the development of diabetes irrespective of age, sex, race or culture," said lead investigator Demosthenes Panagiotakos, Ph.D., professor at Harokopio University, Athens, Greece. "This diet has a beneficial effect, even in high-risk groups, and speaks to the fact that it is never too late to start eating a healthy diet."

It may help reverse metabolic syndrome.

Metabolic syndrome is a technical term that is basically used to describe a group of risk factors for heart disease: high blood pressure, high blood sugar, high cholesterol, and abdominal fat. A recent study published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal followed a group of people with metabolic syndrome who were put on the Mediterranean diet. The researchers found that more than 28 percent of those test subjects no longer met the criteria for metabolic syndrome by the end of five years. This was significantly better than people in the study who were on a regular low-fat diet. People on the Mediterranean diet supplemented their diet with either nuts or extra virgin olive oil, two substances both very high in fat—helping to prove that switching to healthy fats is the goal, rather than merely lowering the amount of fat we consume.

It may boost longevity.

Finally, in a study released by Brigham and Women's Hospital just last December, researchers discovered that a Mediterranean diet seems to be protective right down to the genetic level! The ends of our chromosomes are protected from deterioration by telomeres, which are often described as functioning like the plastic tips of shoelaces. Telomeres shorten with age, leading to age-related diseases and a shorter lifespan. Study participants who followed the Mediterranean diet vigorously were more likely to have longer telomeres than those who didn't follow the diet.

Marta Crous-Bou, a postdoctoral fellow in the Channing Division of Network Medicine and first author of the study, was enthusiastic about the results. "Our findings showed that healthy eating, overall, was associated with longer telomeres," said said. And good news for women: It appears that the effect is strongest in females.

For More Information

The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics is the sponsor of National Nutrition Month. Visit their EatRight website ( to find consumer information and recipes for those who would like to follow the Mediterranean diet.

This article is not intended to replace the advice of your healthcare provider. Speak to your doctor and/or a registered dietitian if you have questions about your nutritional needs.

Source: IlluminAge Communication Partners; copyright 2015 IlluminAge.