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Another Win for the Mediterranean Diet

By Charlyn Fargo

Here’s yet another reason to try the Mediterranean diet, which is actually not a strict diet at all but a pattern of eating that focuses on fresh, whole foods and avoids highly processed foods.

New research finds it may support healthy aging. And who among us doesn’t want to live a long, healthy life? Research published in The BMJ in February 2020 found that the Mediterranean lifestyle helps alter gut bacteria, which, in turn, helps reduce frailty and promote healthy aging. The gut microbiota of more than 600 people in five European countries were profiled before they began a one-year-long Mediterranean diet. When their gut bacteria were checked at the end of the year, they had better bacterial diversity in the gut, and the bacteria that increased in volume were associated with reduced frailty (improved walking speed, hand strength and cognitive function, and less inflammation).

Just what is a Mediterranean diet? It is based on the dietary habits of people in Italy and Greece. Much of the diet consists of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, beans, herbs, nuts, seafood and olive oil. Poultry, eggs, cheese and red wine are consumed in moderation. Red meat, refined grains, processed foods and sugar-sweetened beverages are only consumed in small amounts.

How can you get started? Start the day with a bowl of oatmeal with fresh berries. Have some tuna over a leafy green salad for lunch and a piece of salmon over brown rice with vegetables for dinner.

Enjoy a glass of red wine with dinner, too. Think fresh, whole foods. As you age, you’ll be happy you did.

Healthy Lifestyle, Longer Life
It’s always a great time to make a new start on your healthy lifestyle. For years, doctors have advocated a healthy diet, regular exercise, stress relief and weight control. A recent study confirms there are tangible benefits.

A Dutch study finds that the presence of all these healthy lifestyle factors was associated with two extra years of good health compared with those high-risk lifestyles. Another study found that those without any lifestyle risk factors lived, on average, six years more without chronic disease compared with those who had two or more risk factors. And in case you’re still not convinced, a third study showed that without any risk factors, people lived, on average, nine years longer before the onset of any chronic disease.

Find time to take a daily walk or do an online workout video, cook a homemade meal (with plenty of vegetables, fruit and whole grains) and get a little extra sleep. What most of us seem to lack isn’t really the time (like we profess) but the desire to improve our habits.

That’s why I highlighted these studies this week. The choices you are making now toward a healthier lifestyle really do make a difference down the road.

Just what combination of healthy lifestyle factors is needed?

A new study, published this month in JAMA Internal Medicine, answers that question. The researchers designed a prospective study comprising over 116,000 people from 1991 to 2006 and included 12 European studies.

Participants were scored on each of four lifestyle factors, including smoking, body mass index, physical activity and drinking. They found healthy body weight essential to a healthy lifestyle profile, along with physical exercise, absence of smoking and less than one drink a day for women and two for men.

The end result? Ten more years of healthy life in men and 9.4 more in women, compared with men and women with the lowest lifestyle scores.

Charlyn Fargo is a registered dietitian at Hy-Vee in Springfield, Illinois, and the media representative for the Illinois Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. For comments or questions, contact her at charfarg@aol.com or follow her on Twitter @NutritionRD.

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