From tapeworms to cabbage soup, mind-boggling food crazes litter the world of nutrition like so many discarded cigarette butts.
But, there are gems hidden within the dietary refuse; particular eating plans that provide a key ingredient to living a longer, healthier life.
One such jewel is the “Mediterranean diet,” a collection of nutritional and behavioral best-practices typically adhered to by people living in the areas surrounding the Mediterranean Sea. This particular eating regimen also offers a series of benefits specific to the aging population.
What is the Mediterranean diet?
Built on a foundation of fruits, vegetables, whole grains and fish, the Mediterranean diet has slowly gained prominence as an effective way to increase longevity and stave off chronic illness and cognitive decline.
Recently, the diet nabbed the third place spot (out of 29) on U.S. News and World Report’s, “Best Overall Diets,” list—receiving four out of five stars from nutritional experts.
“This diet is an example of great nutrition mostly because it is rich in colorful fruits and vegetables. Which means it’s rich in a variety of powerful vitamins and minerals,” says Gwen Weiss, nutritionist and author of, “Extraordinary Centenarians in America: Their Secrets to Living a Long Vibrant Life.”
Here’s what science has to say about the positive effects of the eating habits of Mediterranean natives:
Keeps elders agile: A 2012 study conducted on elderly residents of Tuscany, Italy, found that keeping to a Mediterranean-style diet decreased a senior’s odds of developing hallmark signs of frailty (slow walking speed, muscle weakness, generalized exhaustion) by about 70 percent, when compared to those who subscribed to a different nutritional program.
Fights chronic ailments: Study after study shows how Mediterranean diet foods can help reduce a person’s risk for developing chronic illnesses, including heart disease, diabetes, cancer, arthritis, dental disease, macular degeneration and Alzheimer’s. They may also play a role in helping people with asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) manage their condition.
Protects the brain: Adhering to healthy lifestyle practices may reduce a person’s risk of Alzheimer’s disease and other cognitive disorders. “We know that dietary habits can and do have profound effects on our brains both directly, as well as indirectly,” says Christopher Ochner, Ph.D., a leading nutrition and brain health researcher and co-author of the book, “The Alzheimer’s Diet: A Step-by-Step Nutritional Approach for Memory Loss Prevention and Treatment.” Ochner’s co-author and colleague, Richard Isaacson, M.D., an Alzheimer’s disease specialist says that a good diet is one that is high in fruits, vegetables and whole grains, and low in dairy, saturated fat and refined sugar (a.k.a. the Mediterranean diet). He adds, “The positive effects on memory function associated with a brain-healthy diet may be as effective (or even more effective over time) than those achieved with current FDA-approved medications.”
Good nutrition alone isn’t enough. To reap the maximum health advantages, Weiss stresses the importance of the non-food elements of the Mediterranean diet.
“The Mediterranean people also remain active well into their platinum years, eat moderate portions and savor their food. Americans tend to be more sedentary, eat way too quickly and in excess—which contributes to digestive disorders and obesity,” she says.
Communal meals eaten in the company of family and friends are also an important component of dietary lifestyle of these individuals.
Keep reading to discover some important tips for going Mediterranean: