The Mediterranean Diet has long been touted as a healthy way of eating. Research has shown that consuming a diet rich in vegetables, fruit, nuts, beans, whole grains, olive oil, fish, and red wine can reduce the risk of heart disease, cancer, Parkinson’s, and even Alzheimer’s disease.
But can eating like a Greek Islander actually extend your life? A new study from Harvard Medical School suggests yes. Data from the ongoing Nurses’ Health Study showed that women who ate a Mediterranean Diet showed fewer signs of aging in their cells.
Researchers looked at tiny chromosomal structures called telomeres, which shorten as we age. The nurses who followed a Mediterranean Diet had longer, healthier telomeres, even when controlling for factors such BMI, exercise level, age, and calorie intake.
Why would eating a Mediterranean diet protect telomeres? Researchers believe that it’s due to the antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects of fruits, vegetables, olive oils, and nuts. Lifestyle choices such as smoking and drinking soda cause inflammation and oxidative stress, which prematurely shorten a person’s telomeres and can lead to disease. Foods that reduce inflammation in our cells are believed to protect telomeres, thus contributing to good health and longevity, and might even counteract behaviors that cause inflammation.
Integrative Nutrition visiting teacher Dr. Andrew Weil has long advocated for what he calls the Anti-Inflammatory Diet, which is quite similar to what the nurses ate in the Harvard study. He encourages the consumption of fresh fruits, vegetables, extra-virgin olive oil, omega-3 fatty acids, whole grains, beans, and fish, but cautions against saturated fats found in butter, red meat, and processed vegetable oils.
So is the Mediterranean Diet right for you? Perhaps – but other researchers argue that saturated fats have been unfairly vilified. Integrative Nutrition visiting teachers Gary Taubes and Dr. Frank Lipman both cite studies that suggest that high-quality animal products, including ever-controversial beef, butter, and bacon, are actually quite healthful.
At Integrative Nutrition, we teach that nutrition is a fledgling science, and there’s no one-size-fits-all diet. That’s why we present over 100 different dietary theories and encourage students to find the foods and lifestyle that make them feel their best. This is the core of what we call bio-individuality.
Do you follow the Mediterranean Diet? Do you avoid saturated fats? How does it make you feel? Let us know why or why not in the comments below!