Data from this study suggest that the Mediterranean diet is beneficial for adults of any age. The findings also suggest that the diet was linked to lower all-cause mortality and prolonged survival in elderly people.
Dr. Marialaura Bonaccio, first author of the study and a researcher at the Department of Epidemiology and Prevention at the Italian Istituto Neurologico Mediterraneo Neuromed (Institute for Research, Hospitalization, and Health Care), explained that while experts already know that the Mediterranean diet can reduce the risk of mortality in the general population, it was unknown if it had the same effect among older people.
In the study, the researchers found that following the Mediterranean diet was linked to a 25 percent lower risk of all-cause death in a large sample of elderly participants. After a meta-analysis of seven other studies on the Mediterranean diet, the scientists also determined that the closer individuals followed the diet, the greater the health benefits.
The researchers took a two-pronged approach in this study:
For this study, the researchers worked with over 5,000 individuals aged 65 or older in southern Italy. The research team then followed up with these individuals for at least eight years, on average.
All of the participants in this cohort had their general health assessed. The researchers also assessed the participants' activity level, blood pressure, BMI (body mass index), cholesterol, and smoking status.
Using a Mediterranean diet score developed by scientists in 2003, the researchers assessed how closely individuals followed the Mediterranean diet. The scores ranged from 0 to 9, with 0 being the least adherent, and 9 being the most.
Based on the results, the older adults who followed the diet more closely had better cardiovascular health. Their risk of death from cardiovascular disease was also reduced. The researchers noted that a single point increase using the Mediterranean diet scale was linked to a five percent reduction in risk of death.
The traditional Mediterranean diet requires a high intake of fruits, vegetables, and legumes. It also includes:
But since the diet is consumed by various peoples and cultures all over the Mediterranean region, there is a noticeable difference in the individual components of the diet. Regardless of these differences, there is a general benefit to the diet that is greater than the sum of its individual parts. (Related: Mediterranean diet linked to lower depression risk, according to study.)
If you are having a hard time making the switch to a healthier diet, make changes in your home and kitchen. Get rid of unhealthy food and beverages like candy and soda, and start eating healthier snacks like fresh vegetables, fresh fruits, and lean protein like plain Greek yogurt and fish. Fill your fridge with healthy foods like lean cuts of meat, fish, or quinoa so you can easily make meals.
The Mediterranean diet is suitable for people who wish to consume more healthy carbs, healthy fats, and animal protein like chicken and fish, advised Kristin Kirkpatrick, a licensed, registered dietitian.
Kirkpatrick, who is also a wellness manager at the Cleveland Clinic Wellness Institute, noted that some older individuals may require more protein than what the Mediterranean diet suggests to preserve muscle mass.
Before you start following the Mediterranean diet, remember that this change involves more than just eating different kinds of food. The diet also has greater cultural implications like sharing meals together, seasonality, and ways of combining foods. For example, the typical Mediterranean way of eating pasta is with legumes or vegetables.
Start by adding more colorful fruits and vegetables to your diet and choose healthier snacks like nuts and olives. Then, limit your consumption of red meat and eat more wild fatty fish and lean skinless poultry. Whether you are 36 or 66 years old, these small changes will all result in significant improvements to your well-being.