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Following the Mediterranean diet yields significant benefits

November 8, 2013

The Mediterranean diet - one that contains high amounts of fish, fruits, nuts and vegetables - has long been hailed as one of the healthiest lifestyle choices there is, and now an expansive new study offers even stronger evidence that it should be a staple of senior living. Researchers from the Harvard School of Public Health found that people who followed a Mediterranean diet beginning in their 50s were more likely to avoid chronic health conditions, memory problems and functional limitations.

Surprisingly significant
The findings, published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, were based on a lengthy analysis of the lifestyle habits of more than 10,000 women. Over the course of 15 years, researchers also looked at their diets, while assessing the participants' memory and tracking the prevalence of health issues such as Parkinson's disease, cancer and lung disease. Eventually, the team discovered that a Mediterranean-style diet was associated with about a 40 percent greater chance of reaching one's 70s free of significant health issues. Although the benefits of such a diet are well-known, researchers said they were surprised at how pronounced they were. 

"This really suggests that a healthy diet can help improve multiple aspects of your health and your ability to function when you're older," researcher Fran Grodstein of the Harvard School of Public Health told NPR. 

An easy switch
Perhaps the best news concerning this study is that adding some Mediterranean style to your diet is not that difficult, nor does it require a complete overhaul of your eating habits. For instance, rather than significantly cutting down on fat intake, the Mediterranean diet requires you to choose healthier fats, the Mayo Clinic states. Most notably, olive oil is a key component of the diet because of its high level of monounsaturated fat, which has been shown to lower the levels of so-called "bad" cholesterol.

In addition to making changes like substituting olive oil for butter, there are other shifts that can have a similar impact. For instance, adding whole grains is a small change, as is eating more fruits and vegetables. According to NPR, it's also a smart move to add herbs and spices to flavor foods rather than salt. Eating fish and poultry twice a week is also a change that many seniors can adhere to.