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Does the Mediterranean Diet Lead to a Longer Life?

New research shows that the Mediterranean Diet may help slow the aging process, in addition to having a positive impact on heart health.  The basis of the diet – not eating processed foods, limiting red meat and shaping meals around fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts and beans – “appears to protect a person’s DNA from damage that naturally occurs with aging,” according to facts cited in a recent CBS News story.

“Many of the foods that make up the Mediterranean Diet, like nuts, olive oil and fish, are rich in omega-3 fats, which are both heart protective and anti-inflammatory. This diet is also rich in fiber, vitamins and minerals that protect your body and keep you healthier, which may in turn help you live longer,” explained Amy Bowen, a clinical dietitian with WakeMed Cary Hospital.  “It’s important to note that in this study, no one food from the diet stood out as promoting longevity. Eating a variety of foods from the Mediterranean Diet will help you ensure that you’re getting all the benefits this diet offers. While the study does have some limitations, the results further support the benefits of following the Mediterranean Diet to improve health and promote longevity.”

Here are some basics of the Mediterranean lifestyle:

  1. Base every meal around fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts and beans. The first step to eating more of a Mediterranean diet is to boost your fruits and vegetable intake. Some easy ways to boost include adding veggies to chili, soups and casseroles.  Add fruits to cereal or a salad, or snack on dried fruit and nuts.
  2. Eat fish and seafood frequently (at least two times per week).
  3. Poultry and dairy products should be consumed in moderate portions daily.
  4. Red meats and sweets are meant to be enjoyed sparingly.  Fruits are often the dessert of choice. Some of my favorite Mediterranean style desserts include cheese with fruit, a small piece of dark chocolate and sorbet or gelato with minimal toppings.
  5. If you drink alcohol, consume a moderate amount of red wine.  One 5-ounce glass of wine per day for women and up to two 5-ounce glasses for men is considered moderate.
  6. Use herbs and spices liberally to reduce added salt and boost health-promoting antioxidants.
  7. Replace butter with heart healthy fats such as olive oil and canola oil. Olive oil is typically the main source of dietary fat and is used in variety of ways, including cooking, baking, and preparing salads and vegetables.
  8. Exercise regularly.
  9. Stay well hydrated with water.
  10. Last but not least, savor your food and enjoy the company of others.

The Mediterranean diet encourages fat from healthy sources like fish, olive oil, and nuts, but it is still possible to overindulge.  Be sure to avoid the common pitfalls of the American diet, including excess fat, salt, meat, sweets and large portion sizes.

With questions for the dietitians, e-mail For individual nutrition counseling, call WakeMed Cary Hospital Outpatient Nutrition Services at 919-350-2358.