Can the Mediterranean Diet Help Seniors Live Longer?

Mediterranean diet

It seems like a new diet pops up every week, promising easy weight loss and all sorts of other magic. In fact, you’ve probably heard so much about the latest fad diets that you’ve started to tune out everything about them. But there are some diets that actually do make sense, and that’s why they stick around. You hear about them over and over, and that might start to pique your interest. Is this one for real?

It turns out that the Mediterranean diet really is what even doctors call “the real deal.”

The Mediterranean diet dates back to the Middle Ages and is modeled after the lifestyle of the people of the Mediterranean basin. The food tends to be very simple but quite flavorful with surprising variety. The benefits of the diet came to light for modern researchers in the 1950s, when it was discovered that the poor populations of small towns in Italy were much healthier than those of the wealthier citizens in New York. Study after study was conducted and came to the same conclusions: the superior health of the overall population in those areas was due to their diet[1].

Fortunately, it’s a diet you can replicate anywhere. Just as seniors look to medical alert technology to help make life safer and easier, choosing the right diet can help you live longer. Here’s what you need to know.

What is the Mediterranean Diet?

Healthline says that to follow the Mediterranean diet, you should pile your plate with fruits and vegetables first, followed by legumes. Unrefined grains, extra virgin olive oil, and fish are all an integral part of the diet as well. Cheese and yogurt, in moderation, as well as wine – again, in moderation – are included. There should be very little red meat, sugar, or poultry on the plate.

The Mediterranean diet focuses more on plant-based foods than the typical American diet. There are also much fewer carbohydrates and meats. Monounsaturated fat, known as the “good” fat, is also a staple, as opposed to the more saturated fats common in American diets. Eggs, butter, and red meats are not part of the diet at all. Sweets and desserts aren’t commonly a part of the Mediterranean diet either. Here’s a further breakdown of what’s included in the diet:

·         Foods that contain high amounts of natural fiber

·         Olive oil for food preparation

·         More servings of fresh fruits, vegetables, nuts, legumes, and whole grains

·         Very small amounts of lean meat and chicken (almost as though they are a “treat”)

·         No (or very few) sauces or gravies

·         Plenty of fish and any other seafood

·         Very simple and easy preparation, as well as simple seasonings

The result of eating this way can be lower cholesterol and triglycerides, a lower risk of heart disease, more stable blood sugar, and a lower risk for other health problems as well. In fact, studies report that the diet can result in a 25% decreased risk of mortality from all causes in individuals over 65[2].

Just How Healthy Is It?

There are so many healthy aspects to the Mediterranean diet – backed up by scientific studies – that it’s tough to know where to start. In addition to the 25% lowered risk of mortality among those aged 65 and older (findings that are backed up by another study in the British Journal of Nutrition), there are other benefits for those of any age.

·         In one study, older Spanish women were randomly asked to adhere to the diet, with the addition of extra olive oil. They developed fewer cases of breast cancer compared to those who were asked to simply reduce the fat in their diets[3].

·         Another study found that Spanish individuals who followed the same diet, with the addition of extra olive oil or nuts, saw less cognitive decline[4].

·         In 2013, studies found that following the Mediterranean diet led to a 30% decrease in cardiovascular problems like heart attacks and strokes[5].

·         A 2004 study found that individuals on the diet lost an average of 8.8 pounds over a 2.5-year period, as compared to those who didn’t follow the diet who lost an average of 2.6 pounds.

·         The diet reduces inflammation, which is a risk factor for heart disease[6].

·         The American Heart Association recommends the diet for reducing risk factors that make it more likely to develop diabetes, high cholesterol, obesity, and high blood pressure.

·         A study in the Diabetes Care journal found that the diet reduced the risk of type 2 diabetes by a whopping 52%.

·         Those who followed the diet over a four-year period were found to be 50% less likely to become frail[7]. This can help mitigate fall risk; blending the Mediterranean diet with a medical alert watch or pendant as well as aging in place home modifications can lead to greater peace of mind.

·         Finally, let’s talk about dementia. A study at the University of California found that those who stuck to the diet saw a 30-35% improvement in their cognitive health[8].

Are There Any Downsides?

It might seem like the Mediterranean diet is too good to be true. But it’s not – according to Medline, there are some downsides. Fortunately, most of these can be mitigated so that the diet will work for almost anyone.

You might notice that you gain weight from eating the fats in the diet, including more olive oil and nuts. Though many will lose weight on the Mediterranean diet, especially at first, the use of the oils might lead to gaining some of that weight back.

You might also notice lower levels of iron and calcium. That’s because you’re eating less red meat and much less dairy. Deliberately choose vegetables and other foods that are high in iron and vitamin C, as vitamin C helps your body absorb the iron. You should also get the proper servings of dairy in the form of cheese, yogurt, and the like. However, you might still need calcium or iron supplements. Ask your doctor to check your iron and calcium levels to determine if you need to add these supplements to your daily regimen.

Wine is quite common in the Mediterranean, especially consumed in moderation with meals. However, there are some who shouldn’t drink. Avoid alcohol if you are pregnant, have a breast cancer risk, or have problems with alcohol addiction or abuse. You should also speak with your doctor about medical conditions you might have or medications you might be on that would interact negatively with alcohol.

How Do I Get Started?

After you’ve spoken to your doctor or nutritionist to make sure the Mediterranean diet is right for you, getting started is easy. It’s a matter of changing your diet a little at a time from the typical American fare to something simpler. Add in a bit of the Mediterranean diet at every meal and gradually your plate will change to something much healthier.

As you do this, keep these servings and guidelines in mind[9]:

·         Olive oil is your go-to for cooking and seasoning dishes. Look at a variety of olive oils, especially extra virgin olive oil, to find the one that tastes best to you. You might even want to experiment with oils that are very simply flavored.

·         Season dishes very simply, using fresh herbs if possible.

·         Get at least two servings of vegetables every day. Try to get at least one of those servings in a salad.

·         Eat at least two to three servings of fresh fruit every day. If you choose to use canned fruit, make sure to purchase those only in 100% natural juices with no added sugar.

·         Each week, eat at least three servings of legumes. These can include chickpeas, fresh green peas, black beans, kidney beans, and even peanuts.

·         Each week, eat at least three servings of fish or seafood. Make at least one of those a serving of fatty fish, also known as oily fish. This often includes salmon, swordfish, or tuna.

·         Have one good serving of nuts or seeds at least once each week.

·         At least twice a week, cook a tomato sauce that includes fresh tomato, onion, and garlic. Simmer the ingredients with a bit of olive oil. You can use this as a dressing for salads, pasta, and more.

·         If you are using wine in the Mediterranean diet, do so in moderation and be sure it does not adversely interact with any medications you are on.

·         Treat yourself with low-fat cheese and dark chocolate.

·         Finally, try to eat most of your meals seated at the table, and take your time. A meal should take at least 20 minutes to allow for proper digestion.

There are some things to clearly avoid in the diet. These include:

·         Avoid processed meats, sausages, burgers, or red meats. Avoid cold-cut meats, pate, and duck. Choose white meat instead, including chicken, pork, or rabbit.

·         Keep the wine in moderation; don’t drink to excess.

·         Don’t use cream, butter, or margarine. Stick to olive oil instead.

·         Avoid carbonated beverages, such as sodas. Sweetened beverages, such as iced sweet tea or lemonade, are to be avoided as well.

·         Avoid anything that is processed food.

·         Fries and potato chips are a no-no (even if they are fried in olive oil).

·         Stay away from cookies, puddings, donuts, cakes, and other sweet carbohydrates.

·         Have fatty cheeses, red meat, and cured ham only as very special, occasional treats.

Though this might sound a little complicated, the diet will quickly become second nature. Take your time incorporating it into your current diet, slowly replacing one item with another. For instance, instead of having steak this week, replace it with salmon.

Protecting Your Health in Every Possible Way

Choosing the right diet can become more difficult as we get older. Fortunately, as our nutritional needs change, the Mediterranean diet seems to be a winner in terms of getting the proper vitamins, nutrients, and minerals necessary for a longer, healthier life.

While you’re choosing to take new steps into things that make you healthier and safer, why not go with aging in place solutions as well? One of the simplest, most straightforward, and affordable options for staying independent as long as possible is a personal emergency button alarm. These small devices, especially those that include fall detection, can give you the peace of mind you need to stay independent and confident at home and on the go. Knowing that help is simply a touch away, around the clock, no matter the emergency, can help you enjoy life with one less thing to worry about. Protect your health in every possible way by adding an Alert1 Medical Alert to your list of smart choices. Here’s to your health!