Women on This Type of Diet Tend to Live Longer, Study Finds

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A woman eating healthy foods
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Most folks who diet are trying to shed a few pounds. But the right diet can also lengthen your life.

The Mediterranean diet regularly wins praise from experts for promoting good health. Now, a study published in JAMA — the flagship journal of the American Medical Association — suggests that women who turn to this diet can reduce their mortality risk by up to 23%.

Researchers at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, which is part of the Mass General Brigham health care system, followed more than 25,000 American women for about 25 years, on average. All were healthy at the outset of the study period, with an average age of about 55.

The researchers gave them a “Mediterranean diet score” on a scale of 0 to 9 based on nine key components of the diet. A score of 0 indicated the least adherence to the Mediterranean diet and 9 the most adherence.

Among the women who earned Mediterranean diet scores of 6 to 9, the risk of dying from any cause during the study period was 23% lower when compared with those with scores of 0 to 3. Among women who earned scores of 4 or 5, the risk of dying from any cause was 16% lower compared with those with lower scores.

The risks of dying from heart disease and especially cancer were also notably lower among those who followed the Mediterranean diet more closely.

The researchers noted that the diet changed biomarkers (meaning measurements such as blood test results) related to:

  • Metabolism
  • Inflammation
  • Insulin resistance

In a summary of the findings, lead author Shafqat Ahmad — an associate professor at Uppsala University Sweden and a researcher at Brigham and Women’s Hospital — says:

“Our research provides significant public health insight: even modest changes in established risk factors for metabolic diseases … can yield substantial long-term benefits from following a Mediterranean diet.”

In particular, those risk factors for metabolic disease include inflammation, high triglyceride levels in the blood, obesity and insulin resistance.

The Mediterranean diet is heavily focused on plant-based foods, such as nuts, seeds, fruits, vegetables, whole grains and legumes. Olive oil — typically extra virgin — is the main source of fat in the diet.

Other foods that feature prominently in the Mediterranean diet include moderate amounts of fish, poultry, dairy, eggs, and alcohol. On the other hand, the diet seldom includes meats, sweets and processed foods.

In the study, women earned higher “Mediterranean diet scores” if they consumed:

  • More vegetables (excluding potatoes) than typical among study subjects
  • More fruits than typical
  • More nuts than typical
  • More whole grains than typical
  • More legumes than typical
  • More fish than typical
  • More monounsaturated fats relative to their intake of saturated fats
  • Less red and processed meat than typical
  • 5 to 15 grams per day of alcohol (which translates to about one 5-ounce glass of wine, one 12-ounce can of beer or 1.5 ounces of liquor)

For more on the virtues of the Mediterranean diet, check out “This Is the Best Diet Overall — for 7 Years Straight.”

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