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The Mediterranean Diet for Longevity and Healthful Aging
Adding years to your life.
The Mediterranean diet is the healthy eating pattern traditional to regions surrounding the Mediterranean Sea, such as Crete, Spain and Italy. Research looking at this population and longevity does seem to say that the Mediterranean way can keep aging at bay.
In one large study, consumption of a Mediterranean diet resulted in increased telomere length, a biomarker of aging in humans. Although the accuracy of this biomarker is under debate, the results from this study did support others researching the Mediterranean diet and longevity. Multiple large prospective cohort studies, the type that follow participants over many years, have repeatedly shown that a higher adherence to the Mediterranean diet is associated with a lower risk of death or all-cause mortality.
What is quantity of life without quality one might ask? As it turns out, the Mediterranean diet has also been shown to promote healthy aging, which is defined as living to 70 years of age or older with no major chronic diseases and in good physical and mental health. This begs the question: how long do we need to follow a Mediterranean diet to add years to our life? That remains unknown. The good news however, is that it is never too late to start.
How to get started on the Mediterranean diet.
The benefits associated with the Mediterranean diet cannot be attributed to a single dietary component, but to the pattern as a whole. Here is how to get started.
Eat an abundance of unprocessed plant-based foods.
This dietary pattern relies heavily on home cooking and plant-based foods. At the base of the Mediterranean meal are vegetables, fruit, whole grains, beans, legumes, nuts, herbs and spices. As a result, this diet is high in fibre as well as in anti-inflammatory and antioxidant plant compounds, known for their protective roles against chronic disease and aging.
This diet is also naturally high in potassium and low in sodium, a point of which Canadians should take note, given the 2017 Sodium Intake of Canadians Report, stating that most exceed recommended limits due to a heavy reliance on ultra-processed and restaurant foods.
Consume a high fat diet.
The Mediterranean diet is high in fat, with over 37% of daily calories coming from healthy fats. Cold-pressed, extra-virgin olive oil is the principle source of fat consumed with other sources including nuts, seeds, fatty fish and seafood.
Consume red meat and dairy only occasionally.
Traditionally, red meat and dairy are eaten on a weekly or bi-weekly basis. When consumed, these foods are eaten in modest amounts and with a focus on quality local products, such as flavourful artisanal cheeses.
Switch to intact grains.
Contrary to popular belief, a Mediterranean diet doesn’t mean subsisting on pasta and pizza, but rather on whole, intact grains. Bulgur, farro, black rice, barley and their flours are often used in fresh salads, soups, risottos or as bases for dishes loaded with vegetables, herbs and spices.
Enjoy meals with friends.
Hospitality, meal sharing and the family table are foundational components of the Mediterranean diet. Given that social interaction is a known independent contributor to mental health and longevity, this element of the Mediterranean diet, or rather lifestyle, should not be overlooked. Because sharing meals with loved ones may add years to our life, but more importantly, life to our years.
Crous-Bou M, Fung TT, Prescott J, Julin B, Du M, Sun Q, Rexrode KM, Hu FB, De Vivo I. Mediterranean diet and telomere length in Nurses’ Health Study: population based cohort study. BMJ. 2014 Dec 2;349:g6674.
Shikany JM et al. Dietary Patterns and Mediterranean Diet Score and Hazard of Recurrent Coronary Heart Disease Events and All-Cause Mortality in the REGARDS Study. Journal of the American Heart Association. 2018 Jul 12;7(14).
Samieri C, Sun Q, Townsend MK, Chiuve SE, Okereke OI, Willett WC, Stampfer M, Grodstein F. The Association Between Dietary Patterns at Midlife and Health in Aging: An Observational Study. Annals of internal medicine. 2013 Nov 5;159(9):584-91. Health Canada. Sodium Intake Of Canadians in 2017 Report. (Consulted August 2018)
Vanessa Perrone, RD
Serves Serves 4-6
10 minPrep Time
30 minCook Time
40 minTotal Time
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 large onion, diced
- 3 celery stalks, diced
- 3 carrots, diced
- 3 garlic cloves, minced
- 2 cups string green beans, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
- 2 medium zucchini, diced
- 2 cans (14oz/398mL) diced tomatoes
- 1 carton (900mL) low sodium chicken or vegetable broth
- 2 cups water
- 1 teaspoons kosher salt
- 2-inch rind Parmesan cheese
- 1 Bay leaf
- 1 can (19oz/540mL) Romano or cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
- 1/3 cup dry quinoa
- 10 leaves fresh basil, chopped
- 1. In a large and heavy pot, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the onion, celery, carrot and saute until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic, green beans, zucchini and saute 3 minutes more.
- 2. Add the tomatoes, broth, water, salt, parmesan rind and bay leaf and bring to a boil. Once boiling, reduce to a gentle simmer and let cook, 15 minutes.
- 3. Add the canned beans, the quinoa and basil and cook 15 minutes longer, until the quinoa has bloomed.
- 4. Adjust the seasoning to taste and serve.
OLIVE OIL AND ORANGE GRANOLA
Prep time: 10 min
Cook time: 25 min
Total time : 35 min
3 cups rolled oats
1 cup sliced almonds
1/2 cup of shelled pistachios
1/2 cup shredded coconut, unsweetened
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1/4 cup of olive oil
1/3 cup of honey
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Zest of one orange
1. Preheat the oven to 300 ° F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
2. In large bowl, combine oats, almonds, pistachios, coconut and salt.
3. In a small bowl, whisk the olive oil, honey, cinnamon and zest. Pour over the dry ingredients and mix with well.
4. Spread the granola mixture evenly on the baking sheet and in an even layer. Bake 22 to 25 minutes, or until golden brown. Let cool completely.
5. Store in an airtight container one week or in the freezer for 3 months.
Vanessa Perrone is a Registered Dietitian and owner of Motive Nutrition. She believes in a real food approach, a return to home cooking and in mindful eating to reconnect with food and create lasting change. For recipes, tips and tricks that inspire healthy living, follow her daily on Instagram @motivenutrition or sign-up to her blog at: www.motivenutrition.com