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Tomatoes and other fruits and vegetables are key staples to the Mediterranean diet. Samuel Zeller/Stocksy
  • Researchers are reporting that women can reduce their risk of all-cause mortality by adhering to the Mediterranean diet.
  • The Mediterranean diet emphasizes plant-based foods, primarily vegetables, fruits, and whole grains.
  • Researchers noted that people who closely followed the Mediterranean diet also followed other healthy lifestyle choices, such as reducing red and processed meats.

Following the Mediterranean diet can reduce women’s risk of all-cause mortality by 23%, according to a study published in the journal JAMA Network Open.

The research included 25,315 initially healthy women, with a mean age of 54 years at the start of the study. The average follow-up was 24 years. Almost 95% of the participants were white.

During the study period, there were 3,879 deaths, including 935 deaths from cardiovascular disease and 1,531 deaths from cancer.

This study was an umbrella review of 495 meta-analyses of observational studies that examined the association between several diets and cardiometabolic biomarkers.

The researchers looked at 33 blood biomarkers that broadly evaluated measures of:

The scientists did not look at biomarkers related to total cholesterol, LDL-C, Lp(a), or glycemic measures, such as hemoglobin A1C.

The researchers determined mortality and cause of death from medical and death records.

The researchers said those in the study who adhered to the Mediterranean diet had lower body mass index measurements.

They also embraced a range of healthier lifestyle habits. They consumed more fruits, nuts, whole grains, legumes, and fish while significantly reducing their red and processed meat intake. These findings underscore the potential health benefits of the Mediterranean diet.

The researchers indicate that despite their findings, most potential benefits of following the Mediterranean diet remain unexplained.

“Although this study doesn’t show cause and effect, it adds to the body of evidence that suggests the Mediterranean diet can promote better health and longevity,” said Anne Danahy, RDN, a registered dietician nutritionist focusing on Mediterranean diet recipes.

“The researchers suggest that the benefits may come from improvements in cardiometabolic health and lower inflammation,” Danahy, who was not involved in the study, told Medical News Today. “That’s important because inflammation naturally increases with age (usually starting in your 40s). Inflammation is thought to be a root cause of chronic diseases like obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and cancer. It makes sense that any strategies to reduce age-related inflammation may prolong life and enhance your quality of life as you age.”

The Mediterranean diet is based on the eating habits of people living along the coast of the Mediterranean Sea, according to the The American Heart Association.

Eating styles vary in the region, but the different cultures share some similarities in their diet.

People there eat primarily fruits, vegetables, potatoes, beans, nuts, seeds, and whole grains. Their primary source of fat is olive oil. They consume low to moderate amounts of limited quantities of eggs, fish, poultry, and sweet foods. Desserts typically consist of fresh fruit.

“This diet pattern is in stark contrast to the Standard American Diet, which is high in red meats and ultra-processed foods that tend to be high in sugar, refined carbohydrates, and unhealthy fats,” Danahy said. “Several studies, including this recent one, suggest that diets high in ultra-processed foods have detrimental effects on health and lifespan — the opposite of the Mediterranean diet.”

“To start the Mediterranean food plan, consult with a healthcare professional for personalized guidance, then gradually incorporate Mediterranean-style meals into your routine,” says Tatiana Ridley, a holistic nutritionist at Healthylicious Bliss. “Experiment with recipes and keep your kitchen stocked with Mediterranean staples.”

Ridley, who was not involved in the study, explained to Medical News Today that the first three steps to incorporating the Mediterranean diet into your life are:

  • Educating Yourself: Learn about the key principles of the Mediterranean diet, including its emphasis on whole foods, healthy fats, lean proteins, and abundant fruits and vegetables.
  • Consulting with a Professional: Seek guidance from a healthcare professional to personalize the diet and lifestyle to your health needs and goals.
  • Making Small Changes: Begin by gradually incorporating Mediterranean-style meals into your routine. Swap out unhealthy fats for olive oil, add more plant-based foods to your plate, and experiment with Mediterranean recipes to find what works best for your lifestyle.

Additionally, Ridley noted some things to keep in mind:

  • Incorporate Healthy Fats: Use olive oil as your primary cooking fat and include naked nuts and seeds in your diet.
  • Eat Fruits and Vegetables: Aim for five servings of fruits and vegetables a day, focusing on a rainbow of colors.
  • Choose Whole Grains: Replace refined grains with sprouted whole grains such as brown rice, barley, buckwheat, farro, millet, oats, quinoa, rye, and spelt.
  • Opt for Lean Proteins: Eat wild fish at least twice a week and include other lean organic proteins like poultry (chicken, turkey, etc.) and legumes (chickpeas, peas, lentils, etc.). Limit red meat to occasional servings.
  • Include Dairy in Moderation: Consume moderate amounts of organic dairy, such as yogurt and cheese.
  • Flavor with Herbs and Spices: Use herbs and spices instead of salt to flavor your meals.
  • Limit Processed Foods and Sugars: Reduce your intake of processed foods, sugary snacks, and beverages.