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Can a Mediterranean diet protect us as we age?

WebMD UK Health News Brief
Medically Reviewed by Dr Farah Ahmed
Greek Salad

11th January 2018 – Eating a Mediterranean diet is frequently recommended for good health and longer life. Now, a study suggests that it may protect us from many of the unpleasant characteristics of ageing.

Frailty is common among older people. Elderly people who are frail may have weaker muscles, weight loss and low energy reserves.

This can lead to falls, bone fractures, dementia and premature death.

It also places a costly burden on the NHS and social care.

The role of diet

A research team led by University College London has explored whether a healthier diet can reduce the risk of becoming frail.

They analysed evidence from 4 studies carried out in France, Spain, Italy and China involving 5,789 older people.

People were typically followed for almost 4 years.

The study, published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, found "evidence that greater adherence to a Mediterranean diet is associated with significantly lower risk of incident frailty in community-dwelling older people".

The Mediterranean diet mainly emphasises foods that are low-fat, low- cholesterol and high- fibre. It is based on food patterns typical of Greece and southern Italy in the 1960s.

Fruit, veg and olive oil

Staple ingredients of the Mediterranean diet are fruit, vegetables, beans, nuts, cereals, fish, and olive oil. Intake of meat and dairy products is low.

The diet is low in saturated fats and has been associated with lower levels of heart disease, better brain health, and fewer cases of cancer and diabetes.

The researchers say to date, only a few studies have examined associations between the Mediterranean diet and the risk of becoming frail in old age. Also, many of these studies have been inconclusive.

They suggest that the Mediterranean diet may help older people maintain muscle strength, activity, weight and energy levels.

However, they caution that further studies to confirm their findings.

Reviewed on January 11, 2018

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