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The Mediterranean Diet Continues to Get High Marks

March is National Nutrition Month—a great time to think about improving our dietary habits. Here’s a great way to start.

For years, cardiovascular experts have endorsed the now well-known Mediterranean diet. Speaking for the Society for Vascular Surgery, Dr. C. Keith Ozaki notes, “There are components of the Mediterranean diet that are good for the vascular system, such as eating whole grains, low-fat dairy, skinless poultry and fish, and focusing on non-animal sources of protein.”

Dr. Ozaki, who is a vascular surgeon at Brigham and Women’s Hospital/Harvard Medical School in Boston, says that the Mediterranean diet also calls for using spices instead of salt to flavor food, choosing only lean cuts if you eat meat such as beef and pork, eating lots of fresh fruits and veggies, and avoiding highly processed foods. And choose healthy fats—olive oil is a real star of the Mediterranean diet.

Protecting our heart health is only the beginning when it comes to the benefits of the Mediterranean diet. Previous studies have shown that it lowers the risk of certain cancers, kidney disease and obesity. Recent research can give us even more motivation.

Protect your brain. Numerous studies have shown that following the Mediterranean diet lowers the risk of Alzheimer’s disease and other types of dementia. And in 2018, researchers from Chicago’s Rush University noted that stroke survivors who follow a Mediterranean-style diet can substantially reduce their risk of future cognitive decline.

Protect your bones. Hip fracture due to osteoporosis is a leading cause of disability and death in older adults. A July 2018 study from the University of East Anglia revealed that the Mediterranean diet might lower the risk. The researchers said, “Sticking to a diet rich in fruit, vegetables, nuts, unrefined cereals, olive oil and fish can reduce hip bone loss within just 12 months,” said lead researcher Prof. Susan Fairweather-Tait. “This is a particularly sensitive area, for loss of bone in the femoral neck is often the cause of hip fracture, which is common in elderly people with osteoporosis.”

Protect your eyesight. In September 2018, the American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO) reported that adhering to the Mediterranean diet cuts the risk of age-related macular degeneration (AMD) by 41 percent! AMD is a leading cause of vision loss in older adults. “You are what you eat,” said the AAO’s Dr. Emily Chew. “I believe this is a public health issue on the same scale as smoking. Chronic diseases such as AMD, dementia, obesity and diabetes, all have roots in poor dietary habits. It’s time to take quitting a poor diet as seriously as quitting smoking.”

Live longer … and healthier. A study from the Neuromed Institute in Italy linked the Mediterranean diet with longevity. The study focused on people older than 65, and the team found that “the more you follow the Mediterranean diet, the greater the gain in terms of mortality risk reduction.” Those longer years might also be healthier. “We must add life to years, not just years to life,” said Institute head Giovanni de Gaetano. The research team reported that it’s never too late to make the switch! Even if you’ve been a pizza and burgers person for years, switching to this healthy way of eating today can help.

The information in this article is not intended to replace the advice of your healthcare provider. Talk to your doctor about a diet that is right for you.

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