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Evidence keeps piling up about the potential health benefits of a Mediterranean diet. The latest: Middle-aged women who eat a Mediterranean-style diet – rich in vegetables, fruit, whole grains, seafood and olive oil – may face better odds of reaching their later decades without contracting serious diseases, a new study suggests.

The report – in the Annals of Internal Medicine – found that women in their late 50s and early 60s who followed this healthy eating regimen were about 40 percent more likely to live past the age of 70 without chronic illness and without physical or mental problems than those with less-healthy diets.

Researchers studied more than 10,000 women. They then compared the women’s health 15 years later, looking for illnesses like heart disease, Parkinson's, diabetes, and cancer.

The healthiest women consumed more plant-based foods, whole grains, fish, and healthy fats like olive oil, according to the study. They also consumed less red and processed meats and drank moderate amounts of alcohol.

"This really suggests that a healthy diet can help improve multiple aspects of your health and your ability to function when you're older," researcher Fran Grodstein of the Harvard School of Public Health told NPR.

Meir Stampfer, co-author of the report, told NPR he was "surprised by the magnitude of the effects" in the study, given what is already known about the heart benefits of a Mediterranean-style diet. He added that the findings add to growing evidence that indicate measurable benefits of eating a diet high in plant-based foods and low in saturated fats, meat and refined starch.

Previous studies have suggested that a Mediterranean-type diet may help reduce cholesterol, improve weight loss, and lower the risk for contracting Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes, and various cancers.

Heidi Goodman, executive editor of the Harvard Health Letter, suggests the following to “jump-start” a Mediterranean-style diet – if you aren't doing so already:

  • Sauté food in olive oil, not butter
  • Eat more fruits and vegetables through snacks or by adding them to other recipes
  • Pick whole grains versus refined breads and pastas
  • Substitute a fish meal for red meat at least two times a week
  • Curb high-fat dairy by opting for skim or 1 percent milk versus 2 percent or whole

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