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Mediterranean diet helps women live much longer, a large new study finds

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Women who closely followed a Mediterranean diet lived significantly longer than those who didn’t, according to a new study that followed more than 25,000 women for 25 years.

“For women interested in longevity, our study shows that following a Mediterranean diet could lead to about a quarter reduction in the risk of death over 25 years, with a benefit on both cancer and cardiovascular mortality. , the leading causes of death,” lead study author Dr. Samia Mora, a cardiologist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School in Boston, said in an email.

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The Mediterranean diet offers simple plant-based cooking, with a large portion of each meal focusing on fruits and vegetables, whole grains, beans and seeds, with a few nuts and a strong emphasis on olive oil extra virgin. Fats other than olive oil, such as butter, are rarely eaten, if at all, and sugar and refined foods should be avoided.

Red meat is used sparingly, usually only to flavor a dish. Consumption of healthy fatty fish, rich in omega-3 fatty acids, is encouraged, while eggs, dairy and poultry are consumed in much smaller portions than in the traditional Western diet.

“In this study, adherence to the Mediterranean diet was an indicator of diet quality. Those who adhere to it the most eat more legumes, more vegetables, more fruit, less meat and less processed meats,” said Dr. David Katz, a preventive medicine and lifestyle specialist who founded the True Health Initiative, a global nonprofit coalition. experts dedicated to evidence-based lifestyle medicine.

Although the study is observational and therefore cannot show direct cause and effect, “the results are entirely consistent with many other studies on the Mediterranean diet now renowned for its health benefits,” said Katz, who does not did not participate in the research.

“We can infer that a high-quality diet actually ’caused’ a lower risk of death,” Katz said in an email.

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According to the new study, each increase in adherence to the Mediterranean diet extends women’s lives.

The Mediterranean diet has a long list of scientific kudos: The Mediterranean eating style may reduce the risk of breast cancer, dementia, depression, diabetes, high cholesterol and memory loss. Sticking to a diet can also lead to stronger bones, a healthier heart, and a longer life. It is also good for healthy weight loss.

However, all of this data contains little detail on the specific effects of the Mediterranean diet on women, especially in the long term. That’s important, experts say, because women are not little men.

A woman’s brain works differently at the molecular level than a man’s. The size of a woman’s heart may differ from a man’s, and women have completely different heart attack symptoms than men. Women metabolize alcohol and medications differently than men. And then there’s the obvious difference between menstruation and menopause, which creates a whole class of health risks specific to women.

In the new study, published Friday in the journal JAMA Network Open, researchers surveyed 25,315 healthy women participating in the Women’s Health Study about their diets and collected blood and other biomarkers between 1993 and 1996. These women were reassessed between 2018 and 2023.

Not only did closely following the Mediterranean diet reduce the risk of premature death by 23%, it also reduced the risk of dying from cancer by 17% and dying from cardiovascular disease by 20%. according to the study.

“There has been a gradual increase in benefits – the more you engage, the more benefits,” said lead author Shafqat Ahmad, associate professor of molecular epidemiology at Uppsala University in Sweden. in an email.

Each increase in adherence to the Mediterranean diet was associated with a 6% reduction in the risk of all-cause mortality and a 5% reduction in the risk of dying from heart disease or cancer, Ahmad said.

“What is worth noting is that the observance measure ‘corrects’ the distortions of the Mediterranean diet,” Katz said. “In the United States, simply adding olive oil to fries could lead someone to claim to follow a Mediterranean diet.”

However, the study corrects the distortions by looking at all the “key features of a ‘real’ Mediterranean diet, and thus excludes this kind of misrepresentation,” Katz said.

It’s not difficult to incorporate a Mediterranean culinary style into your life, experts say. Start by adding more vegetables and legumes to each meal and use all kinds and colors to get the widest range of nutrients, phytochemicals and fiber. Cook them, roast them or garnish them with herbs and a little extra virgin olive oil.

Add whole grains and fruit to every meal, but use nuts and seeds as a topping or small snack because of their higher calorie content. and fat content.

Significantly reduce the use of red meat. Instead, turn to fish and other seafood, which are often eaten at least twice a week. Get as much protein as possible from beans and other legumes. Start with one bean-based meal per week, then add two and build your meat-free meals from there.

Mix cheese and yogurt daily or weekly in moderate portions. Chicken, pork and eggs are OK on occasion. Save treats for special occasions and satisfy your sweet tooth with fresh and frozen fruit.

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