Mediterranean for goodness sake

Tuesday, 16th May, 2017

GOOD MED-ICINE - The Mediterranean diet has been linked to better health in older people.

THE health benefits of the Mediterranean diet have long been lauded. Now a world-first study has shown the diet - packed with fresh fruit, vegetables, olive oil and wine - is best as we age.

A study by researchers at Deakin University found the diet lowers the likelihood of stroke, heart attack and chronic disease in older people.

The research project was lead by the Caryl Nowson from the university's Institute for Physical Activity and Nutrition. It found the elderly were more likely to remain cognitively alert while eating protein-rich legumes, fish, whole grain and red meat.

"We found that older people eating a Mediterranean type diet that contains a variety of fruits and vegetables, olive oil daily and nuts, are more likely to have less chronic disease as they age, less likely to have a stroke or heart attack, and less likely to become frail and more likely to remain cognitively alert," Professor Nowson said.

Her team reviewed more than 800 studies and summarised data from 35 studies linking diet to health impact.

She said the evidence showed we need specific dietary recommendations for people over 65 as their needs are different to younger adults or people in middle age.

Professor Nowson's motivation for the study came after watching her mother who, as she grew older, became increasing frail and lost so much muscle that she would fall over and needed support with walking.

"We know that if we can reduce muscle loss with ageing and if we can maintain muscle strength then we are more likely to be physically active, less likely to fall or get a fracture, and more likely to be able to maintain a high quality of life," she said.

"Older people actually require between 20-60 per cent more protein than younger adults or people in middle age, as higher intakes of protein, when combined with resistance exercise, can help to reduce muscle loss.

"This research now provides sufficient epidemiological evidence to recommend that those 65 and over adopt characteristics of a Mediterranean diet, including olive oil and at least three serves of vegetables per day.

"In addition, consuming more protein than younger people, together with regular resistance exercise, is likely to improve physical health.

"We all are happy to live longer, but the key is to remain both physically and mentally active - and this lifestyle pattern is likely to reduce the risk of heart attack and stroke, cognitive decline and frailty."

Professor Nowson's review will be published in The Journal of Nutrition, Health & Ageing.

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