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Mediterranean diet keeps your chromosomes young

14th May 2015
healthy food

One of the most appreciated diets of all time, not only by laymen but also by dieticians and physicians all over the world, the Mediterranean diet keeps on gathering merits. Previously proven to help in reducing the risk of heart disease and keeping the cardiovascular system healthy, this eating strategy seems to promote wellness not only by preventing a series of ailments, but by working from the inside in keeping the organism young.

A new study published by researchers from Harvard Medical School showed that eating according to the Mediterranean principles may maintain the youth of chromosomes, so it comes as no surprise that this regimen has been linked to a longer lifespan. This study was published in the BMJ journal, and focused on the effects of the Mediterranean diet on the length of telomeres, these parts of the chromosomes being considered biomarkers of aging.

Telomeres are the short sequence of DNA found at the end of chromosomes, which prevent the degradation of the DNA. Each cell division leads to the shortening of the telomeres, so as we age these sequences become shorter naturally. However, in some ailments like cardiovascular diseases, chronic illnesses or some forms of cancer, the telomeres are also shorter.

The study was conducted in the USA, on 4676 healthy women, concluding that greater adherence to the Mediterranean regimen contributes to longer telomeres over time. However, the study didn’t show that this way of eating is able to lengthen the DNA sequences, so the conclusion was that eating according to the Mediterranean principles can keep the chromosomes healthy and young for longer, while the Western diet doesn’t have this effect.

Researchers involved in this study believed that this effect comes from the fact that the Mediterranean diet reduces inflammation and oxidative stress, both known as potential triggers for telomere shrinkage. Since this eating strategy promotes the consumption of vegetables and fruits as opposed to sugar- and fat-rich foods, it’s not hard to understand why it’s linked with lower levels of inflammation, while western diets are more likely to increase oxidative stress.

Additional benefits of the Mediterranean regimen

The Mediterranean regimen promotes the consumption of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, olives, nuts, fish, and small amounts of wine for dinner, while discouraging the consumption of red meat, dairy, poultry and sweets.

Unlike other diets, this one emphasizes portions instead of calories, recommending an intake of 3-5 servings of fruits, veggies and cereals per day, 1-3 units for fish, white meat, low-fat dairy or nuts, and a low intake of red meat, eggs, sweets and desserts. The consumption of salt should also be kept at a minimum, herbs being preferred for adding flavor to foods.

The number and size of portions plays the most important role in this regimen, which does not forbid any food group, and doesn’t recommend a certain food either. So if you prefer to eat mostly veggies and avoid nuts, you can personalize the diet and make it suit your taste and preferences. Also, you can get creative and adjust the regimen based on the foods that are more affordable or easier to find in your region, so even if you don’t live in Greece or Spain, you can still follow the Mediterranean regimen.

This way of eating has been analyzed in numerous studies, research showing that it’s one of the healthiest diets out there. It’s been linked with increased longevity, a lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure or unhealthy levels of cholesterol, and a lower risk of cardiovascular disease. The Mediterranean diet was found to reduce the risk of obesity and to contribute to healthier weight loss and weight maintenance, as well as to be useful in reducing the risk of Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease.

To transform your diet and make it more Mediterranean-like, you can start by increasing the consumption of vegetables and fruits, even starchy foods, and reducing the consumption of junk products. Also, reduce the intake of meat and eat more fish, and replace eggs and fatty dairy products with low-fat dairy, nuts and seeds. Use olive oil for cooking and herbs for adding flavor.

Rice, pasta and potatoes can be good sources of carbs in this diet, while beans and legumes can add fiber to your diet. Cheese and yogurt are good sources of protein and calcium, so even if you don’t consume red meat you can still get your protein from such foods. As for fats, the less often you eat them, the better.

Coupled with daily exercise and healthy lifestyle habits, the Mediterranean regimen can contribute to an overall healthier organism, while reducing the risk of ailment and keeping you young for longer.

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