Is the Mediterranean Diet the Key to a Younger RealAge?

Olive oil

Diet can help make your RealAge younger. But what in particular is most important? And how can you sort out the competing and sometimes contradictory claims?

These aren’t easy questions to answer. What works well for one person may not work at all for somebody else. While I can’t give you specific advice on a diet that is guaranteed to make you lose weight and feel well, I can give some recommendations that help most people.

In February of 2013, the results of a randomized trial on a particular diet, the traditional Mediterranean diet, were published in the New England Journal of Medicine. This was remarkable since it has been very difficult to do research on diet, especially with this kind of study, a randomized controlled trial, in which one group changes their activity (the experimental group) while the other (the control group) does something different. In this study, the experimental group was recommended olive oil (and some were given a liter per week for free), tree nuts and peanuts (again, some got an ounce of mixed nuts a day for free), lots of fresh fruits and vegetables, fish and legumes (like beans). They were recommended to have white meat instead of red meat. Does this sound familiar?

The control group was recommended only a low-fat diet. Both groups were discouraged from red and processed meat, commercial baked goods and sweets, and sodas. Those in the Mediterranean group who drank wine were encouraged to do so, with meals. None of the people in the studies had known heart disease, but did have risk factors such as high blood pressure or cholesterol.

The study looked at a combination of stroke, heart attack, and death, and for this endpoint, the Mediterranean diet group had a 30% decrease compared with the control group.

It’s hard to overemphasize the results of this study. While the magnitude of the benefit wasn’t quite as big as, say, medication treatment with a statin, it wasn’t so far off. That’s worth restating: You could reduce your risk for heart disease and stroke by changing to a Mediterranean diet without having to take a medication. No supplements were needed to cause this improvement in health.

In the RealAge Test, we made our best estimates of the health benefits associated with improved diet. Specifically, we advised no more than moderate alcohol use; avoiding processed grains and using whole grains instead; 2-3 servings of nuts daily; avoiding red and processed meat (but not skinless white meat); and improving the diversity in your diet with lots and different types of fruits, vegetables, and fish. We recommended strongly against saturated fat and recommended mono- or polyunsaturated fat instead. It is very gratifying to see that this new study supports these changes.

It’s impossible to tell with this kind of study whether it was one component of the diet that made the difference, or whether it was the entire diet, taken as a whole, that would be necessary to change in order to see the benefit. In my opinion, all of the changes are good by themselves and the more you can make, the better the results will be.

For people who are on a typical Western diet and who want to get healthier, my advice would be to take a look at your diet and see what is easiest for you to change. Can you reduce your red meat? Can you change a processed snack for a fruit? It’s hard to make big changes in your diet but almost everyone can find something to change that will make them feel better.

Read my previous blogs to learn more about all that went into building the RealAge Test. Look out next week for my next blog, where I’ll continue to discuss the factors involved in the RealAge Test to help people feel younger and live longer. Take the test, if you haven’t already.