The Mediterranean diet has been hailed as the best weight-loss route for most people, but it’s long-term health benefits have been largely overshadowed. Researchers from Brigham and Women’s Hospital collaborated with Harvard Medical School to go beyond the basic health benefits of weight loss, and they published their study in the British Medical Journal.

They examined a variety of diets from 4,676 healthy middle-aged women, and compared it to the telomeres in their genes. Telomeres are like the plastic tips at the end of shoelaces, but they sit at the end of chromosomes. They stop them from fraying, which is key, considering chromosomes carry important genetic information. As we age, telomeres continue to shorten. Women with a diet most similar to the Mediterranean had longer telomeres.

"To our knowledge, this is the largest population-based study specifically addressing the association between Mediterranean diet adherence and telomere length in healthy, middle-aged women," the authors of the study wrote. "Our results further support the benefits of adherence to the Mediterranean diet for promoting health and longevity."

Telomeres halve from infancy to adulthood and then halve again once we reach old age. Our mortality has always been something we grapple with and try to accept, yet we now know how to slow the aging down. Oxidative stress and inflammation are two accelerators of shortening telomeres. According to Dr. Barry Sears, author of The Mediterranean Zone, anything that reduces inflammation or increases metabolism so it can work efficiently should extend longevity. Polyphenols are found throughout the Mediterranean diet but cannot be replaced in our bodies once we run out. They reduce oxidative stress, which slows aging, and are even found in wine and chocolate.

Fruits, vegetables, and nuts are key components to the diet, and have been highly researched and proven to have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects. The polyphenols are why the Mediterranean diet should be coveted in our culture, as it lowers the risk of chronic diseases such as heart disease. Humans spend billions in research trying to figure out how to abate heart disease risk and cancers, but what’s the point when Americans aren’t turning to their diets for help first. The essential nutrients are hiding in plenty of foods designed to delay physical and mental aging.

How To Follow A Mediterranean Diet

High Intake Of:

  • Fish
  • Vegetables
  • Fruits
  • Nuts
  • Legumes
  • Grains, mainly unrefined
  • Olive Oil

Moderate Intake:

  • Alcohol, specifically wine with meals

Low Intake:

  • Saturated fats
  • Dairy products
  • Meat
  • Poultry

Source: Crous-Bou M, De Vivo I, Fung TT, Prescott J, Julin B, Mengmeng D, Sun Q, Rexrode KM, and Hu FB. Mediterranean diet and telomere length in Nurses’ Health Study: population based cohort study. British Medical Journal. 2014.