Although the benefits of the Mediterranean Diet for Seniors have been touted for years, it was recently named the best diet for 2021. Specifically, for seniors, the diet combats heart disease, obesity, diabetes, and improves overall brain health, staving off cognitive decline. In all styles of Mediterranean eating, whichever way you look at it, there are less sugars and less processed foods than typically found in the average American diet.
If you’re unfamiliar, the Mediterranean Diet for Seniors includes whole grains, fish, beans, fruits, whole vegetables, nuts, wine, and of course, olive oil. American diet norms have incorrectly told us for years thatin order to stay thin, low-fat diets are the way to go, regardless of carb content.But the Mediterranean Diet embraces healthy fats and reduces carbohydrates, while pushing antioxidants and as a result, increases lifespan. Even the seasonings and flavorings are antioxidants, including herbs like oregano and rosemary, and members of the Allium family like garlic and onions. The standards of eating in the United States, including how we diet, is why we’reone of the world leaders in obesity, hypertension, heart disease, diabetes, and more. The problems re especially exacerbated for marginalized communities.
Although overall the diet is a nutritious way to eat, one study, as published by The New England Journal of Medicine, focuses mostly on the benefits of nuts and olive oil. In the study, researchers designated three separate groups of eaters as their constants. The first group was prescribed the general Mediterranean diet, enhanced with extra-virgin olive oil. The second group of people ate the same Mediterranean diet, but instead with extra nuts. The third group ate the diet mentioned above– the standard American low-fat high-carb diet that people believe is good for weight loss.
There are a couple things worthpointing out. The first two groups easily kept to their new Mediterranean Diets, while the third group on the American style diethad so much trouble, they needed extra help from the researchersstick to the diet for the purpose of the study. The Mediterranean Diet, with both extra olive oil and extra nuts, seemed to fulfill the cravings of the groups, leaving little incentive to deviate from the healthy foods. Sticking to the diet is importantbecause by sticking to the diet, the health benefits are realized. Group 1 and Group 2 experienced cardiovascular revitalization for participantswho had a fear of heart disease and the groups also saw continued heart health for those already healthful. While any weight loss was nominal, internal health improvementswere well noted.
For those who don’t stick to the Mediterranean diet, the cognitive benefits can be quickly reversed. According to another study from Rush University Medical Center, they found that by adding in Western foods like cheese, processed meats, and refined sugars, reverses the cognitive benefitsof the Mediterranean Diet. The Rush University researchers used 5,000 participants over the age of 65 and tracked them from 1993 to 2021. Every three years, individuals completed cognitive tests administered by the researchers and after the tests, were given questionnaires about what foods they ate and how often they ate them. The higher their score on the questionnaires, the more they adhered to the Mediterranean Diet. Those who stuck to the Mediterranean Diet showed a slower cognitive degeneration over the course of the study. For the people who mixed in American-style foods, there was no benefit to eating the healthy foods sometimes. The bad food outweighed the Mediterranean Diet and people saw no slow-down of cognitive decline. The study also made sure to include the participants’ smoking status, BMI, and other potential chronic conditions, but the results were the same. The more people deviated from the Mediterranean Diet, the less the cognitive benefits.
The results of these studiesare encouraging, but the researchers did not cross-examine the Mediterranean Diet with other popular diets likethe Raw Foods Diet, AIP diet, Paleo-Diet, and many others, so it seems hard to name one diet the best diet of 2021. Regardless,what is apparent, is that mainstream American food is currently spurring cognitive decline, obesity, diabetes, and heart disease that other diets try to prohibit. So, in conclusion, maybe 2021 is the year to try making small steps towards replacing red meat, refined sugars, and processed foods with vegetables, fruit, fish, nuts, and olive oil.
Max Gottlieb works with Senior Planning. Senior Planning helps seniors and the disabled apply for benefits, offers free care-finding services, and provides reduced cost legal documents for those in need.