A lot of research has shown the Mediterranean Diet—rich in fruits and veggies, beans, nuts, olive oil, and whole grains—has a lot of health benefits, like helping protect against bone loss and decreasing the likelihood of heart disease.
Now, there’s another one to add to the list and it’s a biggie: A new study has shown the Mediterranean Diet can actually help you live longer.
So what makes this latest study so different from the gajillion others out there? It provides new clues about how, exactly, the diet affects DNA.
“The Mediterranean Diet’s been associated with longevity and wellness, but what we’ve done in my lab is given the mechanism. We are saying how it works at the cellular level,” says Immaculata De Vivo, a researcher on the study and an associate professor at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard’s School of Public Health.
De Vivo and her colleagues found that women who followed a diet rich in fruits, veggies, and whole grains, and lower in dairy and meat, had longer telomeres—the protective caps at the ends of your chromosomes, and a good indication of your biological age. (So you might be 30 to the world, but you’re 20 on the inside.)
The investigation focused on nearly 5,000 women who were part of the long-running Nurses’ Health Study. They filled out questionnaires about what they ate and were given scores based on how closely they followed the diet. Researchers then analyzed the women’s blood to look at telomere length. And healthy Med-style eating, they found, had clear benefits.
“We know that telomeres shorten with aging—and if they are exposed to a lot of inflammation and oxidative stress. The components of the Mediterranean Diet, like fruits, veggies, and nuts, are well-known to have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, and counteract the effects of inflammation and oxidative stress,” De Vivo says. Pass the extra virgin olive oil, please. —Molly Gallagher