Benefits of the Mediterranean Diet for Women’s Health

Mediterranean diet

Fast Facts

The Mediterranean diet includes vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and heart-healthy fats

A 25-year study of over 25,000 women found a 23% reduction in all-cause mortality

Key health benefits include lowering bad cholesterol, reducing inflammation, and improving blood pressure

The diet is rich in fiber and low in sugar, supporting better glucose control and heart health.

Key Findings from a New Study

A new study reveals that adhering to the Mediterranean diet is associated with a decreased risk of mortality for women. This diet is known to help lower cardiometabolic risk factors such as insulin resistance, BMI, and blood pressure. The Mediterranean diet emphasizes high consumption of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and heart-healthy fats.

Researchers analyzed health information from 25,315 women, including blood samples, biomarker measurements, and dietary data collected between 1993 and 1996. These women were followed for 25 years. The study found a 23% reduction in all-cause mortality risk, partially explained by cardiometabolic risk factors like inflammation, insulin resistance, metabolism, and body mass index (BMI).

Health Benefits of the Mediterranean Diet

Nicole Roach, a registered dietitian at Northwell Lenox Hill Hospital, highlights that cardiovascular disease risk factors are often modifiable. Diet plays a significant role in this, making the Mediterranean diet a common recommendation for improving heart health. Here are some benefits:

  • Lowering Bad Cholesterol: By avoiding foods rich in saturated fat, the Mediterranean diet helps lower LDL cholesterol, known as “bad cholesterol.”
  • Raising Good Cholesterol: This diet can also increase HDL cholesterol, known as “good cholesterol.”
  • Promoting Weight Loss: Encouraging healthier food choices, the diet can help with weight loss or maintaining a healthy weight.
  • Lowering Blood Pressure: By avoiding processed foods high in sodium, the diet can help reduce blood pressure.
  • Increasing Fiber Intake: Rich in whole fruits and vegetables, the diet boosts fiber intake, supporting gut health, maintaining blood sugar levels, and promoting satiety.
  • Decreasing Inflammation: Foods with anti-inflammatory properties can lower overall inflammation, benefiting heart health and reducing cancer risk.
  • Supporting Brain Health: The diet may also enhance mood, cognitive function, and promote healthy brain aging.

Detailed Findings on Mortality Risk Reduction

The study suggested that the Mediterranean diet helped reduce inflammation, triglyceride-rich lipoproteins, insulin resistance, and body mass index, contributing to the observed lower mortality risk. Lower levels of molecules involved in inflammation and lipids that cause arterial deposits were significant factors. Improved blood pressure and glucose control also played a role.

Dr. Marie-Pierre St-Onge, associate professor of nutritional medicine at Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons, noted that the Mediterranean diet’s richness in polyphenols with anti-inflammatory properties, high fiber, and low sugar content contribute to better glucose control and improved lipid profiles.

Expert Opinions

John Higgins, MD, a sports cardiologist at UTHealth Houston, agrees with the findings. He highlights that improved cardiovascular risk factors, such as blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood glucose levels, along with better vascular function and reduced inflammation, lower the risk of cardiovascular events like heart attacks and strokes.

While the study showed that improvements in blood pressure, HDL and LDL cholesterol, and blood glucose control were not as strongly associated with reduced mortality risk as some other biomarkers, previous studies have reported such associations. The researchers pointed to biomarkers of metabolism and inflammation, triglyceride-rich lipoproteins, insulin resistance, and body mass index as key contributors to the reduced mortality risk.

Core Components of the Mediterranean Diet

The Mediterranean diet includes:

  • Fatty fish
  • Nuts
  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • Legumes
  • Vegetables
  • Fruits

Julia Zumpano, a registered dietitian with the Cleveland Clinic Center for Human Nutrition, recommends foods high in omega-3 fatty acids, such as certain fish, walnuts, flax seeds, and chia seeds. Combined with inflammation-reducing foods like legumes, fruits, and vegetables, these can reduce blood sugars, insulin levels, and improve gut health.

Recommendations

For best results, Zumpano advises choosing whole grains and minimally processed foods while avoiding commercial baked goods, sugar-sweetened beverages, and processed meats. These items can increase inflammation, blood sugars, triglycerides, weight, and the risk of chronic diseases.

Takeaway

A new study confirms that adherence to the Mediterranean diet is linked with a decreased risk of all-cause mortality in women. The diet may help reduce cardiometabolic risk factors such as insulin resistance, BMI, and inflammation. While family history, exercise habits, and lifestyle also play a role, the Mediterranean diet remains a powerful tool for improving overall health and longevity

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