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Protect Your Telomeres – and Your Health – with the Mediterranean Diet

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Doctors have been urging people to follow a Mediterranean-type diet for several decades now. The primary reason why doctors are so fond of this diet is its proven benefits for heart health. It’s also a fairly easy diet to comply with. It doesn’t toss out entire food groups nor does it require the dieter to count calories, skip meals or do anything extreme.

What is it?

The Mediterranean diet is based on the traditional diet of people who live along the Mediterranean shores. The primary source of fat in the diet is olive oil and the primary source of protein is seafood. The diet encourages the consumption of large amounts of vegetables, moderate intake of red wine, and limited consumption of red meat. Most likely the diet is so healthy for the heart because it is strongly anti-inflammatory. 

Other health benefits

In addition to being good for the heart, the Mediterranean diet also seems to protect against the development of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. It seems to help prevent certain types of cancer, most notably those of the gastrointestinal tract. This effect is most likely related to the high intake of vegetables encouraged by the diet. 

Telomeres

In December 2014, the BMJ published a study demonstrating that following a Mediterranean diet is associated with having longer telomeres. Telomeres are the caps on the ends of the chromosomes. They help protect the genes from damage. However, as we age, they tend to get shorter and shorter. Individuals with shorter telomeres are at increased risk of developing chronic diseases and dying younger than people with longer telomeres.

Both oxidative stress and inflammation promote the shortening of telomeres. Many aspects of the Mediterranean diet- the seafood, the olive oil, the vegetables- are strongly anti-inflammatory. It therefore is not terribly surprising that individuals who follow a Mediterranean diet have longer telomeres. This finding does, however, lend even more support to the idea that the Mediterranean diet promotes overall good health. 

What about Paleo?

The Paleolithic diet has been all the rage lately. At first glance you might think these two diets were very different, but other than the fact that the Mediterranean diet encourages the consumption of whole grains and the Paleolithic diet forbids them they are remarkably similar. Both types of diets encourage the consumption of large amounts of vegetables, encourage the consumption of healthy fats (neither diet is a low-fat diet), and encourage the consumption of nuts, fish and other strongly anti-inflammatory foods. 

We haven’t been able to find any studies of telomere length in association with the Paleo diet, but we have found several studies demonstrating that the Paleo diet is possibly even more healthy than the Mediterranean diet. It’s better for controlling body weight, better for controlling diabetes, and it might be better for heart health than the Mediterranean diet. 

We’ll have to wait for the study about telomere length. In the meantime, it’s quite clear that eating vegetables, nuts, fish and olive oil are all very good for you- they prevent heart disease, dementia and cancer. So have at them, and make sure you drink up your wine. 

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