Anti-Aging Mediterranean Diet

Can you eat your way to a longer life? Well, yes and no. Certain dietary patterns are associated with lower risks for coronary heart disease, cancer, and other diseases.

Learning more about these patterns, including the Mediterranean diet, and adopting certain dietary habits can help promote healthier living.

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Mediterranean Diet for Health

Interest in the Mediterranean diet was triggered by the realization that people who live in countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea had some of lowest rates of coronary heart disease and greatest longevity in the world. This was true even though there was some variation among the cultures and diets within the region.

Since then, the term generally refers to a diet that emphasizes whole grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts, olive oil, and fish, while reducing amounts of saturated fat, refined sugars, and meat.

Whole Grains

Whole grains contain all three components of the grain: the outer layer or bran, the starchy endosperm, and the vitamin and mineral-laden inner germ.

Whole grains include wheat, barley, brown rice, buckwheat, oats, bulgur, and quinoa.

Refining a grain removes much of the fiber linked to longevity, as well as vitamins E and B, so aim for unprocessed grains.

Eating high-quality, unrefined grains has been shown to lower cholesterol and reduce the incidence of type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

If you're wary of carbs, take heart: Data from the Iowa Women's Health Study, tracking more than 27,000 post-menopausal women over a 17-year period, found that even those who ate only four to seven servings of whole grains a week were 31% less likely to die during those 17 years than women who rarely or never ate any. That's with less than one serving a day.

Fruits and Vegetables

The Mediterranean diet is rich in fresh fruits and vegetables. "Eat your colors" is good advice, since the most vividly colored produce often has the most phytochemicals, or plant nutrients.

Aim for half your plate to be made up of fruits and vegetables at any meal. Federal dietary guidelines recommend up to 2 1/2 cups of vegetables and 2 cups of fruits per day, depending on activity level.

Olive Oil

Oils are fats that are liquid at room temperature. Olive oil is a hero of the Mediterranean diet because of its heart-healthy monounsaturated fat.

Other plant-based oils like safflower, soybean, and sunflower oils, with a combination of monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, are also healthier choices than solids like butter and margarine, which contain saturated fats.

Fish

Fatty fish like salmon, herring, sardines, albacore tuna, and mackerel are all staples of the Mediterranean diet and are great sources of omega-3 fatty acids.

These help keep blood vessels healthy and regulate blood pressure.

Aim to eat fatty fish twice a week.

Beans

Beans, peas, and lentils are a class of fiber-rich vegetables called legumes. They include garbanzos (chickpeas), black, pinto, kidney and Romano beans.

They're a great source of protein, filling while still low in fat, and are extremely versatile for cooking in soups and stews.

Be sure and give canned legumes a good rinse to reduce the sodium often used in the canning process.

Nuts

Because nuts are high in calories, many people worried about weight gain avoid them.

While you should watch your portions, most of the fat they contain is not saturated, and eating nuts several times a week has been linked to a lower incidence of heart disease.

Aim for no more than a small handful a day, and avoid heavily salted or sweetened ones (like honey-roasted).

Dairy

The fact that people in Mediterranean countries consume a lot of cheese and full-fat dairy products like cream, while still avoiding coronary heart disease, has confounded many researchers.

Research is ongoing to sort this out, but it's possible other factors, including smaller portions and greater physical activity, may prove to be part of the explanation.

People in Mediterranean countries tend to consume more fermented milk products like yogurt, so that may also be a factor.

Wine

Whether to promote wine consumption for increasing longevity has been somewhat controversial in North America, but the fact remains that people in Mediterranean countries drink wine and seem to benefit from it.

Moderate drinking—about one drink per day for women, two for men—is associated with lower risk of heart disease. More than that can increase your risk of colon or breast cancer, so don't overindulge.

A Word From Verywell

There is a wealth of scientific literature extolling the benefits of eating like people who live along the Mediterranean. If you want a simple route to a great longevity diet, research has shown that this plant-based, flavorful way of eating will help keep your nutritional bases covered.

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2 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Mursu J, Robien K, Harnack LJ, Park K, Jacobs DR Jr. Dietary supplements and mortality rate in older women: the Iowa Women's Health StudyArch Intern Med. 2011;171(18):1625-1633. doi:10.1001/archinternmed.2011.445

  2. U.S. Department of Agriculture and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2020-2025. 9th Edition. December 2020. 

Additional Reading
  • The Nutrition Source: Healthy Eating Plate vs USDA Myplate Public Information Sheet. Harvard School of Public Health.

  • Matthieu Maillot et al. "The shortest way to reach nutritional goals is to adopt Mediterranean food choices: evidence from computer-generated personalized diets." Am J Clin Nutr October 2011 vol. 94 no. 4 1127-1137