This popular diet could help women live longer, study finds

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The Mediterranean diet has long been linked to a bevy of health benefits, including reduced risk of heart disease, cancer, obesity and more — and now a new study has revealed a very specific new advantage for women.

In a long-running Harvard study published in JAMA Network Open, women who adhered to the heart-healthy, plant-focused diet were found to have a 23% lower risk of death from any cause.

The researchers attributed this lower mortality risk to improved cardiometabolic risk factors, according to the published study.

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The study included data collected from 25,315 healthy women who participated in the Women’s Health Study over a period of 25 years, from April 1993 to January 1996. 

Their average age was 54.

Woman eating seafood

Women who adhered to the heart-healthy, plant-focused diet were found to have a 23% lower risk of death from any cause. (iStock)

Researchers analyzed the women’s blood samples, biomarker measurements and self-reported dietary information from June 2018 to Nov. 2023.

Previous studies have also found associations between the Mediterranean diet and increased longevity, the researchers noted.

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“Another meta-analysis of 21 cohort studies, which included 883,878 participants, reported that higher Mediterranean diet adherence was associated with 21% reduced risk of CVD mortality,” they wrote.

What is the Mediterranean diet?

The Mediterranean diet is a plant-based nutrition plan that mimics the regional cuisines of the countries along the Mediterranean Sea, such as Italy and Greece. 

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Primary foods in the diet include whole vegetables, whole grains, fruits, nuts, seeds, and herbs and spices, according to Mayo Clinic’s website. 

Olive oil is the primary source of added fat.

Olive oil pouring

Olive oil is the primary source of added fat in the Mediterranean diet. (iStock)

Other foods — including fish, poultry and dairy — can be incorporated in moderation. 

The diet limits red meat, sweets, butter and sugary drinks.

The Mediterranean diet’s health benefits stem from limiting saturated fats, refined carbohydrates (including sugars) and sodium, as well as promoting healthy unsaturated fats, fiber and antioxidants, according to Cleveland Clinic’s website.

Experts highlight diet’s benefits

Dr. Marc Siegel, clinical professor of medicine at NYU Langone Medical Center and a Fox News medical contributor, was not involved in the study but said it “confirms what we already know — that the Mediterranean diet decreases mortality.”

Siegel also told Fox News Digital, “Monounsaturated fats and antioxidants (polyphenols), which are high in the Mediterranean diet, decrease inflammation and are heart-healthy.”

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He added, “The alternative — saturated fats, salts and sugars — are not heart-healthy and increase the risk of obesity, high blood pressure, diabetes and cancer, all of which increase mortality risks.”

Processed foods and ultra-processed foods, which also increase mortality, are not found in the Mediterranean diet, he also noted.

greek salad

Primary foods in the Mediterranean diet include whole vegetables, whole grains, fruits, nuts, seeds, and herbs and spices. (iStock)

New Jersey-based registered dietitian Erin Palinski-Wade also reflected on the longevity-boosting benefits of the Mediterranean diet in a conversation with Fox News Digital.

“One big reason that the Mediterranean diet can improve overall health and reduce mortality risk is the benefit it has on visceral fat, or belly fat,” said Palinksi-Wade, who was not involved in the research.

Women who adhered to the Mediterranean diet were found to have a 23% lower risk of death from any cause.

“High levels of fat in the midsection have been found to worsen insulin resistance and increase the risk of disease from type 2 diabetes, cancer and heart disease,” she added.

By making dietary changes to reduce visceral fat, which include the eating principles of the Mediterranean diet, it is possible to improve insulin sensitivity and reduce disease risk, according to Palinski-Wade.

Mediterranean diet - belly fat

“One big reason that the Mediterranean diet can improve overall health and reduce mortality risk is the benefit it has on visceral fat, or belly fat,” a dietitian said. (iStock)

This diet is also rich in antioxidants and phytonutrients, she said, which have been shown to reduce inflammation in the body. 

This can help to reduce the risk of future disease, such as type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

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“The Mediterranean diet also has a positive impact on blood sugar balance, mood and even sleep, all of which can help to reduce stress levels and improve overall quality of life,” she added.

“In addition, when mood and sleep improve, many individuals find it much easier to be more physically active, which can play a large role in reducing mortality risk as well.”

Mediterranean Diet

The Mediterranean diet is rich in antioxidants and phytonutrients, which have been shown to reduce inflammation in the body.  (iStock)

The study did have some limitations, the researchers acknowledged.

“The study participants were middle-aged and older, well-educated female health professionals who were predominantly non-Hispanic White individuals, which may limit the generalizability of the findings,” they wrote.

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Because the women’s dietary intake was self-reported through questionnaires, there was some potential for misrepresentation.

Woman preparing healthy foods

Fish, poultry and dairy can be incorporated in moderation. The diet limits red meat, sweets, butter and sugary drinks. (iStock)

Another limitation is that the researchers only had access to the blood samples provided at baseline, as follow-up samples were not collected.

There is also the possibility that other factors, such as high blood pressure and high BMI, could have impacted the outcomes.

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“Future studies should examine other pathways that could potentially mediate the Mediterranean diet–associated lower mortality as well as examine cause-specific mortality,” the researchers wrote.

Fox News Digital reached out to the Harvard researchers requesting comment.

For more Health articles, visit www.foxnews.com/health.