Starting Mediterranean diet late still has benefits: study

LOS ANGELES

Harvard researchers looked at 10,000 women who ate a Mediterranean diet, which includes plant-based foods, whole grains, fish, healthy fats and very little red meat. They found those in Mediterranean dieters in their 50s and 60s had a 40-percent greater chance of living past 70 with greater health and well-being.

"Their overall arteries are healthier. The function of the vessels are healthier. They actually have a better micro-circulation in their bodies, in their heart and in their brain," said Dr. Harry Balian, Glendale Adventist Medical Center.

As an interventional cardiologist, Dr. Balian says he's seen firsthand how these heart-healthy foods not only improve blood-vessel health, but also reduce plaque buildup.

"When you increase your intake of legumes and you basically shy away from red meat, your HDL, the good cholesterol, goes up, and that is actually protective for your vessels. It fights against the bad cholesterol," said Balian.

The women who followed this Mediterranean style of eating were free from 11 chronic diseases such as heart diabetes and heart failure, and they were physically healthy and mentally sharp.

"Blood flow within your arteries actually improves, and that's why you have lower incidence of heart disease, lower incidence of diabetes, improved cognition and improved memory," said Balian.

It's not just about living a longer life, it's about the quality of life in those "golden" years.

The study in the Annals of Internal Medicine did not look at men, but authors say previous studies on diet and healthy aging did not show a gender difference, so the benefit would be similar in men.

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