Health experts have been hailing the Mediterranean Diet as the holy grail of nutrition for the last few years. Inspired by the flavors and cooking methods of the countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea, the diet has been found to fight inflammation, promote heart health, reduce the risk of cancer, improve longevity, and keep the brain sharp. Now, according to new research, the diet can also reduce the risk of frailty that comes with aging.
According to the new study, published in the journal Gut, the diet’s emphasis on fruits and veggies, healthy fats, and whole grains boosts beneficial gut bacteria linked to improved brain function, memory, and a lower risk of becoming frail—which, in older adults can include chronic low-grade inflammation, the development of chronic diseases like diabetes, and issues with mobility.
Researchers tracked 612 people aged between 65 to 79 years old from five European countries—the United Kingdom, France, the Netherlands, Italy, and Poland—who were either frail or on the cusp of frailty, when the study began. Half of the participants were instructed to follow a strict diet based on the principles of the Mediterranean diet, eating an ample amount of vegetables, legumes, fruits, nuts, olive oil, and fish, and small amounts of red meat, dairy products, and saturated fats. The other half continued to eat the way they normally did.
Researchers found that those who stuck to the diet for a year had a lower diversity of bacteria in the gut microbiome—aka, microorganisms that live in the gastrointestinal tract—at the end of the study. They also experienced a growth of good bacteria previously found to lower the risk of frailty, boost brain activity, and improve memory. Researchers also found that the participants’ nationality or microbiome composition at the start of the study had no influence on the results.
“Our findings support the feasibility of improving the habitual diet to modulate the gut microbiota which in turn has the potential to promote healthier aging,” wrote the study authors.