Loose Women: Dr Hilary discusses how to live longer
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The aggregate impact of cancer, heart disease and dementia in the UK remains devastating. Thousands of lives are cut short each year and the costs imposed on the healthcare system are crippling. Fortunately, research continues to advance our understanding of how chronic disease risk can be managed.
A major study published in the BMJ singled out a specific dietary approach for reducing the risk of death and incidence of cancer, cardiovascular diseases, Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease.
A meta-analysis was performed on English and non-English publications in the following databases: PubMed, Embase, Web of Science, and the Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials.
Researchers scanned literature that spanned from 1966 to 30 June 2008.
They included studies that analysed the association between adherence to a Mediterranean diet, mortality, and incidence of diseases.
Twelve studies, with a total of 1,574,299 subjects followed for a time ranging from three to 18 years were included.
The cumulative analysis evaluating overall mortality in relation to adherence to a Mediterranean diet showed that a two point increase in the adherence score was significantly associated with a reduced risk of mortality.
Likewise, the analyses showed a beneficial role for “greater adherence” to a Mediterranean diet on cardiovascular mortality, incidence of or mortality from cancer, and incidence of Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease.
“Greater adherence to a Mediterranean diet is associated with a significant improvement in health status, as seen by a significant reduction in overall mortality (nine percent), mortality from cardiovascular diseases (nine percent), incidence of or mortality from cancer (six percent), and incidence of Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease (13 percent).
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“These results seem to be clinically relevant for public health, in particular for encouraging a Mediterranean-like dietary pattern for primary prevention of major chronic diseases,” the researchers concluded.
What is a Mediterranean diet?
A Mediterranean diet incorporates the traditional healthy living habits of people from countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea, including France, Greece, Italy and Spain.
The Mediterranean diet varies by country and region, so it has a range of definitions.
But in general, it’s high in vegetables, fruits, legumes, nuts, beans, cereals, grains, fish, and unsaturated fats such as olive oil. It usually includes a low intake of meat and dairy foods.
The Mediterranean diet has been linked with good health, including a healthier heart.
According to the NHS, you can make your diet more Mediterranean-style by:
- Eating plenty of starchy foods, such as bread and pasta
- Eating plenty of fruit and vegetables
- Including fish in your diet
- Eating less meat
- Choosing products made from vegetable and plant oils, such as olive oil.
The Mediterranean diet is very similar to the government’s healthy eating advice, which is set out in the Eatwell Guide.
The guide shows what foods are needed for a healthy, balanced diet and how much you should eat of each food group:
- Eat at least five portions of a variety of fruit and vegetables every day – find out more about getting your five A Day
- Base your meals on starchy foods such as potatoes, bread, rice and pasta – choose wholegrain versions where possible
- Eat some beans or pulses, fish, eggs, meat and other proteins (including two portions of fish every week, one of which should be oily)
- Have some dairy or dairy alternatives (such as soya drinks) – choose lower-fat and lower-sugar options
- Choose unsaturated oils and spreads, and eat them in small amounts
- Drink six to eight glasses of fluid a day
- If consuming foods and drinks that are high in fat, salt or sugar, have them less often and in small amounts – find out more about reducing sugar in your diet.
“You do not need to achieve this balance with every meal, but try to get it right over the course of a day or even a week,” advises the NHS.
Adults should also do some type of physical activity every day to reduce the risk of chronic disease.
“Any type of activity is good for you,” notes the NHS.
According to the health body, you should do at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity activity a week or 75 minutes of vigorous intensity activity a week.
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