Evidence has shown that the Mediterranean diet is one of the healthiest diets on the planet. Now, a new study led by Immaculata De Vivo, associate professor at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston and Harvard Medical School, has shown that following the Mediterranean diet may be the key to a longer life.

Taking any diet rich in fruits, nuts, vegetables, beans and peas, unrefined grains, olive oil and fish, also a glass of red wine with meals, suppresses high proportion of saturated fatty acids to a minimum, and routinely following this diet could to some extend lead to a longer life expectancy.

The researchers examined nutritional data from 4,676 healthy middle-aged women who participated in the Nurses’ Health Study and found that women who ate a Mediterranean diet had longer telomeres – the end of a eukaryotic chromosome, which consists of repeated sequences of DNA that protects the chromosome against gene loss and decay.

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Having shorter telomeres means shorter life expectancy and even in healthy people, telomeres shorten with age. And as they shorten, there comes a greater risk of cancer, atherosclerosis, cardiopathy, and liver disease. Certain factors like obesity, smoking, drinking sodas have been found to accelerate shortening of telomeres, however as the new research suggests, the Mediterranean diet can decelerate telomeres shortening.

The key components of Mediterranean diet such as olive oil, fish, and fruits are rich in antioxidants and have well-known anti-inflammatory effects. The researchers also examined whether the women who followed this diet had longer telomeres.

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The researchers set the diet score rated on a scale of 0 to 9 for each participant; a higher score signifies a closer resemblance to the Mediterranean diet. De Vivo said each one point change in diet score corresponded an average of 1.5 years of telomere aging.

Telomere shortening is irreversible but healthy “lifestyle choices can help prevent accelerated shortening,” says De Vivo.

So this is it. Following Mediterranean diet is the key not only to longevity, but also to reduced-risk of having major cardiovascular diseases and other chronic diseases.