Seniors And The Benefits Of The Mediterranean Diet!

Seniors And The Benefits Of The Mediterranean Diet!

Seniors And The Benefits Of The Mediterranean Diet!

Following the healthy Mediterranean diet and exercising up to six times a week helped older adults gain muscle mass and lose a noticeable amount of body fat by the end of one year, findings from a multi-year study showed. What’s more, the study participants kept much of the body fat off after three years.

The older adults were participants in PREDIMED-Plus, an eight-year randomized clinical trial conducted in Spain by 23 research centers. Researchers were examining the impact of diet and exercise on cardiovascular risk in men and women aged 55 to 75. The latest analysis is from a three-year follow-up of trial participants.

Dr. David Katz, a specialist in preventive and lifestyle medicine who was not involved in the study, told CNN that the findings are “no surprise.” However, they extend the benefits of diet and exercise “from mere weight loss to the mobilization of harmful, visceral fat.”

Visceral fat lies deep within the abdominal walls and surrounds organs, like the stomach and intestines. Some levels of visceral fat are healthy and help protect the organs, according to the Cleveland Clinic. However, excess visceral fat becomes dangerous when it accumulates within the abdominal cavity and pushes the belly out. Too much dangerous belly fat can lead to diabetes, heart disease, stroke, and other serious health conditions.

What is the Mediterranean Diet?

Previously published studies have found that the low-calorie Mediterranean diet can decrease abdominal fat and help with weight loss. The popular dietary regimen got its name from traditional foods eaten in Greece, Italy, Japan, Spain, and other countries surrounding the Mediterranean Sea.

The Mediterranean diet has been recognized as one of the healthiest diets in the world. At the beginning of January, U.S. News and World Report ranked the Mediterranean diet as the No. 1 Best Diet Overall for the seventh year in a row. According to the news organization, the Mediterranean diet focuses on nutrient-dense fruits, vegetables, and other healthy foods and “leaves little room for saturated fat, added sugars, and sodium that inundate the standard American diet.” The Mediterranean diet involves eating:

  • Fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, nuts, legumes, olive oil, herbs, and spices daily.
  • Seafood and fish at least twice a week.
  • Poultry, eggs, cheese, and yogurt in moderation.
  • Red meat and sweets as occasional treats.

An occasional glass of red wine is acceptable. 

Along with the food, social interactions during meals and exercise are important components of the Mediterranean style of eating. Lifestyle changes that are part of the diet include eating with friends and family, socializing over meals, mindfully eating favorite foods, as well as mindful movement and exercise, according to CNN.

U.S. News and World Report added that the Mediterranean diet is a “top-rated diet for those looking for a heart-healthy diet, a diabetes-friendly diet or to promote bone and joint health.”

About The PREDIMED-Plus Study

The trial involved men between 55 to 75 years old and women between 60 to 75 years old who did not have a history of cardiovascular problems. Recruitment of participants began in September 2013 and ended in December 2016.

The 6,874 trial participants were all overweight or obese and had metabolic syndrome—a cluster of conditions that include high blood pressure, high blood sugar, excess body fat around the waist, and abnormal cholesterol or triglyceride levels. When occurring together, these conditions increase the risk of heart disease, stroke, and type 2 diabetes.

Of the total number of participants, 1,521 were selected to undergo scans to determine levels of visceral abdominal fat, then they were randomly assigned to a control group and an intervention group.

Participants in the intervention group were directed to:

  • Follow a customized Mediterranean diet with a 30 percent reduction in calories.
  • Limit consumption of added sugar, processed meats, butter, cream, sweetened beverages, biscuits, and refined breads and cereals.
  • Accept help from trained dietitians three times a month during the first year, as well as training on how to self-monitor, set goals, and problem-solve.
  • Gradually increase aerobic physical activity to walking 45 minutes or more a day for 6 days a week, and doing exercises to improve strength, flexibility, and balance, all of which are important to aging well, according to the study’s authors.

“When you cut calories, you lose both lean and fat mass,” Dr. Katz told CNN. “When you add exercise, it helps to protect lean mass, especially if you add resistance training to build muscle. Generally, the ideal is to lose fat, retain muscle.” Katz is president and founder of the nonprofit True Health Initiative, a global coalition of experts dedicated to evidence-based lifestyle medicine.

The remaining participants were assigned to the control group which met in group sessions twice a year. These participants were given general advice on following the Mediterranean diet and physical activity was not promoted to this group.

“It would have been much more informative had the control group received a similar high-intention support (even if it only contained generic advice),” Gunter Kuhnle, a professor of food and nutritional science at the University of Reading in the United Kingdom, who was not involved with the study, told CNN. “Motivation and compliance is very important in studies that investigate behaviour change, and the study design clearly favoured the intervention.”

What The Study Results Showed

Participants in the intervention group lost a modest amount of body fat and showed an increase in the percentage of total lean muscle mass after one year, the study’s authors reported. However, they gained some of the body fat back in the second and third years when they were no longer receiving dietary advice and support. The control group lost a smaller amount of body fat than the intervention group.

When it came to visceral fat, the intervention group participants saw a decrease in grams of visceral fat mass, while visceral fat mass did not change in the control group, according to the study.

Both groups gained some lean muscle mass, but the intervention group had a “more favorable body composition” because they lost more fat than muscle, the authors said.

Dr. Christopher Gardner, a research professor of medicine at the Stanford Prevention Research Center in California, told CNN that what was most profound to him was the three-year follow-up.

“We rarely have studies to cite that were anything longer than a year,” said Gardner, who directs the center’s Nutrition Studies Research Group, and was not involved in the study. “The magnitude of the 3-year differences are modest, and the trend from 1-year to 3-year suggests that at 6-years the effects may be diminished to insignificance.” Still, he added, “3-year statistically significant differences are impressive!”

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