OfAnna Fregonara

Crowned for the seventh year in a row as the most protective, it is among the secrets of aging well, but in Italy (and not only) it is followed less and less

When he signed the United States Declaration of Independence in 1776, President Benjamin Franklin he had already turned 70, at a time when the average age did not exceed 34. It is said that his exceptional longevity – he died at 84 – also depended on a combination of factors linked to his lifestyle: he was a passionate swimmer and he had one balanced and varied diet, with periods of vegetarianism.

Life expectation

Today, medical, scientific and social progress has helped lower mortality rates. According to data from Global Burden of Diseasebetween 1950 and 2021 global life expectancy has increased by almost 23 years, going from 49 to 71.7 years. As Andrew Scott, professor of Economics at the London Business School and author of «The Longevity Imperative», «it is very likely that children born today they will live to be 100 years old. Longevity charts the course for radical change in the way we live our lives.”

The role of nutrition in longevity

Starting with the diet. It has, in fact, been demonstrated that the genetics it has an impact on the possibility of developing pathologies and on the aging process only 25-30%.
The remaining 70-75% is influenced by epigenetic factors, therefore byenvironment and lifestyle which play a significant role in activating or deactivating our genes, modulating genetic expression without altering the DNA sequence.

Italians’ adherence to the “Italian” diet

The Mediterranean diet, long recognized as an exceptional model for promoting health and crowned for the seventh year in a row as the most protective in the world, is among the secrets to aging well. Yet it is followed less and less in Italy, as in the countries of the Mediterranean basin.

It emerges from a study just released on International Journal of Food Sciences and Nutrition. The researchers investigated theadherence to the Mediterranean diet in 10,916 Italian adults between 2019 and 2022 and assessed their consumption of their food groups against current national dietary guidelines. «The research revealed a moderate level of adherence to the Mediterranean diet. But a significant decline in adherence was noted over the 2019-2022 period. This decline was mainly attributed to a increased consumption of fresh red meat, cheese and poultryaccompanied by a reduction in hiring vegetables, bread, legumes, fish, milk and dairy products», explains Sofia Lotti, nutritional biologist, co-author of the study and research fellow at the Department of Experimental and Clinical Medicine of the University of Florence.

«These changes in eating behaviors are the result of a series of interconnected factors. First of all the globalization, which has expanded access to a wide range of foods from different cultures and which have increasingly become part of our eating habits. The phenomenon has especially favored an increase in the consumption of foods rich in saturated fats, simple sugars and salt, to the detriment of fresh and more nutritious ones. At the same time, the increasing pace of life and the reduction of time dedicated to preparing meals have led to greater dependence on ready-made foodsthus facilitating adherence to less healthy food choices.”

Mediterranean diet: the evidence in favor

For over 50 years, evidence has been accumulating that the Mediterranean diet can actually improve health in many ways. «The advantages of this diet for our well-being depend above all on the synergy of its components rather than the individual foods that characterize it. Although no food is excluded, it is essential that the consumption of is encouraged fresh, seasonal, local and plant-based foods», continues the expert. «Among the components that make the Mediterranean diet “magical” for our health areextra virgin olive oil stands out as the protagonist, rich in monounsaturated fats and antioxidants. It is associated with a reduced risk of heart disease, diabetes and other chronic conditions. It is versatile in use, perfect both as a condiment for vegetables and for cooking low-fat dishes.”
«Other key foods are those of plant origin, such as fruit, vegetables, legumes and whole grains which constitute the true Mediterranean diet. They are rich in key nutrients such as vitamins and minerals, which are crucial for maintaining a strong immune system. Their high content of fiber promotes the health of the digestive system, regulating intestinal transit and reducing the risk of colon cancer. Fiber also helps reduce the absorption of sugars and fats in the intestine, thus helping to prevent type 2 diabetes and heart disease. Furthermore, it promotes the feeling of satiety, facilitating body weight control.”

Recommended portions

«For all these reasons – continues the expert -, it is recommended to consume every day at least 3 servings of vegetables and 2 servings of fruit fresh. This goal can be easily achieved by including vegetables as a side dish in every main meal and consuming fresh fruit as a snack. Regular intake of is also important Whole grainswhile I legumes they should be consumed at least 3 times a week. However, for some sensitive individuals, a high intake of legumes can cause gastrointestinal problems. To overcome this inconvenience, it is advisable to chop the legumes, as the substances responsible for these problems are found in the peel. So it is possible to bring them to the table in the form of purées, soups, burgers or meatballs. Another strategy is cook them dry together with potatoes or carrots which absorb the substances responsible for disturbances during cooking”.

The decline of the Mediterranean diet: fats and sugars overthrow oil and pasta

Avoidable deaths

Already the data of Global Burden of Disease Study 2017 could be enough to convince us to move closer to the real diet of our grandparents. Between approximately 1990 and 2017 11 million deaths and 255 million years of lifeadjusted for the degree of disability assessed considering the combination of length of life and quality of life, have been attributed to dietary risk factors, in particular a high sodium intake, a low intake of whole grains, fruits and vegetables. Dietary interventions have shown the most direct benefits for cardiovascular disease and diabetes.

The benefits of the diet

«The Predimed multicenter study has shown that a Mediterranean diet with the addition of extra virgin olive oil has reduced cardiovascular events by 31%. such as acute myocardial infarction, stroke and mortality compared to the control group, the Mediterranean diet with added nuts by 28%.
«Results that emerge from the analysis of over 7 thousand subjects at high cardiovascular risk, without clinical manifestations of cardiovascular pathology upon enrollment in the study, after an observation period of almost 5 years», specifies Roberto Pedretti, associate professor of Systemic Diseases cardiovascular at the University of Milan Bicocca, director of the Cardiovascular Department at the Irccs MultiMedica of Sesto San Giovanni (Milan) and member of the Board of Directors of the European Association of Preventive Cardiology.
«Since a sub-analysis of the study demonstrated that good nutrition favorably modifies pro-thrombotic factors, for example by reducing the number of blood platelets, it is clear that eating healthy has several favorable points of action, also through a reduction in blood pressure. arterial and an improvement in the lipid profile”, he adds.

Remission of diabetes

«Changes in eating habits are also useful in patients with diabetes (type 2, ed). I study Direct was conducted in the United Kingdom on 306 diabetic patients receiving a reduced-calorie diet or conventional treatment. The intervention group underwent a low-calorie regime (825–853 kcal/day for 3–5 months), gradual reintroduction of food over the following 2-8 weeks and structured educational support. «After 12 months, there was a weight loss of at least 15 kg in the intervention group and no change in the control group. There remission of diabetes it was observed in 46% of patients in the intervention group and in 4% of the group started on conventional therapy”, specifies Pedretti.

«It was also subsequently shown that this benefit persists in more than a third of patients at 24 months of follow-up. The fundamental mechanism is represented by the reduction in body weight and adiposity that are associated with a drop in blood glucose levels. A correct dietary regime therefore represents a fundamental element in the treatment of diabetes”, underlines the expert.
«Although researchers urge greater caution since it is not easy to demonstrate as large epidemiological studies with many years of observation are necessary, correct nutrition could be useful in patients with neurological pathologies, from migraines to dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. High blood pressure, type 2 diabetes and obesity are in themselves risk factors for the development of dementia.”

June 1, 2024