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Eating Whole Grains May Help Prevent Age-Related Weight Gain
By now, you probably know that whole grains are better for you than refined flour. Well guess what? Now you've got another reason to make sure you're eating your Wheaties® (or at least the whole-grain version): eating more whole grains seems to help reduce the amount of weight gained as you age.

Body Mass Index and Risk of Hospitalization and Death in Older Age
Obesity is officially considered an epidemic in western cultures. In the 30 years between 1970 and 2000, the number of obese persons in the United States has grown from 15% of the population to 31 percent of the population. We know that obesity leads to diabetes and high blood pressure. 

Healthy Now, Healthy Later
We know that those who have a certain combination of what we doctors call Healthy Lifestyle Factors (HLF) in middle age tend to have a better quality of life (and incur fewer Medicare charges) as they get older. These Healthy Lifestyle Factors are known risks for heart disease and include normal weight, good cholesterol scores, normal blood pressures, never smoking, and no history of diabetes or heart attack. 


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Mediterranean Diet and the Young and Healthy

With all the talk about how the Mediterranean Diet can treat or prevent such conditions as heart disease, high blood pressure, cancer and even diabetes, you could easily get the idea that the Mediterranean style of eating is more important for those who are older. And you could certainly be forgiven for thinking that, as it's true that the larger, long-term studies of the Mediterranean Diet and its impact on death rates have mainly included older adults - those in their sixties and older.

Fortunately, a group of researchers in Spain recently published a study in the Journal of Nutrition (2012;142(9):1672-1678) that followed over 15,000 men and women who were between 26 and 50 years of age at the start of the study. The participants, most of whom were women (~60%), were all well-educated and did not have heart disease, cancer, or diabetes at the start of the study. They provided information on their medical history, whether they smoked, their exercise levels, and their weight and height, and responded to a detailed questionnaire on what they usually ate.

With the information on their diet, the researchers were able to assign a Mediterranean Diet score to each person. Over the next 7 years (on average), the scientists kept up with their study participants by telephone, through the mail, or by other means, and when a participant died, they were able to find out the cause of death. At the close of the study they then compared the Mediterranean Diet score of those who died, regardless of what they died of, with those who did not.

As you might expect, not many people in this fairly young and healthy group actually died - only 125 of them - and about 10% of those were deaths from suicide or respiratory, neurologic, or infectious diseases, which are all unlikely to be affected by diet.

That said, those with the highest Mediterranean Diet score (between 7 and 9) were 62% less likely to die of any cause when compared to those with the lowest Mediterranean Diet score (between 0 and 2). Even those with just a moderate score (3-5) were 42% less likely to die than those with a lower score. In fact, the scientists estimated that for every two points an individual's score improved, they effectively reduced their risk of death by 28%.

What this means for you

If you or someone you love has been pooh-poohing the need to improve their diet because they're young and healthy, show them this study. It's so easy to make just a couple of changes in your diet that will significantly impact your health not just in your older years, but right now. Try snacking on a piece of fruit rather than something from the vending machine, and choose fish or shellfish for dinner a little more often. You can find out your Mediterranean Diet score here at and get some other ideas for small changes that can have a big impact.

First posted: September 19, 2012