The Mediterranean diet is in the news yet again for another study about its benefits. In April, a five-year EU funded project called NU AGE concluded, and with it came some exciting news for older adults about the benefits of the Mediterranean diet, including a new headline — the diet has anti-aging properties.
While the study was conducted to find the effects of the Mediterranean diet on seniors and how to improve their overall health and quality of life in later years, the findings have created a stir in the under 65 population as well. Who among us wouldn’t want to live longer, look younger, and perform better?
So, in true FHQ fashion, we’re calling in an expert. Not only do we want to summarize some of the key findings of the project, but we want to learn more about how following the Mediterranean diet pyramid might benefit athletes.
Our Expert: Susan McNamee
A Certified-Level 1 Metabolic Efficiency Training Specialist and 5x Ironman Competitor
Susan came to the sport in 2013, and after discovering metabolic efficiency training, she started seeing success. Through this nutritional method of fueling, her body has become fat-adapted and she can race an Ironman on 100 calories per hour – using no sugary gels or sports drinks. Many of her athletes have had extraordinary success in their races due to MET, including new PRs and weight and fat loss.
What is the Mediterranean Diet Pyramid?
The Mediterranean diet pyramid includes the following:
- A strong base of fruits, vegetables, and other plant-based foods such as legumes, whole grains, herbs, nuts, spices and certain types of oil.
- A strong secondary portion of your diet being composed of poultry and fish with limited red meat consumption
- Small amounts of dairy and sweets
- Lots of water
- Enjoying meals with family and friends
- Drinking red wine in moderation (optional)
- Getting plenty of exercise
At a glance, many of the aspects of the diet are similar to Paleo, and McNamee says that it also has many parallels to a metabolic efficiency diet as well.
Much like the Mediterranian diet, the goal of Paleo and ME diets are to eat whole, real foods. One main difference McNamee points out is that “The Mediterranean diet suggests ‘piling on’ fruits and vegetables. However, Metabolic Efficiency is about controlling blood sugar through daily nutrition. Many fruits are very high in sugar, thus spiking blood sugar. It is the same with some of the high carb vegetables.”
She also points out the importance of including healthy fats in a performance-based diet.
“Both ways of eating encourage healthy fats,” she said. “Studies have shown that increasing fats, eating appropriate amounts of protein and fiber help train the body to burn fat before carbs. Overall, the Mediterranean food plan is very similar to MET.”
Religious Paleo zealots will also notice some similarities, but the Mediterranean diet also allows for legumes, whole grains and red wine — which are all no no’s for our Paleo pals — while limiting certain types of meat.
Benefits According to the Study
The five-year study of over 1,200 participants across five countries in Europe set out to examine how to prolong the health of seniors. A number of factors were measured and recorded in both the control group (those who ate how they normally would), and the test group (those who ate a personalized version of the Mediterranean diet). Data was gathered that examined things like bone loss, inflammation, insulin sensitivity, digestive health, cardiovascular health, and perceived quality of life.
Of that data, there were two published findings. The rest is still being analyzed to draw conclusions.
Finding 1: Participants who consumed the Mediterranean diet had dramatically decreased levels of C-reactive protein, a main inflammatory marker that contributes to the aging process.
Finding 2: Those with osteoporosis saw a slower rate of bone loss on the diet than those in the control group.
Benefits for Athletes
Obviously, consuming a diet with anti-aging properties that helps to preserve bone density is beneficial to athletes. The diet also has studies that show it leads to better overall heart health. However, although there have been a few studies searching for benefits on overall athletic performance, more evidence is needed before researchers can draw strong conclusions.
That said, McNamee and many others in the nutrition field believe that a whole-foods approach to eating is the absolute way to go to hit your performance goals.
“I feel that the MD has great benefits,” McNamee said. “For so long we’ve been taught to eat ‘low fat’, or ‘high carb’. For many athletes, this has led to GI distress during training and racing. It’s been shown that we have better overall health results with the addition of healthy fats, eating lean proteins and getting our carbs from fruits and vegetables and grains. ”
Finding the Best Plan for You
It’s safe to say there are so so SO many schools of thought on nutrition out there. Everyone seems to drink a different brand of Kool-aid and swear by their regimen.