How A Mediterranean Diet Can Help You Live Longer

We all want to live a long, healthy life, don't we? According to Worldometer, the average life expectancy of the world population is 73.2 years, but there are many ways you can increase that number. John Hopkins Medicine lists the top four: refrain from smoking, maintain a healthy weight, exercise, and eat a healthy diet. However, with so many diet trends out there, how do you know which ones are the best?

One of the diets that gets a lot of attention is the Mediterranean diet, and for good reason. This plant-based diet focuses primarily on vegetables, fruits, seeds, legumes, fish, seeds, and olive oil, as Everyday Health explains. It's the traditional cuisine of Greece, Italy, Lebanon, Spain and other countries near the Mediterranean Sea.

U.S. News & World Report ranked it as the top Best Diet Overall Diet out of 40, five years in a row. So, how exactly can the Mediterranean diet help you live longer?

It can prevent heart disease

According to Medical News Today, heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States, but a Mediterranean diet can help prevent it, based on results of the PREDIMED study published in The New England Journal of Medicine. The study revealed that "a Mediterranean diet supplemented with extra-virgin olive oil or nuts reduced the incidence of major cardiovascular events" among people who had a high risk for heart disease.

This reduced risk stems from the fact that the diet emphasizes healthy fats instead of unhealthy fats; many of the foods contain monounsaturated fat and polyunsaturated fat, as Mayo Clinic explains. High cholesterol is a leading cause for heart disease, and what causes high cholesterol? Unhealthy fats (per Mayo Clinic). But even without any research, we've all known since childhood that those high fat foods like donuts, cookies, and fried foods should be eaten sparingly, or not at all.

It can prevent cancer

The National Library of Medicine claims "cancer is the second leading cause of death" in the world. This disease involves cells growing and spreading throughout the body (via The National Cancer Institute), but the Mediterranean diet has been proven to provide protection against it. How does it provide this protection? It provides protection with the antioxidant properties found in fruit, vegetables, and olive oil, all of which are popular in the diet.

Antioxidants are substances in the body that prevent cells from being damaged by unstable molecules (free radicals), per The National Cancer Institute. Think of them as little cell protectors. This basically means that a diet rich in antioxidants can help prevent the irregular cell growth that occurs with cancer. 

Although Cancer Research UK claims not all cancers can be prevented, some of the ones that can involve simply eating a healthy diet that includes a large amount of those cell protectors.

It can prevent type 2 diabetes

Diabetes is another leading cause of death in the U.S. Medical News Today lists it as No. 7. Before diving into how the Mediterranean diet can help prevent type 2 diabetes, it's important to understand what exactly diabetes is. 

The Mayo Clinic defines type 2 diabetes as "an impairment in the way the body regulates and uses sugar (glucose) as a fuel." So, what causes the body to malfunction this way? The exact cause is unknown, but being obese or overweight and having a large amount of visceral fat are contributing factors.

Enter the Mediterranean diet. Just as the foods that are common in the diet help prevent heart disease, due to the inclusion of healthy fats over unhealthy fats, these foods can also help prevent obesity. According to a study published in the American Diabetes Association, "the Mediterranean diet lowered fasting glucose levels in those with diabetes more than did low-fat diets."

Year after year, the Mediterranean diet proves successful in protecting against the leading causes of death: heart disease, cancer, and diabetes, thanks to the nutrients and properties found in it. So, if you're looking for a new diet that can help you live longer, and you haven't yet tried the Mediterranean diet, it just might be the one you stick with long-term.