Fitness professionals always preach that healthy insides, accomplished through clean eating, lead to improved overall health. Now conclusive research data points to how improving one’s diet may alter the intestinal microbiota, further promoting successful aging, specfically by implementing a Mediterranean diet. This approach, manifested by a research consortium comprised of nutritionists, bio-gerontologists, immunologists, and molecular biologists, has become known as the NU-AGE diet (Nutrition in Elderly People).
The Far-Reaching Effects of Gut Bacteria
As the human body ages, inflammation often develops and flares up, along with deterioration of multiple bodily systems, setting seniors up for frail golden years. Scientists now have reason to believe that certain aspects of what we call the “Standard American Diet” contribute to this condition, underscored by negative processes within the human gut. Characterized by weakened bones, decreased walking speed, diminished muscle strength, and low energy, frailty in the aging population heightens risk of accidental falls, fractures leading to disability, and an increased need for advanced nursing care facilities.
The Science Confirms the Meal Plan Advantages
Knowing that poor nutrition can easily lead to detrimental health, researchers began to consider how different meal plans might positively influence geriatric frailty. Several studies looked at almost 6,000 volunteers from France, Spain, China, and Italy. Interestingly enough, data pointed to the virtues of the Mediterranean diet, according to an article published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.
“We found the evidence was very consistent that older people who follow a Mediterranean diet had a lower risk of becoming frail,” said researcher Kate Walters, from the University College London. “People who followed a Mediterranean diet the most were overall less than half as likely to become frail over a nearly four-year period compared with those who followed it the least.”
The Mediterranean Menu
Indeed, individuals of Mediterranean descent following the eating habits of their ancestors show evidence of robust longevity. A Mediterranean diet extolls the virtues of meals based around whole, single-ingredient plant-sourced foods. Fresh and dried fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole grains, fresh fish, olive oil, and fermented dairy products comprise the backbone of this plan. Red meat, refined sugar, and processed foods rarely get consumed. Plenty of water and a daily glass of red wine figure prominently, along with reasonable amounts of physical activity and plenty of community socialization.
Another group of researchers investigated the effects of a 12-month-long Mediterranean diet intervention on the gut microbiota and its potential to reduce frailty among senior adults. This study included elderly individuals from the United Kingdom, France, the Netherlands, Poland, and Italy. The volunteers fell into two groups, 612 participants in total: non-frail and not-yet-frail individuals. Scientists analyzed the gut microflora of all the volunteers both prior to and a year after the diet intervention project.
After 12 months, it came as little surprise to the researchers that strict adherence to the prescribed meal plan revealed specific microbiome shifts, including improved cognitive function and decreased markers of inflammation. Further in-depth analysis indicated an increase in short- and branch-chained fatty acid production as well as a lessening of secondary bile acid production.
“The interplay between diet, microbiome, and host health is a complex phenomenon,” noted one scientist affiliated with the study.
The Benefit of Bacterial Biodiversity
Over a trillion species of bacteria and other microbes reside in the human digestive system, forming what medical professionals refer to as the gut microbiota. These “good” bacteria aid in breaking down food and also confer some disease protection. When the bacterial biodiversity gets thrown off-kilter from a lifetime of poor nutrition, the gut microbiota suffers, leading to an increase in frailty along with a host of other comorbid situations.
Boosting the healthy bacterial population within the human intestinal tract does not by any means stand alone as the sole benefactor of plant-based meals. Mediterranean diets can also facilitate weight loss and aid in preventing heart attacks and strokes. Brain function and memory show dramatic improvements after adopting this Mediterranean style of eating. Scientists and nutritionists note that increases in Vitamins C, B9, and B6 may hold the key to such positive changes, along with upticks in potassium, iron, and magnesium. The association between a healthy gut microbiome and an ideal lean body composition is strong, as well. Taking all of these benefits together points to plenty of reasons to adopt a Mediterranean diet. When coupled with more successful aging, these aspects easily highlight the advantages of more embracing a more wholesome intake.
Tailoring A Mediterranean Plan to American Tastebuds
One need not reside on the shores of the Mediterranean Sea to take advantage of this healthier eating style. We can find the majority of appropriate foods in grocery stores and farmer’s markets nationwide. This 3-day sample plan-at-a-glance might provide ideas and spark culinary creativity:
- Breakfast: Greek yogurt/strawberries /oats.
- Lunch: Sandwich with vegetables, whole grain bread.
- Dinner: Tuna salad with olive oil; piece of fruit
- Breakfast: Oatmeal /raisins
- Lunch: Leftover tuna salad
- Dinner: Salad of greens, tomatoes, olives, and feta cheese
- Breakfast: Omelet of spinach/tomatoes/onions; piece of fruit
- Lunch: Sandwich with cheese/fresh vegetables, whole grain bread
- Dinner: Broiled salmon, brown rice, vegetables
If hunger strikes between the 3 daily meals, choose healthy snack options:
- handful of nuts
- carrots /hummus
- Greek yogurt
- apple slices /almond butter
The vital components of physical activity and socialization always accompany the Mediterranean lifestyle. By partaking of delicious, wholesome, locally sourced meals with friends and family, toasting happy times with red wine, the senior adults in these countries seem to have mastered the art of growing older gracefully. Gut microflora mirrors their good health, indicating a very positive trend from which Americans can learn and benefit.
The fact that so many personal trainers see an increasing number of seniors among their client base reflects this ever-growing population. We do our best to keep such clients functionally fit to maintain or improve the quality of their older years. If a different approach to nutrition can also enhance their lives, trainers might consider educating their clients on the many benefits of shifting to a more plant-based, whole-foods diet. Lunch-and-learn seminars on the Mediterranean diet and longevity may help steer personal training businesses towards this age demographic.