Beet Power


Red beets – rich in betacyanins

I have to admit that beets have never been a favorite food of mine. My Dad, on the other hand,  just loves beets, and he asks me almost every spring, “Paula, when are you planting your beets?”  I have always reminded him that I don’t like beets and am not planning to plant them ( yet again.) (Sweet potatoes, squash, and tomatoes are always in my garden.) However, maybe this year I will actually plant some beets – especially since I have learned that they offer some great health benefits.  Plus, I’m sure I can learn to like them if I try preparing them a few different ways.  And, of course, Dad would be happy too.

Beets are root vegetables with two parts, the bulbs and the leafy green leaves. They are members of the Beta vulgaris botanical species. ( Sugar beets and Swiss chard are also members.) While most beets you find in the supermarket are red beets, there are also white and golden varieties.

What nutrients are found in beets and beet greens?

Beet roots are an excellent source of the vitamin folate, and also offer modest amounts of fiber, iron, and potassium.  One beet ( 2″ in diameter) provides 89 micrograms of folate (22% of the Daily Value for both men and women) . Folate helps repair damaged DNA,  lowering the risk of cancer-causing mutations. Fiber helps regulate blood sugar, iron helps prevent anemia, and potassium helps control blood pressure. Red beets derive their red color not from lycopene ( found in tomatoes) nor from anthocyanins ( found in eggplant), but from unique phytonutrients known as betacyanins, which have strong antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and detoxifying properties. In particular, betacyanins help to eliminate environmental toxins from the liver, keeping it healthy, and limit the oxidation of LDL cholesterol in the blood,  which can lead to plaque build-up in the arteries and contribute to heart disease. One betacyanin known as betanin is used as a red food colorant.

Beet greens are loaded with vitamin K ( 1/2 cup of cooked beet greens provides 346 micrograms of vitamin K, which is more than 3 1/2 times the daily recommended intake for women and more than 2 1/2 times the daily recommended intake for men). Vitamin K promotes both bone and heart health. Beet greens are also rich in vitamin A, which is necessary for proper immune function, as well as  the health of the eyes and skin. Beet greens are a great source of several minerals, including calcium, potassium, copper, iron, and magnesium.

What are the health benefits associated with drinking beet juice?

Beet juice has been shown to lower blood pressure. An Australian study published in Nutrition Journal found that men who drank 17.6 ounces of a beet juice beverage ( about 3/4 beet juice and 1/4 apple juice)  saw a drop of 4-5 points in their systolic blood pressure six hours later. The nitrates in beets are thought to be responsible for the effect.  Nitrates from beets and leafy green vegetables are converted in the body to nitric oxide, which relaxes the blood vessels and dilates them. This helps blood flow more easily though the vessels and lowers blood pressure.

Beet juice also helps your body respond better to exercise. One study involved 10 men who engaged in moderate- or severe- exercise on 6 different occasions after drinking 70, 140, or 280 ml of beet juice or a placebo.  While neither the placebo nor the 70 ml dose of beet juice had any effect,  the 140 ml dose ( about 1/2 cup) reduced oxygen consumption by 1.7 % during moderate exercise and and 280 ml  dose ( a little more than 1 cup) reduced it by 3.0%.  In addition, the time it took for the muscles to become fatigued was extended by 14% and 12%, respectively for the 140 ml and 280 ml doses of beet juice.

How do I use beets and their greens?

Beets can be eaten raw.  Just peel and grate them into a salad for added crunch and color. They also can be boiled or roasted.  When boiling beets, it is best to leave their skins on during cooking, so that they don’t “bleed” their red juices.  Beets are ready when you can easily pierce them with the tip of a sharp knife. Then you can drain them, run them under cold water briefly, and peel them. Once peeled, they can be cut into slices, quarters, or cubes. Warm, cooked beets can be served with a splash of lemon or orange juice and herbs.  (Acid from citrus juices or vinegar helps to retain their bright red color.) Chilled cooked beets can be added to salads; they work well with oranges, carrots, or chickpeas. They also can be pureed to make a beet soup known as borscht or a hummus-like dip. Raw beet greens can be added to a leafy salad.  They also can be lightly steamed, like spinach or kale.

With so many ways to eat beets, surely you can find one you enjoy!

You can start by trying this beautiful ruby colored beet dip.  Serve it with crackers, pita bread wedges, or crudites or use it as a pretty topping for your baked potato.

beet dip

You can get the recipe : Beet Dip.

Note: Red beets can stain your hands and clothes, so you may wish to wear an apron and proceed with caution when preparing this dish.





Magical Mushrooms

magical mushrooms

Mushrooms have been revered throughout history for their culinary and medicinal benefits.  Asian cultures in particular have used these fungi  for thousands of years as both food and medicine, and they remain so popular today that they are sold by street vendors,  similar to how we sell hot dogs and bagels in the United States.  The ancient Egyptians believed so strongly in the healing properties of mushrooms that they thought eating them could make you immortal. France was among the first nations to cultivate mushrooms, followed by England, and then the United States in the late 1800’s.

Science is confirming what natural healers have known and practiced for a long time regarding mushrooms.   There are indeed numerous health benefits associated with regular consumption of mushrooms, including the Shitake, Maitake, Reishi,  Enoki, Portobello, and white button varieties.

Some of the benefits include the following:

  1. Improved immune function and defense against cancer – Shiitake mushrooms contain lentinan,  a polysaccharide or complex sugar, that is similar in structure to bacteria.  When you eat these mushrooms, your immune system produces more white blood cells to fight infection. Lentinan also has anti-tumor properties. Shiitake mushrooms have long been valued in Japan for their ability to shrink tumors and are often used as an adjunct to chemotherapy to support the immune system. They are gaining attention by cancer researchers around the world. Maitake mushrooms also have a long reputation as cancer-fighters. Like Shiitake mushrooms, they contain lentinan – as well as a polysaccharide called beta-D-glucan, or D-fraction, which has effectively shrunk tumors in lab animals. According to a study published in the Journal of Nutrition, white button mushrooms – as well as Shiitake, portabello, crimini, and baby button mushrooms- contain phytochemicals that inhibit an enzyme that produces estrogen within the breast cells.  Estrogen is a key factor in the development of breast cancer, and the suppression of estrogen production by these phytochemicals may  provide cancer protection in postmenopausal women. Enokis, which are white and spindly, contain lentinan, as well as proflamin, another anti-cancer compound that stimulates immune cells to attack cancer cells more vigorously. A  2009 Australian study found that Chinese women who ate 10 grams ( about 3/4 cup) of fresh mushrooms daily had a 64% lower risk of breast cancer compared to non-consumers. Those who also drank green tea in the amount of 1 gram of infused leaves per day reduced their risk of breast cancer by 89%! The high levels of zinc and selenium in mushrooms also support healthy immune function,
  2. Help with weight loss A study conducted by researchers at Johns Hopkins  Bloomberg School of Public Health found that substituting 1 cup of white button mushrooms for red meat can be a useful strategy for enhancing weight loss.  At the end of the one-year study, those in the intervention groups lost 7 pounds and showed improvements in body composition compared to participants on the control diet.  Why? Differences in nutrient composition helped account for the different results. A one-cup serving of cooked mushrooms contains only 44 calories,  1 gram of fat,  and 3 grams of fiber, whereas a medium hamburger patty provides about 200 calories, 14 grams of fat, and no fiber. Part of the fiber in mushrooms is in the form of beta-glucan ( a soluble fiber also found in oats, barley, and rye) which increases satiety or sense of fullness, and diminishes hunger.
  3. Lowering of cholesterol A compound in Shiitake mushrooms called eritadenine has been shown to lower cholesterol in human and animal studies conducted in Japan. Also, beta-glucan interferes with the absorption of dietary cholesterol, which helps keep blood cholesterol low. Substituting mushrooms for meat will not only help with weight control, but also will promote healthy cholesterol levels.
  4. Improvement of skin conditions and anti-aging benefits Because of their anti-inflammatory properties, mushrooms can improve acne, rosacea, and eczema. Most varieties of mushrooms contain ergothionine, an amino acid that reduces inflammation.  They also are very high in the mineral selenium ( one cup of cooked mushrooms provides 33% of the Daily Value), which acts as an antioxidant that helps protect the skin. Studies have shown that oral consumption of Kombucha mushrooms fights free radical damage and topical application can hinder glycation- a process where excess sugar binds collagen in the skin, leaving it brittle and wrinkled. Skincare companies such as Aveeno and Origins have started adding Reishi mushroom extracts to their products.

With all the amazing benefits of mushrooms, you may wish to add them regularly to your meals.  Try Including mushrooms in your morning omelette along with some scallions and red pepper.  Stir-fry a variety of mushrooms with other vegetables in a wok for a tasty side dish. Toss them into your pasta dishes and add them on top of your pizzas. A large grilled portobello mushroom makes  a great replacement for a burger.  Dress it with some avocado, onion, and tomato for added flavor and nutrition. And there is always delicious mushroom soup!

The Wonders of Wakame


Are you looking for a new food to try in 2017? Explore a new taste with a wakame salad! Wakame is an edible brown seaweed commonly used in Japanese, Korean, and Chinese cuisines that is quickly gaining popularity in the U.S. due to its array of health-promoting properties.  In Japan it is used as a blood purifier and is appreciated for its ability to nourish the skin and hair.  Studies with mice suggest that a carotenoid in wakame called fucoxanthin exerts both anti-diabetic and anti-obesity properties.  Fucoxanthin and other compounds in wakame appear to promote cardiovascular health by limiting inflammation and improving blood cholesterol levels. A polysaccharide known as fucoidan found in wakame and other brown seaweeds ( such as kombu and hijiki) has proven antitumor and immunity-enhancing properties.  Results of a 2013 study conducted by researchers at the University of California suggest that wakame may lower the risk of breast cancer in postmenopausal women. Wakame is a rich source of minerals, including iodine, potassium, calcium, magnesium, and iron. Iodine is necessary for the production of thyroid hormones that regulate metabolism; potassium helps keep blood pressure in check; calcium and magnesium support bone health; and iron allows for production of healthy red blood cells.

Wakame can be boiled to make a mineral-rich soup broth or rehydrated in a bowl of lukewarm water and then combined with other ingredients to make a nutritious salad. Here is one to try.

Wakame-Arugula Salad

Soak 2 or 3 strips of dry wakame in lukewarm water for about 10 minutes; drain the wakame and place in a bowl of boiling water briefly and then run cold water over it to bring out the greenish color.

Drain the wakame and then chop it into small strips.

Place the strips in a small bowl; add a couple tablespoons each of soy sauce, rice vinegar, and lemon juice to the wakame; allow it to marinate about 10 minutes.

Arrange a salad plate with arugula, avocado slices, and chopped walnuts.

Add the wakame.

Drizzle the plate with extra-virgin olive oil and lemon juice.

Add sea salt and pepper to taste.wakame-arugula-salad2

Toss the Salt Shaker – Add Some Herbs

salt shaker 2

According to the latest Dietary Guidelines for Americans, “Healthy eating patterns limit sodium.”  Adults and children ages 14 and older are advised to limit their intake of sodium to less than 2,300 mg (about one teaspoon) per day, and children younger than 14 should consume even less.  Unfortunately, the average daily intake of sodium in the U.S. for those ages 1 year and older is 3,440 mg, which is about one and a half times the recommended upper limit.  For adult men, the average daily intake is 4,240 mg, while for adult women the average daily intake is 2,980 mg.  According to the American Heart Association, nine out of ten Americans consume too much sodium.

Where does all this sodium come from?  The majority is added during commercial food processing and preparation. According to the latest Dietary Guidelines, mixed dishes, which include burgers, sandwiches, and tacos; rice, pasta, and grain dishes; pizza, meat, poultry, and seafood dishes, and soups – account for about half of the sodium consumed in the U.S. The remainder comes from sodium that naturally occurs in food or from salt added at home during cooking or at the table from a salt shaker.

Why should you be concerned about your sodium intake?

  • A high intake of sodium can increase your blood pressure, and high blood pressure is a leading risk factor for death in women in the U.S., contributing to almost 200,000 female deaths each year, according to the American Heart Association.
  • Excessive intake of sodium/salt can increase your risk for heart failure, stroke, kidney disease, osteoporosis, stomach cancer, kidney stones, enlarged heart muscle, and headaches.
  • Too much sodium/salt can increase fluid retention, which can lead to puffiness, bloating, and weight gain.

What are some strategies to lower your sodium intake?

  • Eat at home more often; cook from scratch to control the sodium content of dishes.
  • Use lemon juice, herbs, and spices to flavor food, instead of salt.
  • Increase the proportion of fresh or frozen vegetables in your meals; these are very low in sodium.
  • When grocery shopping, use the Nutrition Facts panel to compare the sodium content of foods and select those with less sodium.
  • Buy low-sodium, reduced sodium, or no-salt-added versions of products if available ( for instance, unsalted peanuts).
  • Choose fresh poultry, seafood, pork, and lean meat instead of processed meat and poultry.
  • Avoid dishes with sauces and  mixes, as well as “instant” products, including flavored rice, instant noodles, and ready-made pasta.

Why use lemon, herbs, and spices?

  • Lemon juice: one tablespoon provides 8% of the Daily Value for immune-boosting vitamin C and only 3 calories.; it contains no sodium. It gives a nice “kick” to salads and soups.
  • Herbs: the American Cancer Institute has identified over 20 herbs with anti-cancer properties, including basil, parsley, cilantro, thyme, and oregano. Many herbs have antimicrobial properties, which protect us against infections. Some herbs are good sources of vitamins; for example, two tablespoons of fresh parsley provides over 100% of the Daily Value for vitamin K, which is important for bone and heart health, as well as 16% of the Daily Value for vitamin C.  Herbs can be used to add taste and color to scrambled eggs, soups, salads, meats, poultry, and fish.


    Flat-leaf parsley

  • Spices: spices such as cinnamon, ginger, and turmeric not only make food tastier, they also make it healthier. Cinnamon helps control blood sugar, ginger can soothe arthritis pain, and turmeric can defend against inflammatory diseases, including  heart disease, cancer, and type 2 diabetes.



Keeping your sodium intake within the recommended limit can be challenging, but it is possible.  Just  watch the sodium content of foods you buy, favoring fresh over processed,  eat at home more often,  and limit the amount of salt you add to food – flavoring dishes with lemon juice and a variety of herbs and spices. You may be surprised how fun it is to appreciate new flavors.








Six Healthy Diet Trends for 2016

green tea with lemon 002

Matcha green tea


Diet trends cover everything from which foods we’re eating more and less of – to where we’re getting our food from and how we’re preparing it. Some recent trends promise a quick-fix – like the detox juice cleanse, and some offer indulgent fun – like the “no dinner, just a dessert-tasting, please.”  These are examples of trends that might be dangerous over the long haul. Juice cleanses can lead to nutritional deficiencies (such as protein, calcium, iron),  and too many desserts can increase both your waist size and your weight.

Fortunately, in the past couple of years we have witnessed a shift away from fast food and sugar-sweetened sodas (McDonald’s and PepsiCo have reported declining sales) and towards farm-fresh produce and “clean” eating (consuming food that is unprocessed or less processed with few additives.) There also has been an increase in interest in nuts, seeds, soy, gluten-free grains, dairy-free beverages (such as soy milk, almond milk, and coconut milk) and vegetarian entrees.  The low-carb, low-fat diet war has lost its intensity, and people are focusing more on “good” carbs and “good” fats.

Consistent with these trends, the newly released Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2015-2020 advises Americans to choose plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and healthful oils and to limit their intakes of added sugars, saturated and trans fats, and sodium. Americans are advised to limit their intakes of both saturated fat and added sugars to less than 10 percent of total calories.  Sodium intake should be no more than 2,300 milligrams (about a teaspoon of salt) a day. Unfortunately, according to a recent report by the CDC, more than 96 percent of men and more than 80 percent of women consume more than this amount of sodium.  Make it a New Year’s resolution to keep your diet based on fresh, unprocessed foods and avoid eating too many restaurant meals, which can be high in calories, harmful fats, added sugars, and sodium.

Here is a look at six healthy diet trends for 2016.   You might want to give one or two of them a try.

1.) Fresh meal delivery –  companies such as HelloFresh and Blue Apron take the stress out of fixing healthful meals at home by delivering right to your doorstep kits filled with exactly what you need to prepare a tasty meal from fresh, unprocessed ingredients.  As a bonus, there is much less food waste, and you don’t have to spend as much time shopping. Furthermore, meals are generally seasoned with herbs and spices instead of salt.

2.) Pulses – “Pulses” is an umbrella term for 12 crops, including dry beans, dry peas, chickpeas, and lentils.  The United Nations has declared 2016 to be the International Year of Pulses. Pulses are rich in protein and fiber and packed with antioxidants that can help deter diseases such as heart disease and cancer.

3.) Bitter vegetables – consumers like to try new flavors, and according to marker research from Mintel, this year more restaurants plan to offer vegetables with bitter flavors, such as Brussels sprouts and collard greens. Many bitter vegetables are in the cruciferous family of vegetables, and are loaded with cancer-fighting phytochemicals.

4.) The Mediterranean Diet – the Mediterranean diet is rich in vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes,  nuts, fish, olive oil, herbs and spices, and even includes red wine in moderation.  It is limited in red meat and sugars.  Research continues to support the notion that this is a diet to choose for optimal health and disease prevention. According to the Mayo clinic, an analysis of more than 1.5 million healthy adults demonstrated that the Mediterranean diet was associated with a reduced risk of death from heart disease and cancer, as well as a lower incidence of both Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease. The analysis found that the diet cut the risk of developing breast cancer by two-thirds.

5.) Probiotics – gut health is expected to be a popular concern this year; there is a lot of research examining the gut-brain connection and the gut-weight connection.  Research suggests that the healthy bacteria found in  yogurt, kefir, and fermented foods such as sauerkraut and kimchi might help regulate weight, boost immunity, and even improve mental health.

6.) Matcha (green tea powder) – in case you are looking for a new, healthful beverage, consider brewing a cup of matcha. It is a type of Japanese green tea, made from young leaves, which are steamed, unlike other green teas.  (The steaming helps preserve the polyphenol catechins, powerful antioxidants that may protect against cancer.)   Once the leaves have been steamed, their stems are removed and they are air-dried and ground into a fine powder. Matcha tea is made by dissolving the bright green powder into hot water. Traditionally, a bamboo whisk is used to properly blend the powder into the water, but a milk frother works well too. Matcha may enhance your ability to focus and improve your mood due to its combination of caffeine and L-theanine, an amino acid known for its ability to reduce anxiety. The result is a calm, focused energy.

Consider jumping on the bandwagon with one or more of these latest diet trends.






Eight Reasons to Eat Flaxseed

Whole flaxseed

Whole flaxseed

Adding  tiny flaxseeds to your foods can provide big benefits for your health. Not only does flax help protect you against several common diseases, it also provides beauty benefits for your skin and hair.  Flaxseed is the seed of the plant Linum usitatissimum which has been treasured and cultivated around the world for thousands of years.  As early as 3000 BC, flaxseed was grown in Babylon. In the eighth century, King Charlemagne believed so strongly in the goodness of flaxseed, that he passed laws mandating that his subjects consume it.  In recent years, research has fueled a renewed interest in the benefits of  flaxseed, and it is appearing on more grocery shelves as whole and ground flaxseed, flax oil, flax oil supplements, and even added to foods such as cereals, frozen waffles, and cookies.  In 2015, perhaps you should discover the many wonders of flax and find ways to add it to your diet.

What makes flaxseed so amazingly healthful? It is brimming with important nutrients including alpha-linolenic acid ( a plant omega-3 fatty acid),  fiber, and lignans, phytochemicals which have cancer-protective properties.  It also is a good source of the minerals magnesium, iron, and zinc, as well as the B-vitamin thiamin. It imparts a nutty flavor to foods and can be sprinkled on a variety of foods including cereals, salads, yogurts, and cooked vegetables and can be included in recipes for casseroles and baked goods.  Some of the benefits of consuming flaxseed include the following:

  1. Heart health: The soluble fiber in flaxseed helps lower LDL (bad) cholesterol which can promote plaque build-up in the arteries. The anti-inflammatory effect of the alpha-linolenic acid also promotes heart health.
  2. Cancer protection: Flaxseed is one of the best sources of lignans, plant compounds that act like a weak form of estrogen and are thought to lower the risk of breast, colon, and prostate cancer. The lignans help block enzymes involved in hormone metabolism, which promotes the growth and spread of cancer cells.  A Canadian study published in 2013 in Cancer Causes Control found that consumption of flaxseed was associated with a significant reduction in the risk of breast cancer. In animal studies, alphalinolenic acid, the plant omega-3 fatty acid found in flaxseed, has deterred cancer incidence and growth.
  3. Digestive health: The fiber in flaxseed has a laxative effect, and can help prevent constipation and maintain bowel regularity.
  4. Blood sugar control: The fiber in flaxseed helps keep blood sugar levels steady. A study published in 2011 in the Journal of Dietary Supplements found that diabetic patients who consumed a tablespoon of ground flaxseeds every day for a month saw a significant drop in both their fasting blood sugar levels and A1C levels, compared to those in the control group.  Flax may help control blood sugar by improving insulin insensitivity in people who are glucose intolerant.
  5. Strong bones: a study published in the International Journal of Food Safety, Nutrition, and Public Health in 2009 found that diabetic and menopause-induced rats fed flaxseed oil showed a delay in bone loss as a result of the omega-3 fatty acids; the researchers recommended that human research be conducted to confirm the use of flaxseed oil to improve bone health and to prevent osteoporosis.
  6. Weight control: when flax is ingested, it expands, making you feel fuller. Research suggests that adding flaxseed to your daily diet can result in a slimmer waistline, as well.
  7. Enhanced immune function: the alpha-linolenic acid decreases inflammation, which helps the immune system function better. Flaxseed may help inflammatory disorders such as rheumatoid arthritis and lupus. The mineral zinc also helps bolster the immune system.
  8. Healthier skin, hair, and eyes: the omega-3 fatty acids help treat chronic skin conditions, including rosacea, eczema, acne, and skin allergies. They seems to keep the skin moisturized and smooth from the inside out. They also nourish skin follicles, and keep hair strong and healthy. They also combat dry eyes by helping the body produce more tears naturally and keeping the eyes lubricated.

Buying Flaxseed

Flax can be found in some conventional grocery stores and in health food stores.  You can buy the seeds either whole or ground. If you buy the whole seeds, you can grind them yourself in a coffee grinder, food processor, or blender.  Grinding the seeds makes them easier for your body to digest, so that you get the full benefit of all the nutrients contained in the seeds.  Whole flaxseed will keep at room temperature for up to a year.  Ground flaxseed can be kept in an air-tight container in the refrigerator for up to 90 days.  Flaxseed oil can be purchased as organic or conventional. Flaxseed oil should be kept in the refrigerator.

Recommendations for Flaxseed

Most people can benefit from 1-2 tablespoons of flaxseed a day. Two tablespoons of ground flaxseeds contains 70 calories, 3 grams of fiber ( 12% of the Daily Value), 2.9 grams of omega-3 ( alpha-linolenic acid ALA) (181% of the Daily Value)  and 98 mg of lignans.  It also provides 51mg of magnesium ( 13% of the Daily Value).  It is important to drink plenty of water when consuming flaxseed, because of the fiber content. One tablespoon of flaxseed oil contains 120 calories and 8 grams of omega-3 ( alpha-linolenic acid ALA), (500% of the Daily Value), but no fiber.

Suggested Uses for Flaxseed

  • Sprinkle flaxseed on your morning cereal.
  • Add a teaspoon of flaxseed to mustard or mayonnaise that you spread on your sandwich.
  • Blend flaxseed into smoothies.
  • Mix flaxseed into yogurt.
  • Add flaxseed to tomato sauces and casseroles.
  • Include flaxseed in bread, pancake, and muffin recipes.
  • Add flaxseed oil to salad dressings.

Try my recipe for Easy Flax Bread.

flaxseed and flax bread 022

Cautions with Flaxseed

Certain individuals should avoid flaxseed.  People who have inflammatory bowel conditions such as Chrohn’s disease or irritable bowel syndrome should avoid flaxseed because of its laxative effects. It also should be avoided by  pregnant and breast-feeding women, as well as by women with fibroids, endometriosis, or polycystic ovary disease. People taking blood-thinners should avoid flaxseed because it increases the risk of bleeding.  If you have any health concerns, you should consult your physician before consuming flaxseed.






A Symphony of Healthful Foods Promotes Longevity


Mediterranean foods with kale

Many of us wonder what we should eat to preserve our health and slow down the aging of our mind and body – perhaps more kale, walnuts, or olive oil?  Many foods  such as these are touted as “super foods,” because they are nutrient- dense and rich in compounds with antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.  While individual foods can provide us with nutrients  we need for good health, recent research suggests that a whole dietary pattern, such as that of the Mediterranean diet, offers the best protection against disease and the best hope for successful aging.

Recent research published in The BMJ, found that the Mediterranean diet, rich in vegetables, fruits, legumes, nuts, unrefined grains, olive oil, fish, and a glass of wine with meals, may actually slow down the aging process.  The Mediterranean diet is  founded on the dietary traditions of Crete, Greece and southern Italy in the mid-1900’s, when the rates of chronic diseases among the people living in those countries were among the lowest in the world. The study found that the Mediterranean diet is associated with longer length of telomeres, which are DNA sequences at the end of chromosomes.  Telomeres help to protect the chromosomes from fraying, which can damage the genetic code inside. As people age, telomeres naturally shorten; shortened telomeres are linked with a decreased life expectancy and increased risk of age-related chronic diseases.

The researchers, from Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School, looked at data from the Nurses’ Health Study to determine whether there was a link between adherence to the Mediterranean diet and longer telomere length.  There were 4,676 healthy, middle-aged women who participated in the study; they completed detailed food questionnaires and had their blood tested to  determine the length of their telomeres.

The researchers concluded that greater adherence to the Mediterranean diet was significantly associated with longer telomeres, a marker of slower aging.  The study authors noted that none of the individual components of the diet were associated with telomere length; rather the whole dietary pattern appeared to be responsible for the benefit.

Previous research has linked the Mediterranean diet with decreased risk of heart attacks, strokes, Alzheimer’s disease, Type 2 diabetes, Parkinson’s disease, certain cancers, and overall mortality.

Key components of the Mediterranean diet include the following:

  • High intake of vegetables, fruits, legumes, nuts, seeds, unrefined grains, herbs and spices
  • High intakes of olive oil  (the primary source of fat)
  • Low intake of saturated fat
  • Moderately high intake of fish and seafood (at least twice per week)
  • Cheese and yogurt, moderate portions, daily to weekly (preferably low-fat or non-fat)
  • No more than  4 eggs per week, including those used in baking and cooking
  • Poultry (moderate portions, every 2 days or weekly)
  • Very low intake of meats and sweets

Several key components of the Mediterranean diet, including fruits, vegetables, nuts, olive oil, and herbs, have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, which may have a positive influence on telomere length. And these components may act in a synergistic way when combined in the diet.  For instance, animal research conducted by Professor John Erdman, of the University of Illinois,  found  that rats with prostate tumors which were fed a  diet enriched with both tomato and broccoli had greater reductions in the weight of their tumors than did those rats fed only tomato or only broccoli.  Research published in Brain, Behavior, and Immunity in February, 2013, found that telomere length increased with decreasing omega-6 to omega-3 ratios in the blood. Increasing dietary intake fish, which is high in omega-3 fatty acids, while limiting intake of omega-6 fatty acids, often found in processed baked goods, can help achieve a lower ratio of omega-6 to omega-3.  So, it is not just a matter of individual nutrients or foods, but the composition of the diet as a whole.

Factors which have been linked to shorter-than-average telomere length include obesity, sugar-sweetened drinks, oxidative stress, and inflammation.

Here is a sample one-day menu for the Mediterranean diet:


  • Oatmeal made from whole oats, topped with blueberries and flaxseeds
  • A cup of low-fat soy milk

oatmeal with blueberries


  • Lentil soup
  • Greek salad ( Romaine lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, onions, olives, low-fat feta cheese with olive oil and vinegar dressing)
  • Slice of whole grain bread

Greek salad 2lentil soup


  • Greek yogurt (low-fat) with chopped fresh apricots and walnuts OR
  • Hummus (made from garbanzo beans) with raw vegetables (broccoli, carrots, cauliflower)

yogurt with apricots


  • Grilled salmon with lemon juice and fresh dill
  • Sautéed spinach with garlic and olive oil
  • Brown rice with herbs
  • A glass of red wine

salmon with spinach 


  • Oatmeal-raisin cookie and home-made applesauce

oatmeal raisin cookies

The Mediterranean diet approach extends beyond the actual foods that comprise the diet.  Fresh, homegrown foods are selected over packaged, processed foods. Daily exercise, sharing meals with others, and nurturing a deep appreciation for the pleasures of eating nutritious and delicious food are all part of the Mediterranean lifestyle.  Eating the Mediterranean way can put you on the road to a healthy, long life. Give it a try!