The Mediterranean Diet May Help Protect Older Adults from Becoming Frail

Older persons who follow the Mediterranean diet may have a lower risk of developing frailty later in their lives, according to the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society. Those who live on a diet composed mainly of plant-based foods – fresh, nutrient-filled foods – are likely to live longer and stay stronger as they age. These foods may include fruits, vegetables, nuts, legumes and whole grains.

The condition of frailty is associated with feeling low in energy, weight loss and loss in muscle strength and most prevalent in the aging part of the population. Those who suffer from it experience numerous health concerns, such as fractures, disability, dementia and regular falls that can contribute to these issues. Frailty can also decrease quality of life. Mediterranean | Longevity LIVE

A team of researchers, led by Kate Walters, PhD and Gotaro Kojima, MD, of University College London, in the UK, looked to see if following a healthy diet might decrease one’s risk of frailty. The researchers analyzed evidence from all published studies examining associations between adherence to a Mediterranean diet and development of frailty in older individuals. Their analysis included 5789 people in four studies in France, Spain, Italy, and China.

“We found the evidence was very consistent that older people who follow a Mediterranean diet had a lower risk of becoming frail,” said Dr. Walters. “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.”

Jessica Pieterse, a registered dietician at Nutritional Solutions, advises all South Africans to follow the Mediterranean style of eating for the following reasons. Firstly, it provides several health benefits, secondly it is easy to follow and lastly it provides a variety of nutrients. Health benefits include decreasing risk for heart disease, lowering blood pressure, improving cholesterol levels and increasing longevity.

“The Mediterranean style of eating can be followed by South Africans despite not living in the Mediterranean region,” she says. “One just needs to apply the diet principles. “


The Mediterranean style of eating promotes a high fish intake. In SA, we have a variety of fish available. Remember to follow the SASSI guidelines for sustainable fish choices. Eat more sardines and pilchards as they are inexpensive and a readily available fatty fish that provides healthy omega 3 fats. Try tinned sardines on crackers topped with an onion and tomato salsa.

Plant-based foods

Eat more plant-based meals. Add legumes (beans, chickpeas or lentils) to dishes or have a vegetarian meal. Add chickpeas to your normal chicken curry or beans to beef stew for example. You can slowly get used to legumes before you brave a full vegetarian meal. Try add lentils to your brown rice to sneek in more legumes.

Healthy fats

The Mediterranean style of eating can be high in fat but focuses on specific types of fat unlike other diets. Mediterranean meals contain olive oil, olives, avocado, nuts and seeds which are all beneficial for your cardiovascular system and cholesterol levels. Add olives and avocado to your salads, make olive oil based dressings, or sprinkle nuts and seeds onto your oats to help you incorporate these healthy fats.

Fresh produce

Mediterranean communities focus on whole fresh produce that has minimal processing. Buy fresh produce that has come from a farm rather than a factory.

Including all food groupsMediterranean | Longevity LIVE

The Mediterranean style of eating doesn’t exclude any food groups, providing a balanced nutrient intake and sustainable eating habits. Foods like starches, sugary foods and alcohol can be incorporated but in a controlled manner. Starch portions are controlled and are preferably high in fiber. Foods high in sugar are only eaten on the occasion and fruit is used as a post meal snack instead. Red wine that provides resveratrol phytonutrients is preferred as a alcohol choice in moderation.

South Africans can therefore benefit in several ways by switching to this family-friendly way of eating, not the least of which is longevity and decreased risk of frailty in our older people. Click here to find out how this diet can lower your risk for stroke.