The so-called Mediterranean diet may help reduce the risk of frailty in older individuals, according to a review of evidence by UK researchers.
They said their study supported suggestions that a diet rich in plant-based foods – such as fruits and vegetables, whole grains, legumes, and nuts – may help keep older people healthy and independent.
Such a diet, dubbed the Mediterranean diet, has previously been linked with a number of health benefits, including reducing cardiovascular risk and aiding cognition and mental health.
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The new review, which is published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, looked at existing research to see if following such a diet might decrease the risk of frailty.
The researchers analysed evidence from all published studies examining associations between adherence to a Mediterranean diet and development of frailty in older individuals.
The analysis, led by Dr Kate Walters and Dr Gotaro Kojima from University College London, included 5,789 people who took part in four studies in France, Spain, Italy, and China.
Dr Walters said: “We found the evidence was very consistent that older people who follow a Mediterranean diet had a lower risk of becoming frail.
“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,” she said.
“We found the evidence was very consistent”
The investigators noted that, based on their findings, the Mediterranean diet may help older individuals maintain muscle strength, activity, weight, and energy levels.
Dr Kojima added: “Our study supports the growing body of evidence on the potential health benefits of a Mediterranean diet, in our case for potentially helping older people to stay well as they age.”
But, although older people who followed a Mediterranean diet had a lower risk of becoming frail, it remained unclear whether other characteristics, such as gender, may have helped to protect them.
Dr Walters said: “While the studies we included adjusted for many of the major factors that could be associated, there may be other factors that were not measured and we could not account for.
“We now need large studies that look at whether increasing how much you follow a Mediterranean diet will reduce your risk of becoming frail,” she added.