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The study's findings, which are published in the journal of the American Geriatrics Society, suggest that a diet emphasising primarily plant-based foods - such as fruits and vegetables, whole grains, legumes, and nuts - may help keep people "healthy and independent" as they age.
Detailing the study, researchers noted that frailty in old age is becoming a more prevalent issue in the ageing global population. Frail older people are more likely to suffer from health concerns, including falls, factures, hospitalisation, nursing home placement, disability and dementia. Frailty is also associated with a lower quality of life, they suggested.
Nutrition is thought to play a crucial role in developing frailty. A team led by Dr. Kate Walters and Dr. Gotaro Kojima, of University College London, looked to see if following a healthy 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. 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."
The investigators noted that the Mediterranean diet may help older individuals maintain muscle strength, activity, weight, and energy levels, according to their findings.
"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," said Dr. Kojima.
Although older people who followed a Mediterranean diet had a lower risk of becoming frail, the researchers noted it is unclear whether other characteristics of the people who followed this diet may have helped to protect them.
"While the studies we included adjusted for many of the major factors that could be associated - for example, their age, gender, social class, smoking, alcohol, how much they exercised, and how many health conditions they had - there may be other factors that were not measured and we could not account for," said Dr. Walters. "We now need large studies that look at whether increasing how much you follow a Mediterranean diet will reduce your risk of becoming frail."
Sources: Journal of the American Geriatrics Society
"Adherence of Mediterranean diet reduces incident frailty risk: A systematic review and meta-analysis".
Some complementary data
The Mediterranean diet is a diet inspired by the eating habits of Greece, Southern Italy, and Spain in the 1940s and 1950s. The principal aspects of this diet include proportionally high consumption of olive oil, legumes, unrefined cereals, fruits, and vegetables, moderate to high consumption of fish, moderate consumption of dairy products (mostly as cheese and yogurt), moderate wine consumption, and low consumption of non-fish meat products.
Tomato is not an explicit part of the diet composition, but is recommended as a vegetable / fruit and is mainly one of the most characteristic dishes of the Mediterranean diet: Cretan salad, salad niçoise, Turkish dolma, Syrian mezzé, makdous, Syrian salad, hummus, haloumi and baba ganouj, ratatouille, Moroccan couscous, gazpacho, minestrone, tabbouleh, hummus, stuffed olives stew, kefteji dish, moussaka, etc.