Pictured Recipe: Caprese Stuffed Portobello Mushrooms
We already know the Mediterranean diet is a really healthy way to eat. It's abundant in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes—plus a heavy drizzle of olive oil at each meal—and includes the occasional glass of red wine. It provides healthy doses of essential omega-3 fatty acids, fiber and antioxidants, and research has shown it can protect your heart and your mind—as it can reduce your risk of developing Alzheimer's disease.
Now, a new study shows we have another good reason to work Mediterranean dishes into our weekly meal plans. According to research from the University of East Anglia, eating a Mediterranean-style diet can reduce bone loss in people with osteoporosis. Over 10 million Americans have osteoporosis, and another 44 million have low bone density.
Eating a Mediterranean diet—meals with lots of fruits and vegetables, nuts, unrefined grains, fish and olive oil—can reduce hip bone loss in as little as 12 months, the researchers say. They examined 1,142 European participants ages 65 to 79. The participants were split into two groups: one ate a Mediterranean diet, while another control group did not.
Bone density was measured at the start and end of the 12-month-long study. People with osteoporosis who followed the Mediterranean diet experienced an increase in bone density along the area that connects the thigh bone to the hip joint (the femoral neck). The participants in the control group, however, did not experience an increase in bone density. Rather, those participants continued to see a decrease in density, the researchers noted. The researchers looked specifically at the femoral neck because it often weakens in older people, and can cause painful and debilitating hip fractures in people with osteoporosis.
"Bone takes a long time to form," notes study lead Susan Fairweather-Tait, from University of East Anglia Norwich Medical School, "so the 12-month trial—although one of the longest to date—was still a relatively short time frame to show an impact. So, the fact we were able to see a marked difference between the groups even in just this one area is significant."
If you suffer from osteoporosis, you can take a page out of these participants' books: they increased the amount of fruits, vegetables, nuts, unrefined cereals, olive oil and fish that they ate daily, while consuming only small quantities of dairy products and lean meat.
The researchers feel strongly that with additional research, they could uncover whether the Mediterranean-style diet might also help people with normal bone density to maintain their good bone health. Because they're losing bone at a much slower rate, changes would take longer to show up in a study.
"However, we already found it quite challenging to encourage our volunteers to change their diet for a year," admits co-researcher Amy Jennings, Ph.D., "and a longer trial would have made recruitment more difficult and resulted in a higher drop-out." Until that trial can be done, the researchers are still encouraging everyone to test out the Mediterranean diet.
"A Mediterranean diet is already proven to have other health benefits, reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease, Parkinson's, Alzheimer's and cancer," explains Fairweather-Tait. "So, there's no downside to adopting such a diet, whether you have osteoporosis or not."
Ready to dive into the Mediterranean diet? Here are some easy recipes to get you started.