There is good evidence that eating a Mediterranean diet is associated with health benefits including reduced cardiovascular disease.
Research, published in the BMJ, shows that the diet is linked with longer telomere length – an indicator of slower aging.
Telomeres sit on the end of chromosomes – like plastic tips on shoelaces – to stop the chromosomes from fraying and scrambling their genetic codes.
In healthy people, the telomeres become shorter as people age but lifestyle factors such as obesity have been linked with shorter telomeres.
The study found that those who stuck closely to a Mediterranean diet had longer telomeres which could mean a lower risk of developing age-related diseases.
Researchers analysed data for 4,676 healthy middle-aged women who were part of a study on the health of American nurses.
The Mediterranean diet is typically rich in fruit and vegetables, oily fish, such as sardines, and wholegrain cereals, with modest amounts of meat and low-fat dairy.
Dr Mike Knapton, Associate Medical Director at the British Heart Foundation, said: “This large study adds to the body of evidence that longer telomeres are found in those who eat a Mediterranean diet.
“Longer telomeres may partially explain the link between diet and risk of cardiovascular disease.
“Previous findings from the same study had shown that those with unhealthy lifestyles had shorter telomeres.
“These results reinforce our advice that eating a balanced and healthy diet can reduce your risk of developing heart disease.”
Read our top tips on making your meals more Mediterranean.