How comforting to think about the Mediterranean Diet as we head towards the shortest and darkest day of the year! Wine, sun shine, peaches … Sounds good, right? Yes, I know Brussel sprouts don’t have quite the glamour but bear with me because the big nutritional news this week has been another study endorsing the Mediterranean Diet. We’ve written about the Diet’s correlation with reducing Alzheimers and Dementia before, but this week’s large-scale study, from the Harvard Medical School, goes a step further by linking the Mediterranean Diet to a more general reversal of ageing, in all its guises.
And what’s important, according to this study, is the diet as a whole. It’s all about the combination of fruit, vegetables, nuts, legumes, fish, unrefined grains and healthy fats (olive, avocado, coconut oil) – and how these food groups work together. Any one of these, on its own, won’t help.
The Mediterranean Diet, according to this new study, can directly extend lifespan because it slows the damage to chromosomes. I’m going to get a little technical now: at the end of a chromosome is a telomere, a DNA sequence that protects the chromosome, much like the plastic tip of a shoelace stops a lace fraying. Telomeres halve during the progress from infant to adult. They halve again during the onset of old age. Shortened telomeres are associated with ageing and age-related chronic disease (cancer, heart disease, diabetes etc) so, ideally, we want our telomeres to be as long and robust as possible. Our genes play a role (read our earlier post on genes and ageing here) but the rest is up to us. Obesity and sugar-sweetened drinks have already been linked to shortened telomeres, so those are two things we can tackle immediately – along with adopting a Mediterranean Diet. Incidentally, the term appears to have little to do with the Med – we spent a week in Spain at half term and barely saw a vegetable!
This is the season for Brussel sprouts. Not a vegetable we think of as Mediterranean but one that scores extremely highly on the nutrient-per-bite chart, will add to your microbiota (read more here) and is cheap as chips. I like to thinly slice raw Brussel sprouts and mix them with nuts, seeds, other greens and some festive-looking red fruits (cranberries and pomegranate seeds) to make a thoroughly Mediterranean-Diet-type meal with a Christmas twist …
BRUSSEL SPROUT SALAD (serves 2)
- 12 brussel sprouts
- 1 heaped tbsp. pomegranate seeds
- 1 heaped tbsp. dried cranberries
- 1 heaped tbsp. sunflower seeds
- 1 heaped tbsp. shelled walnuts
For the dressing:
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 1 tbsp maple syrup
- 1 tsp grainy mustard
- 2 tsps lemon juice
Thinly slice the Brussel sprouts. Add any other thinly sliced green veg (I often use kale or celery but use whatever you have lying around).
Dry toast the seeds and nuts until slightly darker (a couple of minutes).
Put the cranberries, pomegranate seeds and toasted nuts/seeds on top of the greens, pour over the dressing and serve. Add some crumbled feta cheese if you fancy it…
Who says Brussel sprouts can only be served soggy with turkey?