For years, Americans have wanted to know what’s the best diet for us to eat that will keep us young, perky, heart-healthy, and looking like we’re 30 until the ending years of our life. Tons of diets exist, whether designed for heart health, weight loss, diabetes, strength, or general health. No matter what diet you choose, it’s important to choose one that supports your long-term health, not just your short-term heath. This type of diet is known as a longevity diet, and researchers at Harvard believe they’ve found out what the best diet for our longevity is. The answer? The Mediterranean Diet.

The Mediterranean Diet has been popular for many years, promoting vegetables, fruits, whole grains, healthy fats from olives and olive oil, nuts, seeds, and very minimal amounts of organic grass-fed yogurt, some cheeses, and wild-caught fish. The diet became popular in Greece and Southern Italy cultures, where obviously animals aren’t treated the same way as they are here. But you can still eat a Mediterranean diet without any animal products whatsoever. In fact, researchers say that the diet is largely successful due to the high amounts of plant-based foods consumed (not because it contains certain animal products).

Why The Mediterranean Diet Extends Life

A diet rich in whole grains, vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, legumes, and beans extend the life of telomeres that are attached to chromosomes in our cells. Telomeres prevent chromosomes from fraying and altering the genetic codes they contain. This is crucial since genetic material within our cells shortens with age, but do so much more slowly in those that eat a healthy diet. When researchers at Harvard tested diets to see what diet could extend the life of telomeres, the Mediterranean Diet won because it solely focuses on whole, plant-based foods (not processed foods that may or may not be vegan).

The study performed on over 4500 participants showed that those who ate more fruits, vegetables, fruits, legumes, seeds, nuts, and healthy fats from olives and olive oil showed the greatest increase in telomere growth while those that ate less of these foods showed shorter telomeres and impaired growth.

Why Plant-Based Foods Increase Our Longevity

Dr. Suzanne Steinbaum, director of Women and Heart Disease at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City says, “Telomere length has been associated with aging — with longer telomere length, there has been association with slower aging, and with a longer life expectancy.”

Steinbaum also says an unhealthy lifestyle has the opposite effects on telomeres with some of the most probable and consistent causes being smoking, obesity, and sugar consumption. She says the Mediterranean style diet likely works best on telomeres because it contains antioxidants from real, whole, plant-based foods, which are anti-inflammatory and filled with fiber so they support our blood sugar.

Here’s How to Eat a Vegan Mediterranean Diet:

1. Fill 1/4-1/3 your plate with 100 percent whole grains (not whole grain processed products) and starchy veggies like sweet potatoes, beets, carrots, and squash.

2. Fill 1/2 your plate with non-starchy veggies and leafy greens.

3. Fill at least 1/4 your plate with beans, legumes, nuts, and seeds for protein (emphasize beans and legumes since they’re rich in amino acids).

4. Use olive oil in small amounts. It’s high in beneficial fats for your heart and weight, but only in small amounts. A drizzle, not a massive pouring, is all you need a couple times a day. Opt for whole olives if you prefer to go oil-free.

5. Eat fruits for dessert instead of processed treats. One ounce of dark chocolate ( raw cacao or 100 percent dark chocolate) and one glass of red wine can also be consumed in moderation if you choose to do so (once a day or a couple times a week.)

6. Emphasize herbs, spices, and citrus fruits for flavoring instead of salt.

With all these filling foods, no one has room for the inflammatory, unnecessary (and often pricey) animal protein-based foods. Also be sure you exercise and enjoy social dining experiences, which also further enhance your health and strengthen your long-term wellness. For a thorough explanation of how to eat a plant-based Mediterranean diet, see The Plant-Based Dietitian’s website for more resources and see our assortment of vegan, fiber-rich recipes.

Image Source: Roasted Veggies with Buttery Garlic and Spinach Salad