10 reasons why women over 40 should adopt a Mediterranean diet

I’m always sure to have a bottle of extra virgin olive oil in my cupboard. I’m such a generous drizzler. I have an unnatural obsession with olives and I pretty much eat them every day. The Mediterranean diet always fascinated me so when I was given the chance to speak to Dr Simon Poole and share our passion for this incredible way of life, I jumped at it.

Dr Simon Poole MBBS DRCOG is a Cambridge-based medical doctor, author, broadcaster, commentator and is an internationally renowned authority on the science and application of the Mediterranean diet and lifestyle. So I’d say he’s pretty much the best human to give us his top 10 reasons why us old broads should look at adopting this way of eating.

1. Managing the Menopause

Mediterranean diet

As a practicing doctor, I see many women in their late forties and early fifties with very troublesome perimenopausal and menopausal symptoms. Hot flushes and night sweats, so-called vasomotor symptoms, can be especially intrusive. It has been known for some time that diet can be effective in significantly lessening some of these symptoms which can have a dramatic benefit to quality of life during the hormonal changes of the menopause.

Whilst individual foods or supplements have been promoted for these effects, the most convincing evidence is that the Mediterranean diet is the best nutritional prescription for the challenges of the menopause. One particular prospective study of 6000 women in Australia showed that those consuming a Mediterranean diet of vegetables, pasta, fruit and red wine were twenty percent less likely to have significant vasomotor symptoms, whilst those with a high sugar, “western” style diet were 23% more likely to be affected.

2. Preventing Heart Disease and Stroke

As we reach our forties and beyond, it is even more important to embrace a lifestyle which is enjoyable as well as healthy. Maintaining good physical health can be a challenge, but it is possible to significantly reduce the odds of heart disease and stroke by making some relatively simple changes to our diet.

The prestigious annual US News Report expert scientific committee convened to assess the merits of different diets has, for the fifth year running, awarded that accolade to the Mediterranean diet. This is because of the body of evidence which supports its ability to protect us from the commonest of medical conditions. For example, the Predimed Study – a large randomised controlled trial based in Spain showed that participants on the Mediterranean diet were thirty percent less likely to develop heart disease, even showing by ultrasound that potentially dangerous cholesterol plaques in the carotid arteries of many people in the trial regressed, thereby reducing the risk of stroke.

A separate study conducted by the University Bordeaux showed an extraordinary seventy eight percent reduced relative risk of stroke in people regularly consuming extra virgin olive oil, perhaps the single most important ingredient in the diet. 

3. Achieving Weight Goals and Avoiding Diabetes

Mediterranean diet

There are numerous diets promoted for weight loss, many of them difficult to sustain for a long period of time, some restrictive and frankly unpleasant. Research has shown that calorie counting is less effective than choosing the right types of healthy fats and low GI carbohydrates and that is important that a diet results in consistent travel towards a healthy weight and is enjoyable and therefore more able to be sustained in the long term.

The Mediterranean diet performs as well as most other diets for weight loss and also reduces the risk of developing diabetes by as much as forty to sixty percent. This is based on a number of beneficial effects of the diet – from the wholegrain carbohydrates and low levels of processed foods with added sugars, to the effects of extra virgin olive oil directly increasing insulin sensitivity and reducing sugar spikes by slowing the absorption of carbohydrate meals. In the Mediterranean, bread and pasta is almost always combined with extra virgin oil, adding great flavour, increasing satiety and a feeling of fullness at the same time as ensuring a slow and low glycaemic rise. 

4. Reducing the Risk of Dementia

Our generation has seen a dramatic increase in dementia affecting the over sixties and a failure to find medications to reduce its devastating consequences. Yet in the traditional lands of the Mediterranean – the mountains of Greek islands and the harbours on Italian coastlines, there are very low rates of dementia. This is thought to be due to the diet and lifestyle and perhaps in particular because the colourful vegetables, herbs and spices and ubiquitous extra virgin olive oil are so rich in antioxidants called polyphenols, protecting our bodies, including our brains, from harm.

A study from Thessaloniki University in Greece showed that a tablespoon of high polyphenol extra virgin olive oil, instantly recognisable by its beautiful fruity, deliciously bitter and peppery flavours, reduced progression of disease in people with early dementia in comparison with those given low polyphenol, poor quality olive oil.

5. Protection from Breast cancer

Mediterranean diet

It is said that a woman’s lifetime risk of developing breast cancer in western societies is as much as one in seven. These are uncomfortable odds, yet we see much lower rates across the countries which follow the traditional Mediterranean Diet. The researchers who led the Predimed study found a reduced risk of breast cancer of sixty percent in those participants on the Mediterranean diet. This may also be due to the presence of foods rich in antioxidants as well as a reduction in consumption of processed foods, which we know increase the likelihood of developing cancers. 

6. Improving Wellbeing

It is good to talk about a diet which reduces the risk of diseases and which therefore increases the chances of healthy aging with a good quality of life, but there is an even more positive effect of the Mediterranean diet for people who adopt this pattern of eating at any age. Wellbeing is a concept which is difficult to define and even more elusive to measure scientifically.

Researchers at the university of Granada however, not only found lower levels of depression in university students scoring high adherence to a Mediterranean Diet, but their wellbeing, sense of energy, and social functioning parameters were also much higher. Maintaining good mental health is important for us all at any age, and especially key for children passing through vulnerable stages of adolescence and leaving home for university. 

7. The Joy of Food Preparation

Mediterranean diet

Women have traditionally been at the centre of home making and food preparation for the family, although we must be careful not to reinforce gender stereotypes. That said, preparing delicious Mediterranean meals from scratch is such fun and so rewarding that it might be difficult to keep other family members out of the kitchen. On a serious note, learning to cook Mediterranean style together with children at the weekend is a wonderful experience.

8. A Diet that is Value for Money

There is a perception that the Mediterranean diet is more expensive than a standard, more processed western diet. The reality is a bit more complicated than that. Although supermarkets often offer price reductions on processed foods, fresh seasonal vegetables and wholegrains can be inexpensive and a very affordable alternative.

A good quality extra virgin olive oil is not an industrial product and its production costs cannot be compared with cheap refined oils. But the health benefits are clear to see. Often buying in larger quantities can reduce the price per litre and make regular consumption of fresh extra virgin olive oil much easier to afford. Preparing food from scratch is cheaper than buying ready meals and much better for us. To some degree, it is perhaps also about valuing good food and considering it as a higher priority call on our income in comparison with other expenses . 

9. Increasing a Sense of Community

In the Mediterranean time is spent “breaking bread” together with family and friends. Being part of a community where time is spent in company (a word which incidentally derives from the od Italian “con pane” – with bread) and enjoying food together has been shown to improve health and longevity in itself. A focus on the Mediterranean diet is also a focus on communal enjoyment of the sharing of food. 

10. Sustainability

A pressing reason for our generation to eat healthily is not only to increase our chances of a long and healthy life, but to also play our part in reversing climate change for the sake of our children and future generations.

The Mediterranean diet is lower in red meat and industrial processed foods. It is a plant-based diet based on local seasonal fresh, natural foods and extra virgin olive oil at its heart can be well produced such that the olive tree is not only capable of flourishing in arid, almost desert environments with minimal water use, but sinks 10kg of carbon for every litre of extra virgin olive oil produced. 

You can learn more about the Mediterranean diet by reading Simon’s latest book, The Real Mediterranean Diet. This book demystifies why a Mediterranean diet and lifestyle can improve the health of everyone, young and old. Explaining its origins in Ancient Greece to the modern day, this book is packed with recipes, photography and the science that joins up all the dots.

Keep the conversation going by commenting below or joining in with our Instagram community.

Fun with social media (when you’re not a teenager)

Some people can think of social media as something that’s for younger people. Even if you use some social media, you might feel like some apps are meant for young people while others are more suited to people over 30 or 40. Maybe you shy away from TikTok because it seems like it’s for teenagers and you can’t let go of Facebook because all of your family and friends are on there. Social media can be a lot of fun but it can also be a pain if you’re not using it in the right way. If you want to use social media more, there are a few rules for having fun.

Find Which Apps Are for You

social media

Not everyone will find every social media app or site enjoyable. You might think Facebook is too full of older relatives with terrible opinions or that Twitter is far too shouty. But most people can find a social media app that they do like. Think about what sort of thing you’re looking for and why you want to use social media. Is it to view and share funny videos and images? Do you want to have conversations with other people or engage in a community relating to your interests?

Learn to Find the Content You Like

Once you’ve got started on your chosen platform, you need to know how to get the best from it. If you’re not using it in the right way, you might just find it boring or annoying. Being able to find the content that you want will help you to make your experience better. Depending on the platform, this might involve following the right people, following hashtags or topics, or searching for the right things. As you engage with different people and topics, you’ll also be presented with new content through the platform’s algorithm.

Play with Ways to Post

Creating your own content is part of the fun of using social media, but it’s something a lot of people might feel unsure about. You’re not a teenager posting about your day, so what are you meant to post? But there are lots of things you can do, whether you want to document your life or make funny or interesting content for entertainment. Try exploring different ways to post, such as how to do voice effects on TikTok or using different filters on Instagram. There are different post types you can explore or ways to engage with people, such as stories or live streaming too.

Find Your Community

social media

One of the best things about social media is that it allows you to engage and connect with other people. It can be a great way to find new friends and discover a community based on your interests. Whether you’re obsessed with a TV show, you love to knit, or you’re a history nerd, you can find other people with shared interests who can help you have even more fun.

Discover all of the fun you can have with social media by finding your space and all the ways you can use it. Follow us on Instagram to see how we are trying to get down with the kids and make fun reels!

How to keep calm and carry on in your 40s

Being in your 40s can be a funny old time. On the one hand you can feel mentally fierce and fabulous, on the other hand your body starts letting you know its age, and you are teetering on the brink of hormonal calamity otherwise known as the menopause. But hey! who are we to let all of that stop us from living our best life in your 40s?

But the thing is, in your 40s, you can no longer take for granted all the things you had done previously – especially when it comes to health (both mental and physical). The fact of the matter is, whether you like it or not, you are on a one way ticket towards perimenopause – a whole can of worms hormonally – as you edge close to the menopause (more on that in our upcoming article!).

Here, Kate Chaytor-Norris author of I Wish My Doctor Had Told Me This shares her top ten tip for keeping calm and carrying on in your 40s:

Be calm

Do anything that makes you feel calm – this helps the adrenal glands to work optimally – if we are running lots of stress, they then cannot take over the job of producing sex hormones to maintain a balance. 

Balance your blood sugar levels

This is so that the adrenals do not have to produce stress hormones when they are swinging up and down.  Try to avoid refined carbohydrates (white bread, pasta rice etc) to reduce your sugar intake as much as possible and make sure that you have some source of protein with every meal or snack.

Breathe

This is probably the single most important thing that we can do for our health – breathing deep down into the diaphragm (fill the balloon in your abdomen) and practise exhaling more slowly.  This calms the body and so that everything works better.  If you extend the out breath this also helps to switch the body out of fight/flight.

Meditate

This for me is about stilling the mind so you can do this whilst walking, running or with any activity where you can switch your mind off. When I walk the dogs, I try to really focus on what the dogs are doing to bring me into that moment, instead of pounding along thinking about all the emails I need to send. It really helps.

Embrace nature

Be outside in nature and ideally with your bare feet on the earth/grass or if it is in the midst of winter, hug a tree.  This fills the body with free electrons which act as antioxidants helping to reduce the ageing of our body. Nature sounds help to switch off the fight/flight stress response.

Sleep

Sleep is a hugely undervalued activity – my rule of thumb is if you have to wake up to an alarm you are probably not getting enough sleep.  Try to be strict about bedtime, and as much as you can, go to bed at the same time each night.  If you struggle to get off to sleep watch your bedtime routine, keep it gentle and calm (no heart thumping thrillers or news at 10) with low lighting if possible.

Support your liver

Man-made toxins in our environment, such as pesticides and household detergents can overwork the liver. The liver is responsible for clearing out excess hormones, so to help it work better eat more cruciferous vegetables – broccoli, kale, cauliflower, cabbage and brussels sprouts – as they help support the detox pathways in the liver. An optimally functioning liver can really help you through the menopause.

Drink more water

Try to make sure that you are hydrated every day as our bodies do not function properly if dehydrated. To work out how much water to drink, take your weight in kgs and multiply by 0.033 – this will give you the amount in litres that you should ideally be having daily.

Eat a rainbow

…of different coloured foods every day (think red pepper, broccoli, sweet potatoes, red cabbage, kale). Not only is it a joy to sit in front of a colourful plate but the antioxidants in the different coloured pigments help to reduce ageing and inflammation in the body.

Hug

…as much as you can and if you are on your own or self-isolating hug yourself- wrap your arms around yourself and squeeze tight.  This helps to increase levels of oxytocin, a hormone that lowers stress hormones, balances sex hormones, reduces cravings and helps with sleep.

How do you keep calm and carry on in your 40s? Share your tips with us in a comment below or keep the conversation going on Instagram here.

Reader offer: Get 20% off I Wish My Doctor Had Told Me This with the code KATECN20 at checkout here.

Kate Chaytor-Norris is a Nutritional Therapist who has made it her mission to empower people to heal themselves. She trained at the Institute of Optimum Nutrition and has been practising for the past ten years. Kate is also trained in Health Kinesiology, Nutrigenomics, counselling and PSYCH-K®. She lives in Yorkshire with her husband and three children.

Photo by Alexandr Podvalny from Pexels