It is well-known that a diet encouraging healthy eating and physical activity and that discourages alcohol consumption is associated with a reduced risk of breast, prostate and colorectal cancer. Studies have also suggested that a calorie-limited diet high in fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, tree nuts, legumes, olives and olive oil, few processed meats, low amounts of dairy products, low to moderate amounts of wine with meals, and low in animal protein, particularly red meat, can lower the risk of heart attacks and strokes, decrease chronic disease and extend life expectancy.

This regimen, known for its cardiovascular disease-fighting properties, has been deemed the Mediterranean diet. The Mayo Clinic calls it the "heart healthy diet."

Nutrition has long been recognized as an important factor in healthy aging. One of the biggest problems in people as they age is loss of appetite that can lead to a number of health problems. Proper diet can play a vital role in keeping the elderly healthy and controlling health care costs as the number of adults age 65 and older grows in the coming decades.

There is also new research that found the Mediterranean diet enhances the good bacteria living in the gut. The study showed that Lactobacillus species, which are beneficial probiotic organisms, were significantly increased with a Mediterranean diet regimen. (We have about 2 billion good and bad bacteria living in our gut.) Such data are useful in further studies aimed at understanding the diet-health interactions in humans, including obesity, type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and psychiatric disorders including Alzheimer's disease.

The Mediterranean diet should be the focus for all of us concerned about our health. Modern America is plagued by one of the highest obesity rates in the world and we fail to meet the life expectancy averages of almost every other developed nation.

According to a recent article in the New York Times, the Mediterranean diet would result in huge improvements in human and environmental health and in rural economic stability. The author suggests resisting the amount of "landfood" meat, meat that is costly to produce. Moreover, feeding livestock requires large quantities of corn and soy, which depletes the soil and the need for fertilizers that wash into surrounding watersheds, and degrading drinking water. Corn and soy production could be partially replaced by small seed cool weather grain like oats. This would go a long way toward locking in healthy soil and limiting erosion.

Another of the author's ideas is to look underwater for our protein. This would be a diet where only a spare amount of animal protein is consumed and where that small amount comes from the sea. Recent evidence links two portions of seafood a week with lower blood pressure, lower LDL cholesterol and lower triglycerides.

A major consideration about the Mediterranean diet is its anti-inflammatory property. This may be the reason for the effect on frailty in older adults. One example is wheat bran, considered a whole grain. The outer layer contains anti-inflammatory phytochemicals. Salmon and avocados — part of the Mediterranean diet — are abundant in omega-3-fatty acids that have anti-inflammatory properties. Newly pressed olive oil contains oleocanthal, a compound similar to drugs used for pain and discomfort.

Another advantage of the diet is nutrition. The suggestion of two or more servings of fish provides Vitamin B12 and micronutrients including Vitamin A, beta carotene, vitamin D, vitamin B6, vitamin E, folic acid, vitamin C and alpha tocopherol. These antioxidants prevent oxidative stress, a risk factor in frailty.

An added advantage of consuming foods that are part of the Mediterranean diet is the inclusion of fiber-rich foods. Consuming fruits and vegetables can reduce the risk of developing diabetes, arthritis and of course heart disease. People who eat more fiber simply have lower odds of dying. Fiber helps to feed the billions of bacteria in our guts, and keeping them happy means our intestines and immune systems remain in good working order.

Fiber may also help to reverse obesity. In a recent study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, investigators reviewed a number of clinical trials in which fiber was used to treat obesity. They found that fiber supplements helped obese people lose 5 pounds or more.

Unlike many popular diets, eating the Mediterranean way does not require eliminating fat from your diet. It doesn’t limit your fat consumption at all, in fact, with the Mediterranean diet, you simply replace all of the bad fats you eat with good fats such as olive oil, nuts, seeds and avocados. There are a number of cookbooks available with recipes that are delicious and easy to follow and well worth the investment.

Max Sherman is a medical writer and pharmacist retired from the medical device industry. He has taught college courses on regulatory and compliance issues at Ivy Tech, Grace College and Butler University. Sherman has an unquenchable thirst for knowledge on all levels. Eclectic Science, the title of his column, will touch on famed doctors and scientists, human senses, aging, various diseases, and little-known facts about many species, including their contributions to scientific research. He can be reached by email at