The connection between a healthy diet and good health is almost universally accepted. However, while a new magic healthy food seems to make news on a daily basis, it has been more difficult to make links between specific foods and specific health outcomes. Examples of the most established links are low-fat, low-cholesterol diets lowering risk for heart disease, and low-carbohydrate diets promoting weight loss or reducing risk for type 2 diabetes.
Recently, a more specific connection between type of food and a particular health outcome for women has been examined. Almost 100,000 women aged 50 to 79 years were studied for adherence to a Mediterranean diet and occurrence of hip fractures during a follow-up period approximately 16 years later. The focus on bone fractures is important, as post-menopausal women are at high risk due to bone loss associated with the decrease in estrogen during his period.
A Mediterranean diet emphasizes certain elements considered to be healthy because of high concentrations of vitamins, minerals, and healthy proteins. These include plant foods, fish, nuts, fruits, legumes, whole grains, and monounsaturated fats, as well as avoidance of red and processed meats, and low or moderate alcohol consumption. Following a fairly strict Mediterranean diet was considered a proxy for a high-quality diet because usually when a person is deficient in a single nutrient, their overall diet is poor.
The research study found a significant association between women maintaining a Mediterranean diet and having fewer bone fractures 16 years later. Importantly, this relationship held after controlling for lean body mass and less loss of bone mineral density, as well as for having a history of bone fractures. Exciting news if you happen to favor this type of diet as I do and are at risk for osteoporosis. But not to worry if you prefer another style of healthy eating.
High-quality diets in other regions of the world, such as China, which does not follow a Mediterranean diet, have also shown a relationship to fewer bone fractures. Although these two diets share some common components, other aspects differ. Both have high quantities of vegetables, fruits, vegetable protein, and whole grains, but the Mediterranean diet has more monounsaturated fats that come primarily from the olive oil and fish in that diet.
What, then, is the takeaway message? Eating a healthy diet, regardless of whether it is Mediterranean-based or Chinese-based, or whatever-based, as long as it is sustainable for an over-50 woman, will probably be advantageous for bone health, and protective against bone fractures. So pick a diet, any healthy diet, as long as you like it and can maintain it.