It looks like the Mediterranean diet is a simple recipe for good health.
Harvard researchers who monitored the diets of 22,000 Greeks found that those consuming the classic diet -- rich in olive oil, unrefined grains, fruits and vegetables and accompanied by a moderate amount of wine -- lived longer than those who did not."The closer you are to adhering to this diet, the more likely you are to live longer," said Dr. Dimitrios Trichopoulos, a professor of cancer prevention and epidemiology at the Harvard School of Public Health.
As far back as the 1960s, scientists found low rates of coronary heart disease and certain cancers in Greece and other countries in the Mediterranean region. Trichopoulos and his colleagues, working with scientists decided the region was ripe for study.
In 1994, they began recruiting adults, most between 50 and 60 years old, and asked them to list the foods they eat, the frequency and portion sizes to see if their diets had an effect on their health. According to the results, it did.
The researchers used a scale to measure adherence to the Mediterranean diet. Of 275 deaths, 119 were among those who scored lowest (0-3) on adherence to the diet; 95 among those in the mid-range (4-5); and 61 among those who followed the diet most closely (6-9).
The risk of death from heart disease was 33 percent lower and the risk of death from cancer, 24 percent lower. The scientists had excluded anyone already diagnosed with a serious medical condition.
The study was not able to show that any one food or ingredient had a marked impact on reducing heart disease or cancer, but researchers pointed to the balance of healthy foods: the monounsaturated fat of olive oil, a high intake of fruits and vegetables, along with nuts, legumes and unrefined grains.
Meals in the Mediterranean region traditionally feature more fish and less meat, and sweets in moderation. It was not out of wisdom but poverty that the Mediterranean diet flourished, Trichopoulos said. At 65, he has spent much of his life on such a diet and has no plans to stop.