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Adherence to Mediterranean Diet May Increase Life Expectancy

Adherence to a diet high in fiber and low in saturated fats has previously been associated with good health. Additionally, numerous studies have reported the consequences of a poor diet, including obesity, cardiovascular disease and diabetes, all of which can lead to early mortality.

Researchers examined the effects of a modified Mediterranean diet on elderly participants from nine European countries to determine its impact on longevity. According to the study, the Mediterranean diet is characterized by a high intake of fruits, vegetables and unrefined whole grains; a moderate to high intake of fish; a low intake of saturated lipids, but a high intake of unsaturated lipids, namely olive oil; a low intake of meat; a low to modest intake of dairy products; and a modest intake of wine.

Participants included 74,600 men and women, ages 60 or older, with no prior history of heart disease, stroke, or cancer. Participants were enrolled in the European prospective investigation in cancer and nutrition study (EPIC)-elderly study, a prospective cohort study whose objective, among other things, is "to identify dietary patterns among elderly Europeans and to investigate the associations of diet with survival." Dietary intake was assessed at baseline, as was additional data on lifestyle and health. Adherence to the Mediterranean diet was measured using a 10-point scale, 0 being least, 9 being maximum adherence. Study participants were followed for approximately seven years.

Results found that mortality rates dropped 8% for each two-point adherence increase on the Mediterranean diet scale. A stronger rate of survival was found among participants in Greece and Spain, which the authors attribute to the fact that people in those countries already adhere to the Mediterranean diet as a part of their lifestyles. When the diet score was calibrated across the countries, the reduction in mortality was 7%.

"The important point," note the authors, "is that a diet that can be operationalised does have a relation with mortality, and that realistically achievable changes in diet - for example, 3 or 4 point increments - are associated with a reduction of total mortality by 11% or 14%, respectively."

Conclusion: "Adherence to a diet relying on plant foods and unsaturated lipids and that resembles the Mediterranean diet, may be particularly appropriate for elderly people, who represent a rapidly increasing group in Europe," the researchers wrote.

Trichopoulou A, Orfanos P, Norat T, et al. Modified Mediterranean diet and survival: EPIC-elderly prospective cohort study. BMJ online. Apr 8, 2005;


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Date Last Modified - Monday, 27-Jul-2009 09:13:56 PDT