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Which Components of the Mediterranean Diet Prolong Life?

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Researchers at Harvard and the University of Athens (Greece) report that the following specific components of the Mediterranean diet are associated with lower rates of death:

  • moderate ethanol (alcohol) consumption
  • low meat and meat product intake
  • high vegetable consumption
  • high fruit and nut consumption
  • high ratio of monounsaturated fat to saturated fat
  • high legume intake

Minimal, if any, contribution to mortality was noted with high cereal, low dairy, or high fish and seafood consumption. 

The researchers examined diet and mortality data from over 23,000 adult participants in the Greek portion of the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and nutrition.  You’ll be hearing more about the EPIC study for many years.  Over an average follow-up of 8.5 years, 1,075 of participants died.  652 of these deaths were of participants in the lower half of Mediterranean diet adherence; 423 were in the upper half.

Alcohol intake in Greece is usually in the form of wine at mealtimes. 

The beneficial “high ratio of monounsaturated fat to saturated fat” stems from high consumption of olive oil and low intake of meat. 

It’s not clear if these findings apply to other nationalities or ethnic groups.  Other research papers have documented the health benefits of the Mediterranean diet in at least eight other countries over three continents. 

The researchers don’t reveal in this report the specific causes of death.  I expect those data, along with numbers on diabetes, stroke, and dementia, to be published in future articles, if not published already.  Prior Mediterranean diet studies indicate lower death rates from cardiovascular disease and cancer.   

Steve Parker, M.D.

Reference:  Trichopoulou, Antonia, et al.  Anatomy of health effects of the Mediterranean diet: Greek EPIC prospective cohort studyBritish Medical Journal, 338 (2009): b2337.  DOI: 10.1136/bmj.b2337.

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Filed under Alcohol, Health Benefits, Mediterranean Diet