Following a so-called Mediterranean diet - high in vegetables, olive oil and fish - appears to help people live longer, according to new study findings released Friday.
After tracking almost 75,000 Europeans aged 60 and older for years, investigators found that the closer people adhere to the Mediterranean diet, the less likely they were to die during the study period.
Overall, the authors found that a healthy 60-year-old man who sticks rigorously to the diet could expect to live approximately one year longer than another 60-year-old man who does not eat Mediterranean-type foods.
Following a Mediterranean diet “may be particularly appropriate for elderly people,” write the investigators, led by Dr. Antonia Trichopoulou at the University of Athens Medical School in Greece.
A Mediterranean-style diet is rich in fruits, vegetables, grains and nuts. It includes few saturated fats like the ones in red meat but plenty of healthier fatty acids like those found in olive oil. It also features moderate amounts of red wine.
To look further into how the Mediterranean diet helps health overall, Trichopoulou and her team reviewed information collected from 74,607 European men and women aged 60 and older about their eating habits. All participants were free of heart disease, Stroke or cancer at the outset of the study.
Half of the participants were followed for at least 7 years.
To measure how closely people stuck to a Mediterranean diet, the researchers scored them on a scale of 0 to 9, with a higher number indicating a better adherence to the diet.
Reporting in the British Medical Journal, the investigators found that for every 2-point increase in the diet scale, the risk of dying during the study period fell by 8 percent.
People who ate more fruits, vegetables and cereals - regardless of whether they followed the diet overall - were also more likely to survive.
The association between the Mediterranean diet and survival was strongest in Greece and Spain, perhaps because residents of those countries tend to follow the diet very closely, the authors suggest.
SOURCE: British Medical Journal, April 8, 2005.
Revision date: July 5, 2011
Last revised: by Jorge P. Ribeiro, MD