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Mediterranean Diet Increases Life Expectancy

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Updated October 26, 2010

The Mediterranean Diet has received a lot of positive press. The idea is simple: there are certain regions where life expectancy is high and people age well. If we eat what they eat, we’ll live longer and age better too. This gave birth to the Mediterranean Diet craze. Now you can find books, cookbooks, websites and more all dedicated to the Mediterranean Diet.

What is the Mediterranean Diet?

It is a diet that consists of vegetables, legumes (beans), fruits, nuts, whole grains, fish, moderate alcohol, a high ratio of monounsaturated fats to saturated fats (lots of olive oil) and lean meat (chicken). Basically, it comes down to lots of vegetables cooked in olive oil, nuts and beans and not very much dairy and meat -- they are more of a side dish.

Does it Increase Life Expectancy?

Yes. The Mediterranean Diet craze started with observations. As it grew, researchers began long-term studies of the impact of the Mediterranean Diet on life expectancy and health. In a study of 214,284 men and 166,012 women, researchers were able to look at how closely these people followed the Mediterranean Diet and the impact it had on their life expectancy.

The study took place for ten years (1995 to 2005). Over that time period, 27,799 people in the study died. Researchers were able to use food surveys to classify how closely people followed the Mediterranean Diet. They found that for both men and women, people who ate closely to the Mediterranean Diet had lower chances of dying from cancer or from all causes. These reductions were around 12 to 20%.

This gives some pretty convincing evidence that following the Mediterranean Diet is a good thing, although it is possible that people who follow any diet are less likely to die because these people are most likely to be careful about their health. Researchers were able to remove smokers from the analysis (it did not change the results), but you have to wonder if people who are eating close to the Mediterranean Diet are different from other people in more than food choices.

Get Started on the Mediterranean Diet

The real key to the Mediterranean Diet is vegetables, lots and lots of vegetables. Start by adding 2 servings of vegetables to your diet this week. Keep adding them and replacing meat and other foods (such as potato chips) with vegetables. Read more about adding 2 servings and living longer.

One note: The benefits of the Mediterranean diet aren't so great if you don't also have a Mediterranean active lifestyle. Diet is only part of the equation; you must maintain a healthy weight and get regular physical activity too if you want to increase your shot at a long and healthy life.

Sources:

Panagiota N. Mitrou, PhD; Victor Kipnis, PhD; Anne C. M. Thiébaut, PhD; Jill Reedy, PhD; Amy F. Subar, PhD; Elisabet Wirfält, PhD; Andrew Flood, PhD; Traci Mouw, MPH; Albert R. Hollenbeck, PhD; Michael F. Leitzmann, MD, DrPH; Arthur Schatzkin, MD, DrPH. Mediterranean Dietary Pattern and Prediction of All-Cause Mortality in a US Population: Results From the NIH-AARP Diet and Health Study. Arch Intern Med. 2007;167(22):2461-2468.

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