Specific Mediterranean diet components are big-time health boosters

July 06, 2009

Specific components of the Mediterranean diet appear to be responsible for its health benefits. The diet is traditional in countries surrounding the Mediterranean especially in Italy and Greece. It consists of various locally-grown, in-season fresh vegetables, legumes, fruits, nuts, cereals, fish and seafood, moderate red wine consumption, and monounsaturated omega-9 fatty acids and antioxidants from olives and olive oil. There is also a low percentage of saturated fat, meat and dairy products as part of the diet.

In this study Professor Dimitrios Trichopoulos from the Harvard School of Public Health and his colleagues at the University of Athens reviewed data from 23,349 Greek participants in the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition. This study is investigating the role of diet, lifestyle and other factors in the development of cancer and other dangerous diseases. Questionnaires completed upon enrollment were scored on a scale of 0 to 9 for adherence to the Mediterranean diet. Participants were then followed for an average of 8.5 years, during which any deaths were documented.

Over the following period, 423 deaths occurred among the 10,655 men and women whose Mediterranean diet scores were 5 or greater and 652 occurred among the 12,694 with scores of 4 or less. The researchers determined that moderate wine intake, rare consumption of meat, and a high intake of vegetables, fruit and nuts, legumes and olive oil were linked with longer life span, while fish and seafood, cereals and dairy products appeared inconsequential. The researchers believe it is the oleic acid (omega-9 fatty acid) found in the olive oil, the Resveratrol and Piceid (the major Resveratrol metabolite in red wine) in red wine, and other antioxidants in olives and plant foods that could be responsible for the diet’s protective benefits. The article is published online ahead of print in the June 23, 2009 issue of the British Medical Journal.