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The Best Part of the Mediterrannean Diet

For years, we've been hearing that the Mediterranean diet is one of the healthiest way to eat. People who to consume diets that are rich in whole grains, olive oil, nuts, fruits and vegetables, fish, cheese and moderate amounts of wine seem to live longer, healthier lives. But is there any particular part of the diet that is really key? The first study to try to dissect the Mediterranean diet suggests that there is.

Dimitrios Trichopoulos of the Harvard School of Public Health and his colleagues analyzed data collected from more than 23,000 men and women who participated in the Greek part of the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition.

For the study, participants answered detailed questionnaires about their diets and lifestyles and were followed for more than eight years. Interviewers asked how much physical activity they got, whether they smoked and whether they were diagnosed with cancer, diabetes and heart disease, and who died.

In a paper published online this week by a British medical journal known as BMJ, the researchers reported that those improved their adherence to a Mediterranean diet were about 14 percent less likely to die during the study period.

But the main benefits in terms of a reduced mortality appeared to be from consuming moderate amounts of alcohol, little meat, and lots of vegetables, fruits and nuts, olive oil and legumes. Eating a lot of cereal and fish and other seafood did not appear to play a significant role, the researchers found.

Specifically, the researchers found that moderate alcohol consumption, usually in the form of wine during meals, accounted for 23.5 percent of the benefit, whereas low levels of meat and meat products accounted for 16.6 percent, eating a lot of vegetables accounted for 16.2 percent and lot of fruit and nuts accounted for 11.2 percent. High monounsaturated fat and saturated fat caused 11.2 percent of the benefit and high legume consumption accounted for 9.7 percent.

The findings, the researchers say, should help people pick the parts of the Mediterranean diet most likely to help them live longer.

By Rob Stein  |  June 25, 2009; 7:00 AM ET
Categories:  Alcohol and Drugs , Cardiovascular Health , Chronic Conditions , Family Health , General Health , Nutrition and Fitness  
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Posted by: james69 | June 25, 2009 10:05 AM | Report abuse

What alternative can an alcoholic use for wine? Grapes?

Posted by: bobymary1 | June 25, 2009 11:32 AM | Report abuse

So, I can eat as much meat as I want as long as I drink wine? SOLD!

Posted by: Joran | June 25, 2009 4:01 PM | Report abuse

BobyMary1: we don't know yet if grape juice has the same potential health benefits as wine. Stay tuned.

Here’s a direct quote from the study at hand:

"Among the presumed beneficial components of the Mediterranean diet score, high consumption of all but fish and seafood was inversely associated with mortality, although none of these associations was statistically significant."

“. . . none of these associations was statistically significant.” So I can understand some skepticism about this journal article. The researchers had to use some very sophisticated statistical manipulation to come up with the “healthy components” list. I’m not saying that’s wrong. I will admit that the statistical analysis is beyond my comprehension, so I’m trusting the authors and peer-review process to be honest and effective. My college statistics course was too many years ago.

The take-home point for me is that the health benefits of the Mediterranean diet probably stem from an overall combination of multiple foods rather than any single component.

-Steve Parker, M.D.

Posted by: SteveParkerMD | June 27, 2009 2:41 AM | Report abuse

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