Mediterranean Diet Cuts Heart Disease and Cancer Deaths

The Physicians Committee

Mediterranean Diet Cuts Heart Disease and Cancer Deaths

June 25, 2003

Today’s New England Journal of Medicine reports that adherence to a Mediterranean-style diet reduced mortality from heart disease and cancer in a group of 22,043 healthy adults. The study, from the University of Athens Medical School, Athens, Greece, used a numerical scale assessing adherence to a Mediterranean diet pattern (defined as high intakes of vegetables, fruits and nuts, legumes, cereals, and monounsaturated fats, and low intakes of red meat, poultry, and dairy products, with moderate alcohol consumption). They then added fish intake to the scale because of earlier suggestions it might be beneficial.

After 44 months, those adhering to the Mediterranean-style diet had 33% fewer heart disease deaths and 24% fewer cancer deaths. When individual foods were examined, fruits and nuts were associated with significantly reduced mortality and vegetables, legumes, cereals, and olive oil were associated with small and nonsignificant reductions in mortality. Dairy products, meat, fish, eggs, sweets, potatoes, and saturated fats were associated with small and nonsignificant mortality increases. The researchers conclude that the benefits of the overall diet were not attributable to a single food.

Trichopoulou A, Costacou T, Bamia C, Trichopoulos D. Adherence to a Mediterranean Diet and Survival in a Greek Population. N Engl J Med. 2003;348: 2599–2608.

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