Tuesday 15 April 2008

Meditteranean Diet a Winner

The so-called Mediterranean diet cuts the risk of heart disease, cancer and neurodegenerative conditions such as Alzheimer's, according to research released today.

Piecemeal evidence over the last three decades has shown that a diet rich in grains, fruit, vegetables and olive oil but stingy on meat and dairy - washed down with a modest daily dose of wine - promotes health.

But a meta-study published in the British Medical Journal is the first to sift through all this data in an attempt to quantify the overall benefits.

"Our findings support a simple recommendation: eat in a more Mediterranean way because it reduces the incidence of chronic disease," the lead researcher, Francesco Sofi of the University of Florence, said.

Pouring over a dozen scientific surveys conducted since 1966 and involving more than 1.5 million people, Mr Sofi and a team of researchers in Italy created a scale of one to nine corresponding to different food groups.

Someone who consumed all the healthiest foodstuffs and largely avoided the harmful ones - a theoretically-perfect Mediterranean diet - would score a perfect nine, he explained.

The study found that a bump of two points anywhere in the scale - moving, say, from zero to two, or from six to eight - corresponded to a "significant reduction in overall mortality," Mr Sofi said. When broken down by disease, such a shift in dietary habits lowered the risk of death from cardiovascular disease by nine per cent and from cancer by six per cent.

The study also evaluated a recent set of findings on the impact of diet on neurodegenerative disease, and concluded that going Mediterranean decreased the incidence of Alzheimer's and Parkinson's by 13 per cent.

These results are "clinically relevant for public health," and suggest that getting one's daily calorie intake from these food groups could play an important role in preventing major chronic diseases, Mr Sofi said.

The Mao Clinic website provides some tips about what is included in this diet.