People who eat a Mediterranean-style diet rich in fruit, vegetables, whole grains, olive oil and fish have at least a 25 percent reduced risk of dying from heart disease and cancer, researchers reported in a study being published Thursday.
For decades, scientists have had inklings that a diet that gets about 40 percent of calories from healthy fat and about half from complex carbohydrates such as whole grains, fruit and vegetables, combined with daily exercise, could promote health and reduce premature death.
But this is the first large trial of healthy men and women to demonstrate a significant reduction in death rates for heart disease, cancer and all other causes of mortality for those who follow a Mediterranean diet and are physically active.
"In the past, when we talked about the Mediterranean diet, we usually talked about cardiovascular benefits," Frank Hu, associate professor of nutrition and epidemiology at the Harvard School of Public Health, said Wednesday. "This is talking about primary prevention. The better the Mediterranean diet, the lower the cardiovascular disease and cancer mortality. ... That is very intriguing."
The results suggest a middle course between the often confusing diet extremes, from the very low-carbohydrate, high-fat Atkins approach to the higher carbohydrate, low-fat U.S. dietary guidelines.
What the results also underscore is the importance of the overall Mediterranean diet approach, rather than any one food type.
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