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Researchers Recommend Diet Low in Meat and Dairy, High in Fruits and Veggies

April 7, 2005 -- There is more evidence that eating like a villager on the Isle of Crete can help you live longer.

A study examining eating patterns in nine European countries found that people who ate a traditional Mediterranean diet lived longer than those who didn't.

Researchers say a healthy man of 60 who follows the diet, which is rich in fruits and vegetables and low in meat and dairy, can expect to live a year longer than a man of the same age who doesn't follow the diet.

"A year may not sound like much to some people," study researcher Dimitrios Trichopoulos, MD, PhD, tells WebMD. "But I'm in my mid 60s, and it sounds pretty good to me."

Living to 100

Physiologist Ancel Keys was both the world's best-known champion of the Mediterranean diet and its best advertisement.

Keys was the first to notice, more than half a century ago, that heart disease was rare in Mediterranean areas like Greece and southern Italy, where olive oil and red wine were dietary staples and people ate plenty of fruits and vegetables.

Keys died late last year at the age of 100, still active and doing nutrition research until the last few years of his life.

In an interview with WebMD in 2000, he lamented the fact that the typical meat, cheese, and pasta-heavy dishes Americans encounter in Italian restaurants have little in common with traditional Mediterranean fare.

"The Mediterranean diet was nearly vegetarian, with fish and very little meat, and was rich in green vegetables," he said, adding that something got lost in the translation from Italy to the U.S. "They may call it Italian, but it's very different from the food we studied."

The newly published study involved more than 74,000 healthy men and women aged 60 and older living in Denmark, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain, Sweden, and the United Kingdom.

Study participants were asked about their diets, medical and smoking histories, exercise patterns, and other relevant health information. Researchers measured how closely they stuck to a Mediterranean-style diet using a special scale developed by the researchers. The findings are reported in the April 8 issue of the British Medical Journal.

Eating a Mediterranean diet was linked to a longer life. The largest association was seen in Greece and southern Italy, where people stuck more closely to the diet.

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