Greater adherence to Mediterranean diet linked to benefits in study

Better adherence to the Mediterranean diet was associated with a 23% reduction in all-cause mortality in women. This reduction was explained by differences in multiple risk factors.

The Mediterranean diet focuses on plant-based foods and healthy fats, including vegetables, fruits, whole grains and extra-virgin olive oil. The study, published in JAMA Network Open in May, draws on data from a study that followed 25,315 women, with an average age of 55, for 25 years.

During the study, the women completed health questionnaires every six months for the first year, and then annually thereafter. In addition to blood tests, the researchers used a 131-question food-frequency questionnaire and gave each participant a Mediterranean diet score based on their adherence to the diet and their intake of vegetables (except potatoes), fruits, nuts, whole grains, legumes, and fish.

Points were also awarded for eating healthier fats, eating less red and processed meat, and drinking between five and 15 grams of alcohol per day (about a five-ounce glass of wine, a 12-ounce beer, or 1.5 ounces of liquor).

The researchers found that people who closely followed the Mediterranean diet had a 23 percent lower overall risk of death during the study period. Nearly 3,900 participants died during the study period, including 935 whose deaths were attributed to cardiovascular disease and 1,531 whose deaths were attributed to cancer.

“It is important to note that the benefit was observed for both cancer and cardiovascular mortality, which are the leading causes of death in women overall,” said Samia Mora, senior author of the study and director of the Center for Lipid Metabolomics at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston.

Because the study participants were primarily non-Hispanic white people, the researchers acknowledge that the results may be limited.

This article is part of the Post’s “Big Number” series, which takes a brief look at the statistical side of health issues. Additional information and relevant research is available via hyperlinks.

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