My big, not-so-fat Greek diet

If you want to live longer and reduce your risk of heart disease and cancer, eat like the Greeks, according to a study published in The New England Journal of Medicine (2003, vol. 348, no. 26). Researchers at the University of Athens in Greece and at Harvard University followed 22,043 Greek men and women, ages 20 to 86, for an average of four years. At the end of the study, researchers found that those who ate a traditional Mediterranean diet experienced a 25 percent lower risk of death from all causes studied, a 33 percent lower risk of death from heart disease, and a 24 percent lower risk of death from cancer.

The traditional Mediterranean diet is rich in fruits and vegetables, whole grains, beans, and nuts, and includes olive oil as the principal fat. Typically, Greeks also enjoy a moderate amount of wine, as well as fish and dairy products such as yogurt and goat cheese. They eat very little red meat. Regular physical activity for about an hour a day at an intensity that promotes healthy weight and fitness is another common lifestyle denominator.

According to the new study, individual foods alone were not associated with a significant reduction in mortality. Instead, researchers found that those who adhered the closest to the comprehensive Greek diet and lifestyle lived the longest.

—Elaine Gavalas