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We should all eat like a Mediterranean

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Two new studies confirm the health benefits of eating the Mediterranean way.

In a study in today's Journal of the American Medical Association, mortality rates were 65% lower among elderly people who combined a so-called Mediterranean diet with 30 minutes of daily exercise, moderate drinking and no tobacco use.

Although experts say there is no single Mediterranean diet, doctors say cuisines from these regions favor olive oil rather than butter and include lots of legumes, nuts, seeds, grains, fish, vegetables and potatoes but little meat and dairy.

The study was conducted from 1988 to 2000 and led by researchers at Wageningen University in the Netherlands and other European universities. More than 2,300 healthy people ages 70 to 90 answered questions about their eating habits and activities. Researchers noted that the study suggests a strong association between healthy habits and longer life but offers no proof.

In a separate study in the same journal, researchers from the Second University of Naples in Italy found that Mediterranean-style diets helped patients with ''metabolic syndrome,'' which increases the risk of heart disease and diabetes and affects 1 in 4 American adults.

People with the syndrome are fat around the middle, have high blood pressure and cholesterol deposits in their arteries, and do not properly process glucose. After two years, 44% of those on the Mediterranean diet still had features of metabolic syndrome, compared with 86% of others.

This research confirms the results of earlier studies, experts say. A previous study of heart-attack survivors showed that the mortality rate was 70% lower among those who followed a prescribed Mediterranean diet compared with people on a low-fat diet.

''The Mediterranean experience makes it clear that healthy eating is completely consistent with wonderful eating,'' says Walter Willett, chairman of nutrition at the Harvard School of Public Health.

Yet getting more Americans to adopt healthy living will be a challenge, says Dario Giugliano, an author of the metabolic syndrome study. Experts say only 1 in 5 Americans eat the recommended five to nine servings of fruits and vegetables a day.

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