Tracking the diet and lifestyle of 74,000 healthy men and women over 60, researchers in Greece identified a link between a "higher dietary score and a lower overall death rate".
The association was strongest in Greece and Spain, probably because people in these countries follow a genuinely Mediterranean diet, say the authors.
A Mediterranean diet is characterised by a high intake of vegetables, fruits, cereals, and a low intake of meat and dairy products, with a high ratio of monounsaturated fatty acids (mostly olive oil) to polyunsaturated fatty acids.
Mounting evidence suggests a kaleidoscope of these ingredients in a daily diet can actively boost health, in particular in preventing cardiovascular disease, the number one global killer, and certain cancers.
Tomatoes, for example, are packed with the health-promoting antioxidant lycopene, a carotenoid attracting growing attention in recent years due to research linking it to reduction in cancer risk, especially prostate cancer. New findings also suggest that it could have a protective effect on heart disease, the cause of more deaths among women than any other disease.
A recent report on the $348.5 million (€291.4m) carotenoid market from market analysts Frost & Sullivan revealed that the European food and health industry has 'under-utilised' the nutraceutical properties of carotenoids, and consumers are still unaware of their health benefits.
And contributing to a raft of studies on olive oil, recent research suggests that consumption of olive oil is inversely associated with blood pressure. Olive oil has been shown to have a beneficial effect on blood lipids but the new study, reported in the October issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition (vol 80, no 4, 1012-1018), suggests that it may act in a number of ways to protect people from heart disease.
About two thirds of strokes and half the incidence of heart disease are attributable to raised blood pressure, according to the World Health Organisation. Worldwide, high blood pressure is estimated to cause 7.1 million deaths, about 13 per cent of the total and about 4.4 per cent of the total chronic disease burden.
Food makers looking to grab a slice of the burgeoning functional food market are constantly looking at new product formulations that place health positioned ingredients, such as tomatoes and olive oil, squarely in the recipes. Recent research from UK research firm Mintel forecasts that in the UK alone the current £835 million functional market will rise to £1.7 billion in the next five years.
The latest published study on the Mediterranean diet involved over 74,000 men and women, aged 60 or more, living in nine European countries.
Information on diet, lifestyle, medical history, smoking, physical activity levels, and other relevant factors was recorded. Adherence to a modified Mediterranean diet was measured using a recognised scoring scale.
The researchers report that a higher dietary score was associated with a lower overall death rate. A two point increase corresponded to an 8 per cen reduction in mortality, while a three or four point increase was associated with a reduction of total mortality by 11 per cent or 14 per cent respectively.
So, for example, a healthy man aged 60 who adheres well to the diet (dietary score of 6-9) can expect to live about one year longer than a man of the same age who does not adhere to the diet.
Full findings are published in the April issue of the British Medical Journal (BMJ) .