The Mediterranean diet almost always lands on top of lists that rank healthy diets and eating styles (as well as sustainability rankings). But according to a new study led by La Universidad Autónoma de Madrid and Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, the health perks are not reliant on location.
The study is one of just a few to examine the health benefits of the Mediterranean diet in a non-Mediterranean context—and also to assess the health benefits of an overall Mediterranean lifestyle.
The research was comprised of data collected from 110,799 members of the United Kingdom Biobank cohort, a long-term population-based study in England, Wales, and Scotland. The team used the Mediterranean Lifestyle (MEDLIFE) index, which is based on a lifestyle questionnaire and diet assessments. Participants aged 40 to 75 answered questions according to the three categories the index measures:
Mediterranean food consumption: Intake of foods part of the Mediterranean diet, such as fruits and whole grains.
Mediterranean dietary habits: Adherence to habits and practices around meals, including limiting salt and drinking healthy beverages.
Physical activity, rest, and social habits and conviviality: Adherence to lifestyle habits, including taking regular naps, exercising, and spending time with friends.
Each item within the categories was scored—the more adherence to a Mediterranean lifestyle, the higher the score. Playing the long game, researchers followed up nine years later to analyze participants’ health outcomes.
“Among the study population, 4,247 died from all causes; 2,401 from cancer; and 731 from cardiovascular disease. Analyzing these results alongside MEDLIFE scores, the researchers observed an inverse association between adherence to the Mediterranean lifestyle and risk of mortality,” according to Harvard Chan School.
Those who had higher MEDLIFE scores were found to have a 29% lower risk of all-cause mortality and a 28% lower risk of cancer mortality compared to those with lower MEDLIFE scores.
The study authors conclude that adopting a Mediterranean lifestyle adapted to the local characteristics of non-Mediterranean populations may be possible and part of a healthy lifestyle.