Originally published in November-December 2004 icon
OK. I own up.
I'm biased. I live on the Mediterranean. On Sunday mornings I go to the local market and buy my olive oil, garlic, fresh local vegetables and fruit. (I then sit with my pastis and read the Sunday Times, enjoying the sunshine in the square). We bake fish, enjoy a glass (or two) of red wine and eat our endless salads while the sun on our skins is making vitamin D in our bodies.
Atkins? The Mercola 'No-grain diet'? What rubbish is that?
Over eighteen months ago, I launched my book, 'The Tree of Life'; it sold out and has now been extended and renamed, 'The Tree of Life: The Anti-Cancer Diet'. In it I look at the science behind foods, exploding a number of myths en route, but pointing people at the foods they should be adding into their diets in order to provide longevity and anti-cancer benefits. Sure, I'm against salt, sugar and dairy (from cows), but then these three factors do not feature in the Mediterranean diet, whereas fish oils, whole grains, nuts, seeds, red wine, green vegetables, fennel, coloured peppers, apricots, garlic, onions etc. etc. etc. give you a plethora of antioxidants, glycoproteins and polysaccharides, yeast killers, good fats, minerals and enzymes to keep you in tip-top condition.
In 2002 a European survey concluded that people on the Mediterranean consumed the highest levels of fat, yet had the lowest levels of heart attacks and cancers in Europe. So much for the UK government's desire to see us eat less fat. It's not the quantity, it's the quality that counts! The book tells it all - and simply.
The Mediterranean diet incorporates a tenth of that at most
Meanwhile the UK Food Standards Agency is still stuck in a rut telling us all that adults should eat 6 gms of salt a day and children 3 gms. The US government scientists have just stated that the figure should be half that. The Mediterranean diet incorporates a tenth of that at most.
And make no mistake, salt is a killer. Vegetarians will proudly point to research studies from Oxford showing that they have 40 per cent less cancers (but then they are 80 per cent less likely than the average Brit to smoke). However, they don't seem to live any longer than the norm. Why? They consume salt. The Bush people of the Kalahari, or the people of Okinawa live the longest lives in the world and consume little or no salt. This results in their blood pressure declining with age whilst ours, in the Western world, increases.
And now comes the official research study on the Mediterranean diet, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association. In fact two groups of people were studied comprising over 2000 men and women all aged between 70 and 90 at the start of the eleven or more year study.
1: The benefits of diet, alcohol, exercise and non-smoking were described as dramatic. People who followed the Mediterranean lifestyle had 65 per cent less risk of death!!!
2: Each of the areas independently provided benefit (and the whole package is not exactly demanding).
The diet - high in fruit, vegetables, nuts, olive oil, seeds and whole grains, but low in meat and meat products - cut risk of death by 23 per cent.
Exercise - defined as 30 minutes per day of moderate activity - cut risk of death by 37 per cent.
Alcohol - those people drinking one to four glasses of wine per day - cut risk of death by 22 per cent. (Indeed non-drinkers were significantly worse off).
Non-smoking - not one cigarette consumed in the past 15 years - cut risk of death by 34 per cent.
And if you do all four, the total figure is 65 per cent across the eleven-year period.
So perhaps I should rename my book - 'The Tree of Life: The Live-Longer Diet'! In any events it covers all of the above, and who could object to eating more foods, albeit slightly different ones, along with a daily cycle to the village square for a glass of red wine. (Sunday Times optional).