LONDON Sticking strictly to a Mediterranean diet rich in fruits and vegetables offers substantial protection against cancer, heart disease and other major chronic illnesses, Italian researchers said on Friday.
People who did this had a 9 percent drop in death from heart disease, a 13 percent reduction in incidence of Parkinson's and Alzheimer's disease and a 6 percent reduction in cancer compared to those who were not as diligent, their study found.
"These results seem to be clinically relevant for public health, particularly for encouraging a Mediterranean-like dietary pattern for primary prevention of major chronic diseases," wrote Francesco Sofi, a clinical nutrition researcher, and colleagues at the University of Florence.
The traditional Mediterranean diet is full of vegetables, fish and healthy fats such as olive oil, and low in red meat, dairy products and alcohol.
Sofi and his team reviewed 12 international studies which included more than 1.5 million people whose eating habits and health were tracked for follow-up periods of three to 18 years.
The researchers also developed an "adherence" score to rate how well people followed the Mediterranean diet, a tool they said doctors could use to help improve people's health and encourage them to eat better.
"The adherence score...could be an effective preventative tool for reducing the risk of mortality and morbidity in the general population," they wrote.
(Reporting by Michael Kahn, Editing by Mark Trevelyan)