NEW YORK (AFP) – A traditional Mediterranean diet favoring vegetables, fruit, olive oil and fish can reduce premature mortality rates by at least 25 percent, according to a study published yesterday. The main benefit of the diet – which is rich in complex carbohydrates and so-called «healthy» fats – is a sharp drop in the risk of heart disease and cancer. The study, involving 22,043 adults between the ages of 20 and 86 who live in Greece, was carried out by researchers from the Harvard School of Public Health and the University of Athens Medical School. «The results are clear,» said Dimitrios Trichopoulos, senior author of the study which was published in the New England Journal of Medicine. «A Mediterranean diet featuring olive oil, vegetables, fish, fruits and low in saturated fats, and enjoyed for many years by the people of that region, is healthy and promotes longevity,» Trichopoulos said. The study coincides with a widespread debate in the United States over whether to review national dietary guidelines. Federal guidelines have long proposed a low-fat, high-carbohydrate diet but they have recently been challenged by various studies that back the high-fat, low-carbohydrate approach championed by the late Robert Atkins. The Mediterranean diet, when combined with healthy exercise, appears to fall neatly between both camps. The new study began with in-depth interviews of all participants regarding their dietary habits. Points were awarded according to how closely each individual adhered to the Mediterranean diet. Regular, moderate consumption of fish garnered one point, as did a daily intake of fruit and vegetables. Moderate consumption of wine with meals – one glass for women, two for men – was also worth a point. The participants’ health was then monitored for four years, with the study showing that for every two-point rise, the risk of death dropped by 25 percent. «The magnitude of the reduction in mortality underscores the longevity advantage that adult Mediterranean populations have experienced for centuries,» said Trichopoulos. The study also showed that the relationship between closely following the Mediterranean diet and reduced mortality appeared to increase with age – suggesting the cumulative beneficial effects of a healthy diet.