LONDON – Eating a Mediterranean diet not only helps people stay healthy, it also seems to prolong life, Greek researchers said yesterday. In a study of nearly 75,000 Europeans aged 60 and above, the diet based on plenty of fruits, vegetables, legumes, grains, fish and olive oil was linked to a longer life expectancy. «Adherence to the Mediterranean diet reduces mortality,» Professor Dimitrios Trichopoulos of the University of Athens said in an interview. «There is a particular type of diet in Mediterranean countries that seems to prolong life.» The benefits of the diet in warding off heart disease, some cancers and other illnesses are well documented but the findings reported in the British Medical Journal are among the first to show it may prolong life. Exactly how much a Mediterranean diet can extend the lifespan depends on a person’s age. But a 60-year-old man who sticks to the diet can expect to live a year longer that someone of a similar age eating differently, according to the researchers. «To increase life expectancy by one year is a considerable accomplishment,» said Trichopoulos, who added that a younger person could expect a bigger benefit. How the Mediterranean diet may reduce mortality is unknown, but Trichopoulos said the diet is rich in antioxidants such as vitamins A and C which neutralize cell damage from charged particles called free radicals. Antioxidants are thought to help fight cancer and heart disease. The diet includes a lower intake of saturated fats, meats and dairy products which Trichopoulos said may modulate blood lipid levels. Saturated fats can clog the arteries. «The diet seems to affect both cardiovascular mortality and cancer mortality,» he added. The researchers compared the diet of people in nine European countries – Denmark, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain, Sweden and Britain. The link between diet and mortality was most pronounced in Greece and Spain, two nations which the researchers said follow a true Mediterranean diet. «We are closer to the genuine Mediterranean diet. The others are approximations,» according to Trichopoulos. The researchers studied information on diet, lifestyle, medical history, smoking and physical activity. They assigned dietary scores corresponding to adherence to the diet. A higher dietary score was associated with a lower overall death rate. A two-point rise in dietary score corresponded to an 8 percent reduction in mortality and a 4 percent increase to a 14 percent drop.