If you believe that longevity can be attributed to good genes, regular exercise, and perhaps a dose of plain old luck, you're only partly right. It turns out that what you eat-or don't eat-can have a huge impact on how long you live. The best way to dress your dinner table? With foods from the Mediterranean diet.

The Mediterranean diet, so called because it mimics the typical cuisine of Mediterranean locales such as Greece, southern Europe, and the countries of North Africa, is not so much a diet as it is a lifestyle. The mainstays of this way of eating include plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables, healthful fats such as olive oil and canola oil instead of butter, fish or shellfish at least twice a week, herbs and spices for seasoning foods instead of salt, red wine in moderation, and very little red meat. Small amounts of nuts are also recommended as a snack. Generally, everything eaten is unprocessed and unrefined.

Numerous studies show that eating the Mediterranean way reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease and stroke as well as mild cognitive decline, some cancers, and even diabetes. Although not a low-fat diet per se, the types of fat eaten on the Mediterranean diet are beneficial to your health. They have been shown to lower LDL cholesterol and triglycerides while raising HDL cholesterol, especially if eaten in place of trans fats. Also crucial is the consumption of as many servings of fruits and vegetables as possible. In fact, the average Greek citizen eats nine servings of fruits and vegetables every day. Sound daunting? Aim to bump up your intake by a serving or two a week until you get close to that goal.

If you're ready to embrace the Mediterranean way of life, here are a few simple, delicious recipes to get you started:

  • Broil shrimp and tomatoes on a skewer. Serve on a bed of spinach leaves with a yogurt-garlic-cucumber dipping sauce on the side.
  • Buy premade hummus, and serve with whole-wheat pita bread, baby carrots, and celery sticks.
  • Scramble egg whites, and serve with whole-grain toast topped with fig jam and a variety of fresh fruits.


Sources: Mayo Clinic, www.mayoclinic.com; Journal of the American Medical Association, http://jama.ama-assn.org; American Dietetic Association, www.eatright.org.