Mediterranean diet blocks heart disease, diabetes, cancer: Study

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The Mediterranean diet includes lots of olive oil.

(CBS) If you want to stay healthy, eat like a Greek.

That's the message from new research linking the so-called Mediterranean diet to all sorts of health benefits, including a lower risk for obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and cancer.

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The large-scale study, published in the March 15, 2001 issue of the "Journal of the American College of Cardiology," also showed how effective the Mediterranean diet is at lowering the risk for the "metabolic syndrome." That's the name used to describe a set of cardiovascular risk factors, including abdominal obesity, elevated cholesterol and blood pressure, and an inability to process blood sugar properly.

Fifty million people are believed to have the metabolic syndrome, according to the American Heart Association - and that's just in the U.S.

"The prevalence of the metabolic syndrome is increasing rapidly throughout the world, in parallel with the increasing incidence of diabetes and obesity, and is now considered a major public health problem," study author Dr. Demosthenes Panagiotakos, associate professor in biostatistics-epidemiology of nutrition at Harokopio University of Athens, said in a written statement issued by the American College of Cardiology.

Just what do Greeks eat? Traditionally, they eat lots of fruits, vegetables, whole grain cereals, and low-fat dairy products on a daily basis, according to the statement. In addition, they frequently consume fish, poultry, tree nuts, legumes, and lots of monounsaturated fatty acids, mostly in the form of olives and olive oil.

Red meat? Not so much.

But alcohol is part of the Mediterranean diet. It's typically consumed on a daily basis - in moderate quantities and during meals.