Mediterranean diet helps you live longer – even if you take it up at 70

 Portrait of an older woman sitting and eating

The traditional diet favoured in Greece, Spain and Italy provides a great health boost no matter when you switch

Ever since the 1950s, studies have found a Mediterranean diet, packed with vegetables, fish and olive oil, can improve health.

Now a study from the University of Gothenburg in Sweden suggests even older people who stick to the diet can increase their life expectancy by upto three years.

Scientists studied thousands of 70-year-olds in the Gothenburg region over 40 years as part of their “H70” study.

They found those who eat a Mediterranean diet have a 20 per cent higher chance of living longer than those who consume a diet heavy in animal-based products such as meat and milk.

“This means in practice that older people who eat a Mediterranean diet live an estimated two to three years longer than those who don’t”, says Gianluca Tognon, from the Sahlgrenska Academy, University of Gothenburg.

The diet traditionally favoured by natives of countries such as Greece, Spain and Italy is high in unsaturated fatty acids and antioxidants. It includes plenty of vegetables, olive oil, fruit, nuts, fish and whole grains and is low in meat and alcohol.

The results are supported by three further, as year unpublished studies, from the same university that suggested the younger you start the regime, the greater the benefits.

“The conclusion we can draw from these studies is that there is no doubt that a Mediterranean diet is linked tobetter health, not only for the elderly but also for youngsters”, Professor Tognon said.

UK nutritionist Angela Dowden said: “Our climate and culture doesn”t lend itself so well to this type of eating, but we can all emulate some of the good points by eating more oily fish, fruit, veg and pulses and snacking on nuts.”

She added that dairy provided an important source of calcium in the British diet but said swapping from full fat to low fat yogurt and milk could help.

Previous research has suggested it can protect against all the major chronic disease including heart disease, Parkinson”s, Alzheimer”s disease and cancer. A 2009 study from the University of Navarra in Spain, even suggested it could lower the risk of depression by 30 per cent.