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Is the Mediterranean Diet Really the Secret to a Long Life?

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The Mediterranean diet is often cited as the key to heart health and longevity and the easiest—and tastiest—way to eat one’s way to the Good Life. Yet, a new Italian study reveals that the culinary roadmap to health and wellness disproportionately benefits those who earn more money.

Culled from the culinary practices of sun-dappled Mediterranean coasts, the diet promotes eating seasonal produce and simple ingredients soaked in olive oil. Amidst a backdrop of carb cutting and calorie counting, the Mediterranean diet (or rather, 'way of eating') is popular for embracing epicurean moderation. And its benefits prove endless, from reducing the risks of diabetes to curbing the effects of dementia. It even promotes a daily glass of red wine to lower cholesterol!

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But the study, published in the International Journal of Epidemiology, reveals that socioeconomic status and access to better quality, antioxidant rich produce are important elements to consider in conversation with dietary choices. Researchers at the Italian Clinical Research Institute analyzed over 18,000 men and women from the Molise region of Italy over the course of five years.

While the study establishes a relationship between an adherence to a Mediterranean diet and a reduction in cardiovascular disease risk, only test subjects with higher socioeconomic statuses actually received significant health benefits. Those who earned $45,000 a year or higher and stuck to the plan, saw a 15% reduction in their risk of heart disease. Meanwhile, people with lower incomes, and lower levels of education, experienced cardiovascular events twice as often as those in the highest category of household income.

The correlation between socioeconomic status and access to healthy food is no revelation, but the findings point to the importance of quality of product over quantity.

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“During the very last years, we documented a rapid shifting from the Mediterranean diet in the whole population, but it might also be that the weakest citizens tend to buy 'Mediterranean' food with lower nutritional value,” said Dr Giovanni Gaetano, a scientist on the team.

Like with any study, isolated variables are often indicative of a diverse array of lifestyle choices and habits. People in lower socioeconomic strata tend to have disproportionate access to healthcare and work tougher jobs.

So, the Mediterranean diet once again takes the cake (or, er, the hummus?) for the healthiest way to eat, but it doesn't look like we can all reap its rewards.

Have you tried the Mediterranean diet? Let us know in the comments.

Tags: food news, diet, mediterranean diet, income