Mediterranean diet is known to reduce risk of heart disease. And now, a recent research has found that this diet helps reduce the risk of developing cancer as well. In recent years much has been discussed about Mediterranean diet and its disease preventive effect. One may already be aware of the fact that the Mediterranean diet reduces the risk of heart disease, osteoporosis, and dementia. Apart from the above, recent researches state that this diet pattern cuts the risk of developing cancer.
Mediterranean diet is rich in vegetables, fruits, nuts, whole grains and fish. It limits consumption of unhealthy fats. The diet is said to improve blood vessel function, combat inflammation, reduce risk for heart disease and repair oxygen-related cell damage.
AdvertisementEmphasis on using olive oil and the leeway to have red wine is what makes this diet slightly different from other healthy diets.
In a nutshell, the Mediterranean diet emphasizes on:
• plenty of exercise,
• intake of plant-based foods (such as fruits and vegetables, whole grains, legumes and nuts),
• consumption of unsaturated fats in the form of olive oil and canola oil over saturated fats such as butter and margarine,
• limiting red meat to no more than a few times a month,
• eating fish and poultry at least twice a week, and
• drinking red wine in moderation (optional).
It is said that the residents of Greece eat very little red meat and consume on an average nine servings a day of antioxidant-rich fruits and vegetables. It's a heart healthy approach that prevents the formation of oxidized low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol — the "bad" cholesterol that's more likely to build up deposits in the arteries.
There are numerous studies on the effect of Mediterranean diet on heart health, but only a few researches have been done on the Mediterranean diet and cancer risk, especially, association of this diet with overall mortality or risk of specific cancers, and still less on overall cancer risk.
A recent research report published in the British Journal of Cancer aimed to study the association between adherence to Mediterranean dietary pattern and overall cancer risk. A lower overall cancer risk was found among individuals with greater adherence to Mediterranean diet.
One of the authors, Dr Dimitrios Trichopoulos, professor of cancer prevention and epidemiology at Harvard University, said: "Our results show just how important diet is in cancer risk". According to him, the Mediterranean diet is characterised by 'high intake of (i) vegetables, (ii) legumes, (iii) fruits and nuts, (iv) minimally processed cereals, (v) moderately high intake of fish, (vi) high intake of monounsaturated lipids coupled with low intake of saturated fat, (vii) low-to-moderate intake of dairies, (viii) low intake of meat products, and (ix) regular but moderate intake of alcohol'.
When considering overall cancer risk and the nine food groups considered in the Mediterranean diet score, following were the results:
• An apparent protective effect of fruits and nuts, vegetables, cereals, and of a high ratio of unsaturated to saturated lipids was observed.
• Increased meat consumption was associated with increased risk of cancer.
• In comparison with moderate drinkers, the Hazard Ratio (HR) for all cancers was 1.03 for non- or light drinkers and 1.12 for heavy drinkers.
• When stratifying by tobacco smoking, the apparent protection conveyed by adherence to the Mediterranean dietary pattern was somewhat stronger among current smokers than among never smokers.
The EPIC study concluded that 'higher adherence to a Mediterranean dietary pattern is associated with a reduction in the risk of cancer in Mediterranean and non-Mediterranean countries, with a somewhat stronger protective effect among smokers and against tobacco-related cancers'. Promoting the Mediterranean diet might therefore contribute to cancer prevention, in addition to cardiovascular disease prevention, they added.
An earlier study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition evaluated the association of the traditional Mediterranean diet with breast cancer in a Mediterranean country.
Their findings revealed that eating more of one food group alone does not significantly change a person's risk of cancer. Adjusting the overall dietary habits towards the traditional Mediterranean pattern has an important effect.
The research states that adopting just two aspects of the Mediterranean diet could cut the risk of developing cancer by 12 percent. It further elaborates - "consuming more good fats, like those found in olive oil, than bad fats like those found in chips, biscuits and cakes, have the greatest effect reducing cancer risk by nine percent. Also making any two changes to the diet, such as eating more peas, beans and lentils and less meat could cut cancer risk by 12 percent."
It is said that women who closely follow the diet tend to have lower levels of estrogen, which initiates the growth of the majority of breast cancers, than women who don't follow this diet. Other studies suggest that the fats found in the Mediterranean diet - both olive oil and the omega-3 fats in oily fish - may slow the growth of cancer cells. The diet is also typically rich in antioxidants, which protect body cells from damage and oxidation that can eventually lead to disease, including cancer.
One can reduce the cancer risk by eating a healthy, balanced diet that is high in fiber, fruit and vegetables, and low in red and processed meat and saturated fat.
• E Couto et al "Mediterranean dietary pattern and cancer risk in the EPIC cohort" British Journal of Cancer (2011) 104, 1493-1499.
• Nortan A. "Mediterranean diet tied to lower breast cancer risk" 2010