A Heart-Healthy Diet May Also Prevent Cancer
The Mediterranean Diet is very similar to the mostly plant-based diet that AICR recommends. It focuses on eating a wide variety of vegetables and fruits, with beans, whole grains, nuts and healthy fats like olive oil. Fish is frequently eaten, but meat, poultry and dairy foods are limited to small amounts.
Heart health was the first benefit researchers identified when results of early Mediterranean Diet studies were published in the 1990s. But recent evidence shows that eating this traditional diet may also reduce cancer risk.
Heart disease and cancer share a common risk factor: chronic inflammation. A plant-based diet with plenty of vegetables, fruits and beans seems to decrease inflammation. Studies link a more Mediterranean-style diet with lower levels of the blood proteins that are signs of inflammation.
Also, Mediterranean-style diets are traditionally higher in omega-3 fats found especially in fish. A healthy balance between omega-3s and other fats may prevent inflammation, too. Moderate amounts of healthy fats, such as olive oil, are another healthy factor in Mediterranean cuisine.
Cancer Findings Show Promise
Former AICR grantee Zora Djuric, PhD, research professor, Environmental Health Sciences and Family Medicine at the University of Michigan, has conducted several studies on the Mediterranean Diet. She has published findings on the healthy biochemical changes that people can achieve by eating in the traditional Mediterranean way.
In her most recent study, a Mediterranean diet was shown to change the fats and micronutrients inside the colon tissue of healthy subjects. These changes had an anti-inflammatory effect, and inflammation has strong links to risk of colon cancer.
Dr. Djuric likes the Mediterranean Diet approach to cancer prevention. "It is a way to not only reduce risk of several kinds of cancer, but to reduce risk of diabetes and heart disease as well."
Other Mediterranean Features
Limit alcohol. The Mediterranean Diet includes wine in moderate amounts at meals. Although some evidence suggests that alcohol may have heart health benefits, cancer research shows that consuming any kind of alcohol is linked to higher cancer risk. If you do drink alcohol, AICR recommends limiting wine to no more than 1 standard 5-oz. glass a day for women and 2 standard servings for men.
Be physically active. The long-lived Mediterranean populations that inspired the diet studies also fished, farmed, herded and walked hilly terrain rather than spending most of their time seated. So be inspired by the Mediterranean Diet to get at least 30 minutes of moderate physical activity daily.
AICR Newsletter Winter 2014; Issue 122