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May 16, 2014 | 3 minute read

Mediterranean Diet: Heart Healthy and Preventing Cancer

http://www.dreamstime.com/royalty-free-stock-photography-basil-nuts-olive-oil-bunch-fresh-bowl-walnuts-pepper-garlic-glass-bottle-served-white-wooden-table-see-series-image36664137If you’ve been trying to boost your heart health by eating a Mediterranean diet filled with olive oil, vegetables and nuts, and foregoing red and processed meat, a new report says you also may be lowering your risk for cancer and type 2 diabetes, all without losing weight.

A report of studies from PREDIMED, a large nutrition intervention trial, was published in the May issue of Advances in Nutrition. One study found that after almost 5 years, Mediterranean diet participants had 30% less cardiovascular disease than the control group. Another study found the Mediterranean diet groups had less type 2 diabetes, showed improvements in conditions of metabolic syndrome and had lower levels of markers for inflammation, all risk factors for cancer.

The Mediterranean diet, promoted as heart healthy, is rich in plant foods (such as vegetables, legumes, fruits and nuts), olive oil, moderate amounts of fish, yogurt, cheese, poultry and red wine, but little red and processed meats and sweets. In the PREDIMED study, researchers randomly assigned about 7500 participants to one of three groups: a Mediterranean diet (MeDiet) supplemented with olive oil, a MeDiet supplemented with nuts or they were instructed to follow a low fat diet. The PREDIMED study is a randomized, nutritional intervention trial conducted in Spain from 2003 to 2011.

Compared with the control group, the MeDiet with olive oil participants had 40% less new diagnoses of type 2 diabetes and the MeDiet with nuts had 18% less type 2 diabetes.

The researchers also looked at conditions that make up metabolic syndrome, such as blood pressure and insulin sensitivity, and circulating inflammatory molecules, a marker for chronic inflammation. Those in the nuts group showed a 13% reduction in these conditions compared to 6% in the olive oil group and 2% in the low fat group.

These early results seem to show that this plant-based, healthy fat (unsaturated fats) eating pattern could reduce risk for many types of cancer. The link between type 2 diabetes and cancer risk is well established and chronic inflammation links to increased risk for cancer too.

One of the most interesting aspects of the PREDIMED study is that participants were instructed throughout the study on following their assigned diets, but they were not given calorie guidelines nor was an increase in physical activity promoted. The 1 year follow-up showed no significant changes in body weight among participants, so the benefits appear to come primarily from diet changes.

The bottom line is that diet quality does matter – a plant-based diet improves health, even without weight loss. And participants were all at high risk for cardiovascular disease and ranged in age from 55-80, so making diet changes at any age is beneficial.

If you’re ready to try a more plant-based diet learn about the New American Plate way of eating and sign up to receive AICR’s weekly Health-e-Recipes to help you reap the many benefits of a healthy eating.


The PREDIMED study was funded by the Instituto de Salud Carlos III, the official funding agency for Biomedical Research of the Spanish Government.

Author disclosures: Emilio Ros received research grants from the California Walnut Commission and is a nonpaid member of its Scientific Advisory Committee. J. Salas-Salvado received research grants from the International Nut Council and is a nonpaid member of its Scientific Advisory Committee.


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