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Benefits of the Mediterranean Diet

The Mediterranean Diet is beneficial for prevention of cancer.  It is one of the few diets that is considered healthy, safe and effective. By moving toward a Mediterranean diet, you can not only reduce your risk of many chronic diseases, but you also increase your chances of living a longer, healthier life!


What’s the Mediterranean Diet?

The Mediterranean diet has long been praised for its heart-healthy properties, and many of this diet’s components contribute to disease prevention and overall wellness. It is based on ingredients and eating patterns from Italy, Spain, and other Southern European regions. It largely mirrors conventional healthy eating patterns with a few unique distinctions.  This diet focuses on nutrient-dense, plant-based foods.

The base of each Mediterranean-inspired meal consists of a variety of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, beans and legumes, and nuts and seeds. Fish and other seafood is recommended at least two times per week, especially fatty fish such as salmon, mackerel, sardines, and albacore tuna rich in omega-3 fatty acids.  Animal-based fats (butter, shortening, lard) are replaced by heart-healthy plant fats such as olive and canola oils. Poultry, low-fat dairy, and eggs are eaten occasionally, while red meat and sugary snacks are rare treats, a few times per month.

All of these can be easily located in your local grocery store  – so add these to your shopping list today and take the first step toward a commitment to a healthier life!

The Mediterranean diet emphasizes simple flavors, focusing on using herbs and spices to season food rather than excessive salt, sauces, or gravies. The diet also includes wine in moderation: no more than two glasses (10 fl oz) per day for men and one glass (5 fl oz) per day for women and individuals over age 65. If you have a personal or family history of alcohol abuse, or if you have heart or liver disease, alcohol should be avoided.

The Mediterranean diet includes many and varied components that reduce chronic disease and cancer risk. The focus on whole grains and fresh produce assures that this diet is high in fiber, antioxidants, and polyphenols, all of which are closely associated with reduced cancer risk [i].


Components of the Mediterranean Diet

1. Olive oil

There is growing evidence that moderate consumption of extra virgin olive oil over a long period of time may combat breast cancer risk and decrease breast tumor aggressiveness due to its high levels of monounsaturated fatty acids [ii].

The unsaturated fats in olive oil and nuts protect against atherosclerosis and other forms of cardiovascular disease by working to minimize inflammation in the body [ii].  Chronic inflammation has been linked to an increase in cancer risk. Lucky for us, there are lots of delicious foods that reduce inflammation.


2. Red wine

Red wine in particular contains several polyphenols, naturally-occurring compounds in certain plant foods that have various positive health effects.  In some instances drinking red wine in moderation has been shown to decrease overall cholesterol levels, LDL (or “bad” cholesterol) levels, and is a powerful antioxidant. These cardioprotective effects are largely credited to its polyphenols, especially resveratrol [iii].


3. Whole grains

Whole grains, another Mediterranean staple, are known to reduce risk for many common chronic diseases. Integration of whole grain cereals and breads into the diet is associated with a 20-30% reduced risk of both heart disease and type 2 diabetes, and reduces risk of several cancers, including gastrointestinal, colorectal, pancreatic, and endometrial cancers [iv].


[i] Giacosa, A; Barale, R; Bavaresco, L; etal. Cancer prevention in europe: the mediterranean diet as a protective choice. (2012). European Journal of Cancer Prevention. Pp 1-6
[ii] Escrich, E; Solanas, M. Olive oil, an essential component of the mediterranean diet, and breast cancer. (2011). 14(12A) Pp 2323-32
[iii] Rifler, J.P.; Lorcerie, F; Delmas, D; etal. A moderate red wine intake improves blood lipid parameters and erythrocytes membrane fluidity in post myocardial infarct patients. (2012) Mol Nutr Food Res 56(2): 345-51
[iv] Gil, A; Ortega, R.M; Maldonado, J. Wholegrain cereals and bread: a duet of the mediterranean diet for the prevention of chronic diseases. Public Health Nutrition (2011) 14(12A): 2316-22
Jessica Iannotta, MS, RD, CSO, CDN

Jessica is a registered dietitian and certified specialist in oncology nutrition (CSO). She studied nutrition at Cornell University and completed her dietetic internship at New York Presbyterian Weill Cornell Medical Center. She obtained her Master's degree through the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey. Jessica has worked in inpatient and outpatient oncology settings since 2001 in the North Shore-LIJ Health System. Jessica is in charge of all operations including clinical and culinary operations ranging from menu development to evidence-based website content, relationships with registered dietitians and social workers and developing processes and protocols for intake, management and outcomes analysis of patients.


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