Mediterranean Diet and Cancer Prevention
If you’re trying to eat healthy, there’s a good chance you’ve come across (or tried) the Mediterranean diet. Nutrition experts consistently rank the Mediterranean diet among the best eating patterns, and it’s well recognized for its role in heart health. But did you know this colorful and plant-packed diet also boasts powerful cancer-preventive benefits?
Most research on this diet focuses on the heart health benefits, but a few studies have looked at whether the Mediterranean diet might reduce cancer risk. Because the diet focuses on plant foods, fish, moderate amounts of dairy and limited red meat, it mirrors much of what we know about a diet that reduces cancer risk. So far, there are some promising results, but more research is needed to know if there is a clear link.
The traditional Mediterranean diet is drawn from Greece, Italy and its neighbors. But other cuisines have also influenced today’s Mediterranean diet.
There are plenty of familiar foods in this diet, but you’ll also discover some surprising additions to boost flavor, texture and variety.
- Build your plate around vegetables and fruit: Start building your plate with vegetables like tomatoes, corn and potatoes that are inexpensive and easy to find. Fruits are also a key part of a Mediterranean cancer-fighting plate.
- Think beyond meat proteins: In the Mediterranean diet, the main proteins are fish, eggs and plant proteins, with just moderate amounts of chicken and smaller portions of lean red meat. That fits into a cancer-protective diet, because too much red meat is linked to increased colorectal cancer risk. And even small amounts of processed meats – such as ham and bacon – eaten regularly increase stomach and colorectal cancer risk.
- Add budget-friendly staples like chickpeas, lentils and other beans to your day. These Mediterranean diet foods are packed with fiber, which lowers the risk of colorectal cancer. Add them to your soups, salads and one-pot meals for a plant protein boost along with cancer-fighting fiber and other plant compounds.
- Cook with commonly used Mediterranean herbs and spices. Basil, marjoram, oregano, rosemary, tarragon, mint and thyme, or a spice mixture like Harissa can pump up flavor. Many of these spices are studied for their cancer-protective compounds.
- Keep portions moderate: That’s part of the Mediterranean dietary pattern and it will help you with weight management. Keeping to a healthy weight is one of the key steps you can take to reduce your risk of many of the most common cancers. For healthy desserts, keep it light. Think fresh fruit salad with mint and honey, creamy yogurt or simply a platter of meaty dates, pistachios, apricots, figs and other fruit.
Source: American Institute for Cancer Research. www.aicr.org. Accessed May 9, 2017.