Can a Mediterranean diet really stop breast cancer? We look at the facts - Evewoman

Healthy Eating

Can a Mediterranean diet really stop breast cancer? We look at the facts

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A healthy diet plays a part in lowering the risk, so what can you do to help yourself stay healthy?

Latest health research shows that following a Mediterranean-style diet could slash the risk of a deadly form of breast cancer by almost half.

We look at the facts – and why this type of diet is so good for our bodies.

For the last decade, it’s been hailed as the healthiest diet around – not to mention a preventative for a host of other illnesses.

Now a major study has claimed that eating Mediterranean-style could help reduce the risk of one of the most deadly forms of breast cancer by 40%.

The research, by Maastricht University in the Netherlands, involved more than 62,000 women over 20 years.

It found evidence to suggest a Southern European diet cut the likelihood of post-menopausal women getting oestrogen-receptor negative breast cancer.

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Around a third of the 55,000 breast cancer cases diagnosed each year fall into this category – which is more likely to prove fatal than other type of the disease, as it’s much harder to treat.

The Mediterranean diet is packed with vegetables, nuts, oily fish, lentils, beans and olive oil, while keeping white bread, red meat and sweets to a minimum.

Breast cancer risk can be cut by 40% if you eat a Mediterranean diet

Researchers have speculated that the rich nutrients found in this diet confer some sort of cancer-protective benefits.

Although a traditional Med diet involves moderate consumption of alcohol, in this study drinking was excluded as it’s a known risk factor for breast cancer.

“This important study showed that following a dietary pattern like the Mediterranean diet could help reduce breast cancer risk – particularly the subtype with a poorer prognosis,” explained Dr Panagiota Mitrou, a director at the World Cancer Research Fund which funded the study.

“With breast cancer so common in the UK, prevention is key if we want to see a decrease in the number of women developing the disease.”

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The risk of breast cancer could be cut with diet

So should I change the way I eat?

We know that around 40% of all cancers are linked to lifestyle, with breast cancer risks heightened by excess weight, poor diet, alcohol and smoking.

Dr Emma Pennery, clinical director of charity Breast Cancer Care, says the research is “intriguing” and “adds to evidence that a healthy diet, full of ‘good’ low-saturated fats, plays a part in lowering risk of the disease.”

But she also points out: “It’s important to remember that lifestyle choices like eating a well-balanced diet may help reduce the risk of cancer, but they don’t guarantee prevention.”

Pennery also stresses it’s still crucial for women to know the signs and symptoms of breast cancer, and to contact their GP immediately if they’re worried.

Guarantees aside, this study does come on the back of a raft of other research over the last 10 years which suggests a Med-style diet is the healthiest way to eat.

Numerous studies have found benefits include a lower risk of diabetes and bone-thinning disease osteoporosis, some protection from Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease, fewer heart attacks and strokes, a slimmer waistline, a greater life expectancy – and even fewer wrinkles.

Nutritonist Linda Foster says: “While no diet has been proven to offer 100% protection against breast cancer – or any other serious disease – you have nothing to lose and much to gain by adopting this way of eating.”

Why the Mediterranean diet beats its English counterpart hands down when it comes to cancer protection – and how you can follow suit…

Why the Mediterranean diet beats its English counterpart hands down when it comes to cancer protection – and how you can follow suit…


Med diet: Olive oil, avocados, less red meat

English diet: Butter, high amounts of red meat, sausages and bacon

Why Med wins: Studies have linked a lower intake of saturated fats (those found in animal fats such as butter and red meat) to a higher risk of breast cancer. Use olive oil to cook, add avocados to salads and swap red meat for fish twice a week.

Fruit and Veg

Med diet: 7-10 portions per day

English diet: Only a fifth of us in the UK manage to eat our recommended five portions of fruit and veg a day

Why Med wins: Some studies have found women who eat more fruit and veg have a lower risk of developing breast cancer. This may be because of the amount of fibre and antioxidants that they contain, says Cancer Research UK.

Oily fish

Med diet: Salmon, mackerel and sardines eaten frequently

English diet: Average UK adult eats oily fish once a month or less

Why Med wins: According to Cancer Research UK , people who eat a lot of foods containing omega-3 fish oils seem to have a lower breast cancer risk than people who only eat small amounts.

Processed foods

Med diet: Traditionally meals are cooked from scratch

English diet: Sandwiches, followed by ready meals are the two most frequently consumed ‘meals’, according to 2014 research.

Why Med wins: A diet high in processed foods tends to be higher in fat and sugar but lower in vitamins, increasing the risk of obesity and many cancers.


Med diet: Wholegrain breads and rice

English diet: White bread and rice, cakes and biscuits

Why Med wins: There’s no strong evidence of a direct link between sugars, carbohydrates and breast cancer, according to Cancer Research UK.

But a large 2009 study of Chinese women in the US reported that a high carbohydrate diet slightly increased the risk of developing breast cancer in women younger than 50. Too much sugar can make you put on weight, which is linked to a higher risk.


Med diet: Beans, chickpeas and lentils are everyday foods

English diet: We eat fewer pulses, and beans tend to be of the baked variety

Why Med wins: Pulses are a rich source of soluble fibre. Cancer Research UK says there’s some evidence that diets containing more than 25g of fibre per day reduce the risk of breast cancer in pre-menopausal women. Add cans of pulses to stews, soups and salads for a healthy addition which is cheap and filling. It will also mean you can use less meat.


Med diet: Unsalted nuts 4-5 times per week

English diet: Crisp consumption is higher, with few people reaching the suggested healthy nut intake of 40g per day

Why Med wins: Nuts such as almonds or brazil nuts are full of heart-healthy fats and vital minerals. Some, albeit small, studies have linked higher intakes to a possible lower breast cancer risk. Just keep a bag handy to nibble as a nutritious snack – it will stop you reaching for crisps or chocolate.

Red wine

Med diet: Moderation is the key – two or three small glasses per week

English diet: A quarter of UK adults drink over the recommended 14 units of alcohol per week

Why Med wins: Recent studies have found a link between alcohol consumption and a higher risk of breast cancer. Compared to women who don’t drink at all, women who have three alcoholic drinks per week have a 15% higher risk of breast cancer.

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