07 Mar 2017 --- The Mediterranean diet may help reduce the risk of a type of post-menopausal breast cancer by 40%, according to a major new study funded by World Cancer Research Fund.
The Mediterranean Diet pattern includes a high intake of plant-based proteins, such as nuts, lentils and beans, whole-grains, fish and monounsaturated fats - also known as ‘good fats’, such as olive oil. A low intake of refined grains such as white bread or white rice, red meat and sweets is also associated with the diet.
The large study, published in the International Journal of Cancer, looked at over 62,000 women over 20 years, and assessed how closely they followed the Mediterranean diet and how this affected their risk of breast cancer.
The study found that those who adhered more closely to the Mediterranean diet had a 40% reduced risk of breast cancer, in particular the estrogen-receptor negative subtype, which usually has a worse outcome than other types of breast cancer.
Professor Piet van den Brandt, lead researcher on this study at Maastricht University said: “Our research can help to shine a light on how dietary patterns can affect our cancer risk.”
“We found a strong link between the Mediterranean Diet and reduced estrogen-receptor negative breast cancer risk among postmenopausal women, even in a non-Mediterranean population. This type of breast cancer usually has a worse prognosis than other types of breast cancer.”
Dr Panagiota Mitrou, Director of Research Funding at World Cancer Research Fund, added: “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.”
“With breast cancer being so common in the UK, prevention is key if we want to see a decrease in the number of women developing the disease.”
She added: “We would welcome further research that helps us better understand the risk factors for the different breast cancer subtypes.”
Rick Miller, Clinical & Sports Dietitian, and Spokesperson for the British Dietetic Association commented on the study, and told NutritionInsight that, “Nutrition science, much like the rest of medicine is an evolving field.”
He explains, “As we gather more research, consumers should be mindful that these sorts of studies help to support the bigger picture of what sorts of foods we should be consuming for better health.”
“However, they shouldn’t be instantly clearing out the cupboards and jumping on every study’s findings! Overall, there will be useful takeout messages and dietary improvements that consumers can implement into their lives.”
This is not the first study to praise the benefits of the Mediterranean diet, with many recent studies associating the improvement of chronic diseases such as obesity and diabetes with the diet.
Just last month, Montserrat Fitó, M.D., Ph.D., and coordinator of the Cardiovascular Risk and Nutrition Research Group at the Hospital del Mar Medical Research Institute in Barcelona and at the Ciber of Physipathology of Obesity and Nutrition (CIBEROBN), Spain, spoke to NutritionInsight about her recent study suggesting virgin olive oil can boost ‘good’ cholesterol as part of a Mediterranean diet.
“Following a Mediterranean diet rich in virgin olive oil could protect our cardiovascular health in several ways, including making our ‘good cholesterol’ work in a more complete way,” she said.
“In our case, our conclusions are particularly addressed to people with high cardiovascular risk (e.g., with diabetes, high cholesterol levels, hypertension, obesity, etc.), but its benefits may be extended to other population as well.”
The widespread approval of the diet may also present the nutrition industry with an opportunity to hone in on the health message associated with the “Mediterranean diet” that consumers are becoming more and more familiar with.
Growth associated with the term is certainly on the cards. According to Innova Market Insights, food product launches in the organic sector listing “Mediterranean Diet” as a product description or claim feature rose 1.5% from 2015 to 2016.
Miller says that there is more room to promote the Mediterranean diet to consumers, adding that the dietary pattern has many clear benefits for the major health concerns that face our society today.
“The evidence to date suggests that this dietary pattern, has benefits for the cardiovascular (heart) and cognitive (brain) health and it would be wise to implement some of these dietary habits into our normal dietary pattern where feasible and acceptable.”
“Many nutrition professionals are acutely aware of how beneficial this dietary pattern can be for consumers; and those who face difficulty implementing the advice into their normal diet can be assured that registered nutrition professionals will be able to do so confidently,” he said.
by Hannah Gardiner
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