Avoid cancer by eating a Mediterranean diet

The Mediterranean diet is back in the news again and for all the right reasons.

Scientists conducting a study of 26,000 Greek people say a Mediterranean diet 'cuts cancer' and by just adopting a few elements of the diet people can reduce the risk of cancer by 12% - just using more olive oil cuts the risk by 9%.

A Mediterranean diet is rich in fruit, vegetables and cereals and contains less red meat and saturated fat.

The diet came under scrutiny when the researchers observed lower rates of illnesses such as heart disease in countries such as Spain and Greece where people ate more vegetables and fish, less red meat, cooked in olive oil and drank moderate amounts of alcohol.

This latest study from scientists at Harvard University is one of the largest to date which examines the potential impact on cancer of the various parts of this diet.

The research is part of the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer which is looked at dietary habits and other biological and lifestyle characteristics of more than half a million people across Europe, over an eight-year-period, before they were diagnosed with cancer or other chronic illnesses.

The study monitored the prevalence of all types of cancer from stomach and bowel to liver, cervix and brain tumours in both men and women, and took into account other risk factors, such as smoking and lifestyle.

Food from nine food groups were measured - monosaturated and saturated fats, fruits, vegetables, legumes such as peas and lentils, cereals such as wholegrain bread and pasta, meat, dairy food, fish and alcohol.

The researchers found that people who followed more closely a traditional Mediterranean diet had a lower incidence of cancer.

The researchers found that the biggest effect seen was a 9% reduction in risk achieved simply by eating more "unsaturated" fats such as olive oil.

But by just eating less red meat, and more peas, beans and lentils, the risk of cancer was reduced by 12%.

Dr. Dimitrios Trichopoulos, who led the study, says of the 26,000 people studied, those who closely followed a traditional Mediterranean diet were less likely to develop cancer and adjusting the overall dietary habits towards the traditional Mediterranean pattern has an important effect.

Experts say the research highlights the importance of a healthy balanced diet and shows that there are a number of things a person can do to reduce their risk of developing diseases.

Cancer experts say the best advice for people to avoid getting cancer is not to smoke, to take regular exercise and eat a balanced diet rich in fruit and vegetables and low in red meat, salt and saturated fats and to maintain a healthy weight.

The study is published in the Journal of Cancer.

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