Mediterranean Diet

Also known by these names

  • Omega diet
  • Whole foods diet

Key Points

  • The Mediterranean diet, traditionally consumed in the areas around the Mediterranean Sea, focuses on fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes and olive oil.
  • BCCT’s interest is based on several meta-analyses finding that following the Mediterranean diet reduces incidence of or mortality from cancer.
  • In one analysis, the strongest adherence to a Mediterranean diet was inversely associated with reductions of incidence of colorectal, breast, gastric, liver, head and neck, gallbladder, and biliary tract cancers.
  • No evidence suggests that a Mediterranean Diet, or any other diet with anticancer properties, is effective as a stand-alone treatment for cancer.

A Mediterranean diet derives from the eating patterns commonly or traditionally consumed in regions that border the Mediterranean Sea. It focuses on these foods:

In abundance:

  • Fruits
  • Vegetables
  • Whole grains
  • Legumes
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Olive oil
  • Herbs and seasonings
  • Water

In moderate amounts:

  • Fish (once or twice a week)
  • Poultry
  • Eggs
  • Yogurt
  • Cheese
  • Wine
  • Salt
  • Red wine with meals

Only sparingly:

  • Meat and meat products
  • Sweets
  • Butter or margarine

The Mediterranean diet also includes generous amounts of physical activity.1

Clinical Practice Guidelines

2013 evidence-based clinical practice guidelines from the American College of Chest Physicians included these nutrition recommendations related to lung cancer:2

  • A diet rich in non-starchy vegetables and fruits, and also limiting the consumption of a large amount of red meat and processed meat is suggested to reduce the risk of lung cancer
  • High-calorie and protein supplements to achieve weight stabilization for lung cancer patients who have experienced weight loss

Reducing Risk

Reducing the risk of developing cancer or the risk of recurrence

Cancer-Fighting Kitchen Course

Join BCCT and you’ll be granted access to Commonweal’s Cancer-Fighting Kitchen course free of charge. CFK is a comprehensive course including detailed information and delicious recipes, along with culinary skills and techniques that will support a nourishing experience during treatment and recovery.

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Clinical Evidence

Adherence to the Mediterranean diet has been associated with reduced risk or mortality related to several types of cancer and cancer in general. Findings from large studies of diet and cancer:

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Mediterranean Diet and Specific Populations

An intriguing study published in 2017 found that people with higher socioeconomic status or higher income receive greater benefit from the Mediterranean diet.8

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Cautions

Almost no concerns or cautions are associated with this diet, with just a few exceptions for children and for some cancer patients:12

  • Children should drink whole milk until age two.
  • Whole nuts are not recommended for children under age four due to potential choking hazards.
  • Wine and other alcoholic beverages are not legally consumable by children.
  • Cancer patients with special nutritional needs should consult a dietician before changing diet.

Integrative Plans, Protocols and Medical Systems

For more information about plans and protocols, see our Integrative Plans and Protocols page.

Commentary

Laura Pole, RN, OCNS, February 11, 2018: Several other diets—also plant-based with many elements similar to the Mediterranean diet—are used for cancer prevention and/or for people with cancer. Some examples:  

Non-cancer Benefits of the Mediterranean Diet

The Mediterranean diet is associated with a reduction in the incidence of many chronic diseases and events.

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Written by Nancy Hepp, MS, and Laura Pole, RN, MSN, OCNS; most recent update on January 8, 2019. Note: BCCT has not conducted an independent review of research of the Mediterranean diet. This summary draws from the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center’s About Herbs, Mayo Clinic and other sources as noted.

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