The benefits of the Mediterranean diet include everything from cutting your risk of heart disease, to giving you extra brain power. Now, a new study from Maastricht University in The Netherlands suggests it may cut cancer risk, too. The study found that women who closely followed the diet, which is rich in plants, fish, and olive oil, were 40 percent less likely to develop a type of breast cancer that's difficult to treat.
The study, now published online in the International Journal of Cancer, followed more than 62,000 women over the course of 20 years, and found that those who followed a traditional Mediterranean diet were 40 percent less likely to develop ER-negative breast cancer compared to women whose eating habits least resembled the diet, The Independent reported. According to BreastCancer.org, ER-negative breast cancer is harder to treat and often more deadly than other forms because it is not responsive to hormones, or therapies derived from them. The Mediterranean diet also had a small effect on the risk of hormone-sensitive ER-positive breast cancer, although the report described this effect as “weak and nonsignificant.”
“We found a strong link between the Mediterranean diet and reduced oestrogen-receptor negative breast cancer risk among postmenopausal women, even in a non-Mediterranean population,” lead study author, Piet van den Brandt, told The Independent. “Our research can help to shine a light on how dietary patterns can affect our cancer risk.”
According to EatingWell, a Mediterranean diet is full of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, and olive oil. In addition, this type of diet tends to favor fish and poultry over red meat choices that tend to be higher in saturated fat. Easy ways to incorporate a “Mediterranean diet” into your Western lifestyle include switching out butter for healthy olive oil as often as possible, choosing fish and lean meat proteins over red meat, and trying to add a vegetable to every meal, Eating Well reports.
In addition to this new report, the Mediterranean diet has been previously linked to heart health. According to a 2016 study, this diet may even protect patients living with heart disease from experiencing a heart attack. Over the course of four years, researchers noted that study participants who ate more foods classified as part of the Mediterranean diet were 3.5 times less likely to experience a heart attack or stroke, than study participants than adhered to a classic Western diet.
Source: van den Brandt PA, Schulpen M.Mediterranean diet adherence and risk of postmenopausal breast cancer: results of a cohort study and meta-analysis. International Journal of Cancer. 2017