It is believed to protect against heart disease, Alzheimer’s and depression and is hailed as the secret to a long, healthy life.
Now, researchers have found a Mediterranean diet can help breast cancer at bay.
A new study found eating the diet supplemented with extra virgin olive oil was associated with a ‘relatively lower’ risk of breast cancer.
Spanish women who followed the diet reduced their risk of the disease by 68 per cent, compared to women told to follow a low-fat diet.
The Mediterranean consists of plant-based foods such as vegetables, legumes, fruit, nuts, seeds and olives, lots of extra virgin olive oil, fish, and moderate red wine intake.
It also involves a low consumption of processed food, processed carbohydrates, sweets, chocolate and red meat.
The researchers recruited 4,282 women, aged 60 to 80 who were at a high risk of developing a cardiovascular disease including heart disease or a stroke.
They were randomly assigned to the Mediterranean diet supplemented with extra virgin olive oil, the Mediterranean diet supplemented with nuts, or the control diet in which they were advised to reduce their intake of fat.
Those following the Mediterranean diet were given one litre per week of their extra virgin olive oil for themselves and their families or 30 grams of mixed nuts, made up of 15 grams of walnuts, 7.5 grams of hazelnuts and 7.5 grams of almonds.
The researchers found that women eating a Mediterranean diet supplemented with extra virgin olive oil showed a 68 per cent relatively lower risk of malignant breast cancer than those allocated to the low-fat diet.
Women eating a Mediterranean diet supplemented with nuts showed a reduction in their risk that was not significant compared with women in the group told to reduce their fat intake.
The researchers noted a number of limitations in their study, including that breast cancer was not the only disease suffered by the women recruited for the study.
They said the study cannot establish whether the beneficial effect they observed could be attributed mainly to olive oil or its consumption within the context of the Mediterranean diet.
But lead author Dr Miguel Martinez-Gonzalez, of the University of Navarra, Spain, added: ‘The results suggest a beneficial effect of a Mediterranean diet supplemented with extra virgin olive oil in the primary prevention of breast cancer.
‘Preventative strategies represent the most sensible approach against cancer.’
The intervention studied in the trial – following a Mediterranean diet with olive oil – provides a ‘useful scenario’ for preventing breast cancer because it can be carried out in primary health care centres and offers a range of beneficial effects on different health outcomes, he continued.
He added: ‘Nevertheless, these results need confirmation by long-term studies with a higher number of incident cases.’
Dr Mitchell Katz, a deputy editor of JAMA Internal Medicine, where the study was published, said of the findings: ‘Of course, no study is perfect.
‘This one has a small number of outcomes – only 35 incident cases of breast cancer, the women were not all screened for breast cancer with mammography, they were not blinded to the type of diet they were receiving, and all were white, postmenopausal and at high risk for cardiovascular disease.
‘Still, consumption of a Mediterranean diet, which is based on plant foods, fish and extra virgin olive oil, is known to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease and is safe.
‘It may also prevent breast cancer.
‘We hope to see more emphasis on Mediterranean diet to reduce cancer and cardiovascular disease and improve health and well-being.’
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