Like most websites, we use cookies and other similar technologies for a number of reasons, such as keeping our website reliable and secure, personalizing content, providing social media features and to better understand how our site is used. By using our site, you are agreeing to our use of these tools. Learn More

Your Location is set to:

Published on October 26, 2015

Eat Mediterranean to help reduce the risk of breast cancerEat Mediterranean to help reduce the risk of breast cancer

Women who were asked to follow a Mediterranean diet high in extra-virgin olive oil were 68 percent less likely to develop breast cancer than those who only reduced the amount of fat in their diets.

In a recent study, 4,152 post-menopausal women who had never had breast cancer were asked to follow one of three diets. One was rich in extra-virgin oil, one was rich in nuts and the third involved reducing the amount of fat they ate.

After about five years, 35 women in the study had developed breast cancer, and women in the extra-virgin olive oil group were the least likely to have developed breast cancer. The researchers also observed a slight decrease in risk for the women in the nut group, but this was not statistically significant, according to the study published in JAMA Internal Medicine.

The Mediterranean diet contains many components that have been suggested to have anti-tumor effects, Dr. Miguel Martinez-Gonzalez, a professor of preventive medicine at the University of Navarra in Spain and co-author of the study, told Live Science. Extra-virgin olive oil in particular is rich in compounds called polyphenols, which have been shown in lab studies to have anti-cancer effects, he said.

Indeed, the study found that the greater the percentage of calories that came from extra-virgin olive oil in the women’s diets, the lower their risk of developing breast cancer, Martinez-Gonzalez said. For every additional 5 percent of calories from extra-virgin olive oil, the risk was reduced [by] 28 percent, he said.

“A Mediterranean-type diet is a healthy approach for everyone – not only women – because it focuses on lean protein sources, whole grains, fresh fruits and vegetables and beans and nuts,” said Courtney Shea, RD, dietician and clinical nutrition manager at Cape Cod Healthcare.

“It does not include highly processed, highly sweetened foods which are known to contribute to obesity and other chronic diseases,” she added.

“Although the studies cited above need further research, I think the overarching message that focusing on a Mediterranean type diet is a good approach to living a healthy lifestyle is a great one for everyone to hear,” she emphasized.

The Spanish researches did acknowledge that they are not certain if the lower risk of breast cancer may be due to the extra-virgin olive oil on its own, or if it was the effect of oil working in combination with the rest of the diet, he said.

A strength of the new study is that unlike previous ones in which women were asked to report what foods they ate, women in the new study were randomized to a specific diet, which eliminates certain factors that can influence the results, Dr. Mitchell Katz, a deputy editor of JAMA and the author of an editorial about the study, told Live Science.

Want to give the Mediterranean diet a try? Check out two delicious recipes below, and be sure to share some of your favorite meals:

Pesto Chicken Salad Pitas Recipe

This Mediterranean spin on chicken salad is bursting with fresh flavor thanks to the addition of pesto. Use chopped rotisserie chicken for a time-saving substitute, if desired, to mix up an anything-but-boring lunch in no time!


¼ cup low-fat mayonnaise
3 tablespoons prepared pesto
1 tablespoon lemon juice
⅛ teaspoon pepper
2 cups chopped, cooked chicken
½ cup grated carrot (about 1 medium carrot)
4 mini whole wheat pita rounds, split
1 cup baby spinach leaves


  • Combine mayonnaise, pesto, lemon juice and pepper in a medium bowl; whisk until well blended.
  • Add chicken and carrots; stir to combine.
  • Stuff each pita evenly with spinach leaves and chicken salad mixture.

*Consider omitting the mayonnaise to decrease the fat content even more.  With the pesto included, the mayonnaise may not even be necessary

Nutrition Information

Serving size: 1 stuffed pita
Serves 4

Calories: 297; Total Fat: 11.9g; Saturated Fat: 2g; Cholesterol: 65mg; Sodium: 415mg; Total Carbohydrate: 19.2g; Dietary Fiber: 2.7g; Protein: 25.6g.

Roasted Carrot and Farro Salad with Yogurt Dressing Recipe

Farro is an ancient whole grain, popular in Mediterranean and Middle Eastern cuisine, with a nutty flavor and satisfyingly chewy texture. Combined with roasted carrots and a lemony yogurt dressing, farro is an ideal base for this hearty vegetarian salad.


2 pounds of carrots, peeled and cut into 1-inch pieces
¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1½ teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon salt, divided
¾ teaspoon pepper, divided
1 cup uncooked farro
½ cup reduced-fat plain Greek yogurt
1½ teaspoons grated lemon rind
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 clove garlic, minced
2 cups fresh baby arugula
¼ cup chopped walnuts, toasted


  • Preheat oven to 400°F.
  • Combine carrots, 2 tablespoons olive oil, cumin, ¾ teaspoon salt and ½ teaspoon pepper on a large rimmed baking sheet; toss to coat. Spread carrots in a single layer.
  • Bake 25 to 30 minutes or until tender, stirring after 10 minutes.
  • Cook farro according to package directions.
  • Whisk together yogurt, remaining ¼ cup olive oil, lemon rind, lemon juice, garlic and remaining ¼ teaspoon each salt and pepper.
  • Combine farro, carrots and baby arugula in a large bowl; drizzle with yogurt mixture, tossing to coat. Sprinkle with walnuts.

*Consider using Fat- Free plain Greek yogurt to reduce the fat content even more.

Nutrition Information

Serving Size: 1 cup
Serves 7
Calories: 291; Total Fat: 16g; Saturated Fat: 2g; Cholesterol: 1mg; Sodium: 420mg; Carbohydrate: 33g; Dietary Fiber 7g; Protein: 7g