You’ve heard it from your doctor, from various celebrities, and on the news: the Mediterranean diet is the way to go for a healthy heart. The thousand-year-old eating plan consists of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, lean protein sources such as fish and poultry, and healthy fats such as olive oil. Red meat consumption is reduced to once a week, while sugar is ideally eliminated completely. While the cardiovascular health benefits are obvious, evidence of its other protective potential, from fending off memory loss to reducing the risk of Parkinson’s, is rapidly emerging as well.
The latest evidence comes from a new study examining the effects of the Mediterranean diet on women’s health. The study, which appears today in JAMA: Journal of the American Medical Association, demonstrates that eating a Mediterranean diet supplemented with four tablespoons per day of extra-virgin olive oil reduces the risk of breast cancer. The study was led by Miguel Martinez Gonzalez, top researcher on the health effects of the Mediterranean diet at the University of Navarra in Spain.
In this study, Martinez assigned 4,000 women between the ages of 60 and 80 to follow either the Mediterranean diet with added olive oil or a low-fat diet. At the five year-follow up, he found that the women following the Mediterranean diet had a 68 percent lower chance of developing breast cancer compared to those on the low-fat diet. According to researchers, protective micronutrients within olive oil called polyphenols likely contribute to the decreased risk of breast cancer. Polyphenols are gaining traction as a potentially beneficial compound in the prevention of a wide spectrum of degenerative diseases. Other foods containing high levels of polyphenols include cloves, star anise, cocoa powder, celery seed, flaxseed meal, and chestnut.
Though this is only a preliminary study and further research is required, JAMA editor Michael Katz expressed the potential for further findings in a separate editor’s note. Weighing in on this new discovery, Katz wrote, “We hope to see more emphasis on Mediterranean diet to reduce cancer and cardiovascular disease and improve well-being.” If you’re looking to improve your overall health and protect against disease, replace vegetable oil with olive oil in your cooking. Just be sure to purchase the freshest olive oil possible to take full advantage of its many benefits.
The accompanying slideshow is provided by fellow Daily Meal editorial staff member Lauren Gordon.