A Lifestyle for Less Risk: The Mediterranean Diet and Cancer
January 02, 2018
By Jenni Wolf, ISU Dietetic Intern, written for the Community Cancer Center
In a world full of new fad diets, supplements, and cooking techniques it can be hard to understand how and what to eat to support a healthy lifestyle and to reduce the risk of cancer.
According to the American Institute for Cancer Research, “maintaining a healthy weight is one of the most important things you can do to reduce your risk of cancer.” In fact, it is believed that up to one-third of the most common cancer diagnoses can be prevented with the adoption of a healthy lifestyle. This means staying physically active, eating a healthy diet, and reducing excess body fat.
One approach to a healthy lifestyle is from the Mediterranean viewpoint. The Mediterranean diet has been around for centuries and focuses not only on food, but also on social, environmental, and cultural practices.
The core Mediterranean principles are represented on the Mediterranean Diet Pyramid. The widest portion of the pyramid depicts the foods to eat most frequently or every day. At each meal aim to fill the majority of your plate — at least two-thirds — with colorful foods like fruits, vegetables, and whole-grains. The focus on plant-based foods like these is thought to be responsible for the many health-protective benefits, such as maintenance of a healthy weight and reduced cancer risk, that are seen in individuals who follow this lifestyle pattern. On the other hand, the top portion of the pyramid includes foods that should be eaten more moderately such as red meat, processed meat, alcohol, and sweets. These foods have been linked to obesity and an increased risk for some cancers.
As you will note, all foods are included in the Mediterranean lifestyle, and the emphasis is placed more on the variety, frequency, and quantity of food, rather than the type of food. Serving sizes are small, mealtime is mindful, traditional cooking practices are valued, and local and seasonal foods are enjoyed. This focus helps to promote a healthy body weight and to guide lifestyle habits and choices in a manner that is both sustainable and enjoyable.
Diet is not the only focus of the Mediterranean lifestyle, however. Outside of the pyramid you will notice other lifestyle factors like regular, daily physical activity and adequate rest. These things, in tandem, can help to manage weight and energy levels, contributing to a healthier lifestyle and reduced cancer risk. The ideas of social interaction and environmental influence are two other important lifestyle aspects included on the Mediterranean pyramid. Spending time and sharing interactions with others and the environment around you, can help to create a sense of belonging and community, offering the needed support to manage and maintain lifestyle changes.
It is important to remember that everybody is different and that individuals may have unique needs and may need to make changes to these guidelines. However, the Mediterranean pyramid can be a useful tool for most to help guide lifestyle choices to support healthy habits and maintain a healthy weight, and to ultimately, reduce the risk of cancer.
The Community Cancer Center offers a variety of supportive and educational groups and programs, free of charge, to help patients and families cope with cancer and its effect. For more information go to their website at www.cancercenter.org.
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