What are the anti-cancer properties of the Mediterranean diet?

The Nutri Hub - Antikarkinikes idiotites tis mesogeiakis diatrofis

Cancer is one of the most important public health issues in the world. On the other hand, the prevalence of obesity has doubled since 1980 and more than 1.4 billion adults and 40 million children are overweight.

Obesity seems to have a significant effect on the risk of many types of cancer such as breast, colon, esophageal, gallbladder, gallbladder, endometrial, kidney and pancreatic cancers.

Nowadays, people tend to have more and more energy intake but at the same time reduced physical activity (ie reduced energy expenditure) while at the same time consuming foods rich in saturated and trans fatty acids. These dietary patterns may be the basic rationale for the growing incidence of cancer and the rising rates of obesity.

A specific pattern of food consumption in about 16 countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea is known as the Mediterranean Diet and has been widely studied for both its anti-cancer effects and its anti-obesity effects.

Mediterranean Dietary Factors That Reduce Cancer Risk:


In the Mediterranean diet there are many nutritional factors that may have anti-cancer properties, however polyphenols are the most distracting. Polyphenols are found in fruits such as grapes, strawberries, blackberries and citrus fruits as well as legumes, onions, wheat and whole grains, rye, olive oil, wine and tea.


Fiber increases the volume of stool and reduces the time it takes for it to pass through the large intestine. Therefore, they reduce the time that the epithelial cells of the colon are exposed to potential carcinogens. In addition, fiber reduces glycemic load and improves insulin resistance. Increasing the amount of fiber intake to 30g per day can reduce the rate of colon carcinogenesis by 30-40%.


There are more than 500 carotenoids found in all yellow, red and orange fruits and vegetables. Carotenoids appear to act protectively in both breast cancer and lung cancer.


The lycopene found in our favorite tomatoes and their juice, in addition to its antioxidant action seems to act protectively against various types of cancer, such as prostate cancer.

Folic acid

The intake of folic acid, which is found mainly in green leafy vegetables and legumes, seemed to protect against early stages of various types of cancer such as cancer of the colon, breast, prostate and upper digestive system. However, excessive intake of folic acid magnifications could have the opposite effect, causing cancer cells to grow faster (especially in prostate cancer). So the key seems to be to get the right amount of folic acid (400μg / day).

Olive oil and the fatty acids it contains

Olive oil is the main source of fat in the traditional Mediterranean diet. The phenolic alcohols, phenolic acids, lignans and flavonoids contained in olive oil appear to be the compounds recognized as very powerful antioxidants. Several studies confirm the protective effect of olive oil against breast cancer and colon cancer.                                                            

Essential fatty acids (omega-3 & omega-6)

Polyunsaturated fatty acids are divided into 2 categories: omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. Due to the inability of the body to synthesize them, they are considered necessary and should be taken through diet. Α-Linolenic acid (ALA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), and hexaenoic acid (DHA) are the three types of omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-6s include linoleic, γ-linolenic and arachidonic. The main sources of essential fatty acids are fatty fish, nuts, seafood, olive oil, spinach and other green leafy vegetables. Their anti-cancer activity appears to be found in colon, prostate and breast cancers.


-Benetou, V., Trichopoulou, A., Orfanos, P., Naska, A., Lagiou, P., Boffetta, P., Trichopoulos, D. Greek EPIC cohort. (2008) Conformity to traditional Mediterranean diet and cancer incidence: the Greek EPIC cohort. Br J Cancer 99(10): 191-195.

– Kwan, H. Y., Chao, X., Su, T., Fu, X., Tse, A. K. W., Fong, W. F., & Yu, Z. L. (2017). The anticancer and antiobesity effects of Mediterranean diet. Critical reviews in food science and nutrition57(1), 82-94.

– Bosetti, C., Gallus, S., Trichopoulou, A., Talamini, R., Franceschi, S., Negri, E., La Vecchia, C. (2003) Influence of the Mediterranean diet on the risk of cancers of the upper aerodigestive tract. Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev 12(10): 1091-1094.