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The Mediterranean Diet And Breast Cancer

Does Diet Really Make A Difference?

What is the best diet for breast cancer survivors?  So many of my patients come to me with this question.  Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could just find a plan, stick to it, and magically feel amazing, be at our perfect weight, and know we are “immune” from ever having to worry about recurrence? 


What a miracle that would be! But we all know that as individual people, what we eat is all wrapped up with genetics, our upbringing, our habits, and our cravings.  So a one-size-fits-all perfect plan is not realistic, and it also isn’t the only factor that goes into our health!  Stress, genetics, environmental factors, and other habits also play a role. However, we do know that while there is no magical “unicorn” diet, what we eat plays an important role in improving health and decreasing the risk of recurrence–so let’s look a little closer at what the data says!


How A Mediterranean Diet Helps Breast Cancer Recovery.

As a survivor and Naturopathic endocrinologist, I have scoured the studies that have been done on every type of diet I can find–Atkins, paleo, keto, intermittent fasting, low carb, high protein, vegan, high fiber–and this is what I have found: The diet plan most associated with decreased risk of recurrence and lowest mortality from any cause is a Mediterranean diet.  For breast cancer survivors, the Mediterranean diet plus added olive oil is even better. 

Mediterranean Diet For Breast Cancer

The Magic Of The Mediterranean Diet For Breast Cancer:

The Mediterranean diet isn't just a list of foods; it's a sustainable, flavorful approach to eating that enriches your body and soul. Rich in vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and healthy fats, particularly olive oil, this diet has been proven to offer protective benefits against chronic diseases—including a notable decrease in breast cancer recurrence rates. 


The largest scale study on the Mediterranean diet is called the "European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition (EPIC) study". In it, a total of 13,270 incident breast cancer cases were identified from an initial sample of 318,686 women in 9 countries from the European Union.  They found that among all breast cancer survivors, low compared to medium adherence to the Mediterranean diet  was associated with a 13% higher risk of all-cause mortality.  


Something even more fascinating to me is that high compared to medium adherence to the diet showed a non-statistically significant association with decreased mortality.  This means that even partial incorporation of the Mediterranean diet provides a much greater amount of protection than no change at all. 


While being super strict on the Mediterranean diet gives some added benefit beyond “mostly” sticking to it, it actually isn’t that much extra–so just do your best and try to make good choices most of the time!


History of the Mediterranean Diet

Originating from countries surrounding the Mediterranean Sea, this diet has roots in the eating habits of regions like Southern Italy and Greece. Fresh, seasonal, local produce are the centerpiece, well adorned with delicious herbs and oils. 


Nutritionally, the Mediterranean Diet is praised for being both delicious and nutritious.  Its balance of monounsaturated fats from olive oil and its high fiber content from fruits and vegetables has been connected to a reduced risk of breast cancer and other cancers, cardiovascular diseases, and type 2 diabetes. The diet not only helps in preventing chronic diseases but also aids in maintaining a healthy weight and supporting longevity. And seriously…who doesn’t like hummus?


Olive Oil Is Good For Breast Cancer Recovery?

Extra virgin olive oil, a cornerstone of the Mediterranean diet, is rich in antioxidants and anti-inflammatory compounds. These properties make it particularly effective not just in general health maintenance but in actively preventing breast cancer recurrence. Adding more olive oil to your diet isn't just about enhancing flavor—it's about fortifying your body's defenses on the breast cancer recovery journey. .


But wait…isn’t olive oil a high calorie fat? Well, yes - and this is a consideration especially for women monitoring their calorie intake for weight management(especially common during Chemo…see blog.) Generally speaking, the benefits of olive oil outweigh the calorie concerns, especially when used in moderation and with intention. Olive oil is rich in monounsaturated fats, which are beneficial for heart health and help reduce bad cholesterol. The antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties are great for overall health. Replacing less healthy cooking fats with olive oil is a wise way to maintain overall caloric balance and integrate breast cancer specific health benefits when in the recovery process. 


Try putting a good olive oil and a bit of lemon juice on your cooked vegetables or salads. It freshens up the flavors and gives your body the healthy fats it needs to help make hormones, build new cells, and keep inflammation down.. 


Unsung Heroes Of Nutritional Health: Omega-3 Fatty Acids:

Omega-3 fatty acids found in fish, flaxseeds, and walnuts are vital. When you’re sea-side, eating fish is easy. Here in Golden Colorado, fresh fish is much harder to come by. So, I focus on enriching my diet with good grains and nuts. If possible, I try to eat 1 or 2 servings of these healthy, fatty foods every day.  And realistically, for most of my patients I recommend supplementing some Omega-3 fats. If you’re wondering whether you should use supplements to support your breast cancer recovery, then check out this blog to get more information!


These foods are not only essential for overall health but have specific roles in reducing inflammation and potentially decreasing the risk of cancer recurrence. Integrating these nutrients into your daily diet can really help your healing trajectory after breast cancer.


Dietary Strategies During and Post-Treatment:

It's important to note that nutritional needs can vary significantly during different phases of cancer treatment:


During Chemotherapy: 

Before, during, and after chemotherapy treatments, our focus is mostly on managing side effects and maintaining energy and nutrient intake.  I provide greater detail on these priorities in this blog about eating during chemotherapy and my comprehensive online course about recovering from chemotherapy.


Post-Surgery and Recovery:

The principles of the Mediterranean diet apply after undergoing a lumpectomy or mastectomy, but with added nuances to support healing and rebuilding muscular systems. This information is extensively explored in my online course about healing after breast cancer surgery


Recipes and Practical Tips:

To bring this diet to life, I offer a variety of recipes and detailed diet plans in my courses. These resources are designed not just to inform but to provide practical, everyday solutions that you can start implementing right away. From simple salads enriched with olive oil and nuts to heart-healthy fish dishes, these recipes are tailored to nourish and delight you and your family.


Conclusion:

Embracing the Mediterranean Diet is more than a dietary change; it's a commitment to enhancing your quality of life during and after breast cancer treatment. If you're looking for more guidance, I and The Thriving survivors invite you to check out our online community. In it, you’ll be able to participate in discussions about  best dietary and nutritional practices with ladies like myself who have beaten breast cancer and are now here to help you. 


For an even more in-depth approach, including personalized meal plans and support services, consider a 1-1 care plan. Together, we can chart a path toward recovery and resilience, ensuring you're not just surviving but thriving. The next step toward a healthier, more vibrant future is within reach! 


Wishing you well, Dr. Kaycie

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