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Health Benefits of a Mediterranean Diet

What diet has the most scientific evidence showing its benefit in preventing cancer, heart disease, and diabetes? The Mediterranean Diet and this article will discuss foods you can start eating…

Mediterranean diet food list

Mediterranean Diet food list.



We have heard the dire news, 1 in 2 American men and 1 in 3 women will be diagnosed with cancer in their lifetime. In the United Kingdom, the risk of cancer is the same. However, some regions in the world have low cancer risk, and it appears to be due to the Mediterranean diet.

This plant-based diet not only lowers the risk of cancer but it also lowers the risk of heart disease (quote):

The term MedD [Mediterranean Diet] was coined by Keyes and coworkers after observing significantly lower rates of coronary artery disease [high blood pressure, blocked arteries] in countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea (Cyprus, Greece, and Italy) as compared to The Netherlands, USA, and Finland.”[1]

What foods are included in the Mediterranean Diet? And what foods have been scientifically shown to reduce the risk of cancer and symptoms of cardiovascular disease? Read on for more information.


The countries near and around the Mediterranean Sea are different! They take naps for one (I have no complaints about that), have rigorous physical activity, and have active social lives. One can find all these lifestyle traits on the island of Ikaria, Greece. The island sits in the Aegean sea, which is close to the Mediterranean. There is a 20% lower risk of cancer and a 50% lower incidence of heart disease on the island compared to the U.S.

What do these and others following the Mediterranean diet eat to see this lower disease risk? Fruits, vegetables, monounsaturated fats, and little meat.


In a recent study that included American women from Michigan, researchers swapped their S.A.D. (Standard American Diet) foods for Mediterranean foods. The women doubled the amount of fruit and vegetable intake (from 4 to over eight servings a day).

Here is an essential list of Mediterranean Diet foods, which were all on their list of swapped foods [2]:

  • One or more servings a day of leafy green vegetables (e.g., spinach, kale) (learn more about how these foods prevent breast cancer here: breast cancer prevention foods)
  • Inclusion of garlic, onion, or leeks every day
  • One tablespoon a day of green herbs (e.g., basil, cilantro, parsley)
  • One or more servings a day of red vegetables (e.g., tomatoes)
  • One or more servings a day of yellow or orange vegetables (e.g., sweet bell peppers, squash)
  • One or more servings a day of vitamin C-rich fruits (e.g., mangos, oranges)
  • One or more servings a day of other fruits and vegetables (e.g., artichokes, grapes)
  • 8 – 10 servings a day of monounsaturated fats (e.g., nuts, seeds, olive oil)


Cancer is the dreaded “C” word we all do not want to hear, yet we keep hearing it! There seems to be no escaping news of a family, friend, or associate being diagnosed with this disease. Does it have to be this way?

Researchers looked at the incidence of cancer rates in those that ate a Mediterranean diet across 83 published studies on this topic. These studies included over 2.1 million people. The results showed that the Mediterranean diet significantly lowered the risk of cancer death by 14% [1].

Here are the risks and incidences for specific cancers: 

  1. 18% lower risk of colon cancer
  2. 57% lower risk of breast cancer
  3. 6% lower incidence of breast cancer
  4. 4% lower incidence of prostate cancer


If your goal is to prevent heart disease, focus on holistic changes rather than individualistic ones. Studies have shown that those who are NOT Mediterranean prevent cardiovascular disease on this diet.

Even those diagnosed with heart disease, such as a group of French men with a prior heart attack (myocardial infarction) who switched to a Mediterranean diet, have a 50% lower risk of a recurrent cardiovascular event [3].


The following is a list of Mediterranean Diet foods and the scientific support for their benefit in reducing heart disease:

  • Hibiscus Tea lowers blood pressure: In Nigerians with high blood pressure (mild to moderate), hibiscus lowered blood pressure better than generic medication (Niger J Clin Pract. 2015;18:762)
  • Cranberries lower blood pressure and glucose: Drinking 480 milliliters of cranberry juice (non-sweetened) every day for 8 weeks lowered blood pressure, triglycerides, C-reactive protein, and blood glucose (J Nutr. 2015;145:1185)
  • Garlic lowers blood pressure: Many studies confirm that garlic reduces blood pressure in patients with uncontrolled hypertension (Eur J Clin Nutr. 2013;67:64) and reduces cholesterol (Vegetables, Fruits, and Herbs in Health Promotion. 2001. CRC Press)
  • Beans: Overweight women who ate chickpeas (82 grams/day), brown beans (82 grams/day), and barley (58 grams/day) for 4 weeks reduced cholesterol and blood pressure. (Br J Nutri. 2014. 111:706; https://www.ars.usda.gov/news-events/news/research-news/2007/eating-beans-helps-lower-cholesterol/)
  • Green Leafy Vegetables: These vegetables, in addition to other foods on the Mediterranean diet list lower blood pressure and reduce the risk of heart disease (BMC Medicine. 2013. 11:207)
  • Vitamin D reduces arterial stiffness: High doses of vitamin D (4,000 IU per day) decreased stiffness of the arteries in African-Americans aged 13 – 45. All study participants were overweight or obese. The amount taken was approximately 6 times higher than the 600 IU per day that is recommended by health authorities (https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0188424)

To Your Best Health!

Dee Grace, PhD


Hi! I am Dr. Dee Grace, Ph.D. Scientist and Cancer Coach. I work as a health educator and advocate for cancer patients who need better care from their doctors. I also provide an excellent cancer prevention program.

Are you diagnosed with cancer and need education on getting second opinions, avoiding healthcare discrimination, and improving your survival outcomes? Call me Or schedule a complimentary call here. And Sign up today for THE CANCER DETOX PREVENTION course if you want to learn science-based ways to prevent cancer. You’ll get 24 cancer-fighting strategies, a 60-page e-book, 4 audiobooks, and 2 personalized health coaching calls. 


  1. Schwingshackl L, Schwedhelm C, Galbete C, Hoffmann G. Adherence to Mediterranean Diet and risk of cancer: an updated systemic review and meta-analysis. Nutrients. 2017; 9;1063.
  2. Djuric Z, et al. Design of a Mediterranean exchange list diet implemented by telephone counseling. J Acad Nut Diet. 2008;108:205902065
  3. Kris-Etherton  P, et al. Nutrition Committee Population Science Committee and Clinical Science Committee of the American Heart Association.  AHA Science Advisory: Lyon Diet Heart Study: benefits of a Mediterranean-style, National Cholesterol Education Program/American Heart Association Step I Dietary Pattern on Cardiovascular Disease.  Circulation. 2001;103(13):1823-1825

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