Diet and cancer in Mediterranean countries: carbohydrates and fats

Public Health Nutr. 2009 Sep;12(9A):1595-600. doi: 10.1017/S1368980009990425.


Objective: Several aspects of the diet characteristic of the Mediterranean countries are considered favourable not only on cardiovascular disease, but also on cancer risk. We considered some aspects of the Mediterranean diet (including, in particular, the consumption of olive oil and carbohydrates) on cancer risk.

Design, setting and subjects: Data were derived from a series of case-control studies, conducted in Italy since the early 1990s, on over 10,000 cases of thirteen cancer sites and over 17,000 controls.

Results: Olive oil, and other mono- and unsaturated fats, appear to be favourable indicators of breast, ovarian, colorectal, but mostly of upper aero-digestive tract cancers. Whole grain foods are also related to reduced risk of upper aero-digestive tract and various other cancers. In contrast, refined grain intake and, consequently, glycaemic index and glycaemic load were associated to increased risk for several cancer sites. Fish, and hence a diet rich in n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids, tended to be another favourable diet indicator, while frequent red meat intake was directly related to some common neoplasms. An a priori defined Mediterranean diet score was inversely related to upper digestive and respiratory tract cancers.

Conclusions: These data provide additional evidence that major characteristics of the Mediterranean diet favourably affect cancer risk.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Case-Control Studies
  • Confidence Intervals
  • Diet, Mediterranean*
  • Dietary Carbohydrates / administration & dosage*
  • Dietary Fats / administration & dosage
  • Dietary Fats, Unsaturated / administration & dosage*
  • Dietary Fiber / administration & dosage
  • Feeding Behavior
  • Glycemic Index
  • Humans
  • Multicenter Studies as Topic
  • Neoplasms / epidemiology*
  • Obesity / epidemiology
  • Obesity / prevention & control
  • Odds Ratio
  • Olive Oil
  • Plant Oils
  • Risk Factors
  • Surveys and Questionnaires


  • Dietary Carbohydrates
  • Dietary Fats
  • Dietary Fats, Unsaturated
  • Dietary Fiber
  • Olive Oil
  • Plant Oils