Mediterranean Diet and cancer risk: an open issue

Int J Food Sci Nutr. 2016 Sep;67(6):593-605. doi: 10.1080/09637486.2016.1191444. Epub 2016 Jun 2.


The traditional Mediterranean Diet of the early 1960s meets the characteristics of an anticancer diet defined by the World Cancer Research Fund/American Institute for Cancer Research (WCRF/AIRC). A diet rich of whole grains, pulses, vegetables and fruits, limited in high-calorie foods (foods high in sugar or fat), red meat and foods high in salt, without sugary drinks and processed meat is recommended by the WCRF/AIRC experts to reduce the risk of cancer. The aim of this review was to examine whether Mediterranean Diet is protective or not against cancer risk. Three meta-analyses of cohort studies reported that a high adherence to the Mediterranean Diet significantly reduces the risk of cancer incidence and/or mortality. Nevertheless, the Mediterranean dietary pattern defined in the studies' part of the meta-analyses has qualitative and/or quantitative differences compared to the Mediterranean Diet of the early 1960s. Therefore, the protective role of the Mediterranean Diet against cancer has not definitely been established. In epidemiological studies, a universal definition of the Mediterranean Diet, possibly the traditional Mediterranean Diet of the early 1960s, could be useful to understand the role of this dietary pattern in cancer prevention.

Keywords: Cancer; Mediterranean Diet; prevention.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Diet, Healthy
  • Diet, Mediterranean*
  • Humans
  • Meta-Analysis as Topic
  • Neoplasms / prevention & control*
  • Patient Compliance
  • Risk Factors