Once you’re through treatment and feeling more human again you might be thinking about the best ways to stay healthy and avoid a recurrence. In order to stay healthy you need a well-functioning immune system which depends on a variety of factors, one of those being healthy diet. So what is the best diet to prevent cancer from happening in the first place or to prevent it from coming back? Many major studies have asked this very question and there is solid evidence to argue that the mediterranean diet is the best eating pattern when it comes to preventing cancer and recurrence. The impact of the mediterranean diet (MD) on cancer prevention is likely related to its ability to reverse metabolic syndrome, reduce inflammation, help maintain a healthy bodyweight, minimize free radical damage via high intake of antioxidants, and lower risks of cardiovascular inflammation (1).
The MD is a pattern of eating found in the countries surrounding the mediterranean sea. In general this diet is high in vegetables, fruit, legumes, nuts, extra virgin olive oil, whole grains, and fish. While this diet provides an abundance of eating options it is especially low in meat, poultry, and full fat dairy. Of course this diet is almost completely void of any pop, mass produced sweets/pastries, and junk food in general.
If you are keen to follow a mediterranean diet, which by now you should be, consider implementing the following tips. Use a generous amount of extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) at all times unless you’re cooking at high temperatures then use a more stable fat like coconut oil or small amounts of butter. Add back in a splash of olive oil to the meal before serving, you’re aiming for 4 tbsp of EVOO a day. One issue to note, as Larry Olmsted reveals in his book “Real Food, Fake Food”, is that EVOO is one of the most commonly counterfeited food products on the market. To ensure you’re getting good quality EVOO find a small batch grower or look for protected certifications and designations on EVOO bottles. Seals like the one from the California Olive Oil Commission COOC say 100% Certified Extra Virgin Seal (2). For more on how to find a good oil check out Larry Olmsted’s article here: https://www.forbes.com/sites/larryolmsted/2016/09/30/its-extra-virgin-olive-oil-day-is-your-evoo-real-or-fake/#5f5a7d1a2a64.
In addition to plentiful amounts of EVOO, eat in stages starting with a soup followed by a salad and finally your main dish. While this sounds laborious and time consuming it could help prevent sneaky weight gain and save you a bunch of time in the gym. Plus eating multiple courses gives you an opportunity to relax, dig in, and catch up with friends and family. Who doesn’t enjoy a luxurious dinner with loved ones?
Also, when consuming meat and fish use acidic marinades to “pre-cook” the protein and lower the need for long cooking times and high cooking temperatures. High heat cooking creates heterocyclic amines (HCAs) which can increase inflammation in the body and are linked to cancer development (3). Whenever possible, choose to eat your meat more rare and well marinaded and consider indulging at most 2-3x/week (1).
Finally some foods are healthiest when eaten raw while others are better for us when cooked. To get the most out of your ingredients enjoy garlic, onions, and cruciferous vegetables (the broccoli, cauliflowers, and even some leafy greens like arugula) raw. If your taste buds like these veggies cooked add in a couple raw ones to ensure you’re consuming the much needed enzymes. Tomatoes should be eaten cooked with a generous amount of EVOO. Nuts can be eaten raw or roasted but always eat the skins and avoid salted or flavoured varieties (1).
To track your adherence to the MD like a scientist complete your very own questionnaire found here: https://www.researchgate.net/figure/230699954_fig9_Table-1-Validated-14-item-Questionnaire-of-Mediterranean-diet-adherence (4).
Enjoy all the deliciousness in your mediterranean diet future! Yum!
(1) Qaqundah, M. (2017, October 31). Mediterranean Diet: Simple Diet with Terrific Results . Lecture presented at ONCanp Naturopathic Oncology Conference in Arizona, US, Tempe.
(2) Olmsted, L. (2017). Real food, fake food: why you dont know what youre eating & what you can do about it. Chapel Hill, NC: Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill.
(3) Sinha, R., & Rothman, N. (1999). Role of well-done, grilled red meat, heterocyclic amines (HCAs) in the etiology of human cancer. Cancer Letters, 143(2), 189-194. doi:10.1016/s0304-3835(99)00123-8
(4) Table 4: Association between flavonoid intake and adherence to the Mediterranean diet measured by the KIDMED index.a. (n.d.). doi:10.7717/peerj.3304/table-4