Cancer prevention in Europe: the Mediterranean diet as a protective choice

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Abstract

In the coming years, European death rates because of cancer will further decline, but the overall number of cases will increase, mostly as a consequence of the ageing of the population. The target for cancer prevention in Europe will remain a healthy diet and control of obesity in addition to a decrease in smoking. A healthy diet model in European countries is the traditional Mediterranean diet, which is based on abundant and variable plant foods, high consumption of cereals, olive oil as the main (added) fat, low intake of (red) meat and moderate consumption of wine. The Mediterranean diet is associated with a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease and cancer. The biological mechanisms for cancer prevention associated with the Mediterranean diet have been related to the favourable effect of a balanced ratio of omega 6 and omega 3 essential fatty acids and high amounts of fibre, antioxidants and polyphenols found in fruit, vegetables, olive oil and wine. The Mediterranean diet also involves a ‘Mediterranean way of drinking’, that is, regular, moderate consumption of wine mainly with food. This pattern of drinking increases longevity, reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease and does not appreciably influence the overall risk of cancer. However, heavy alcohol drinking is associated with digestive, upper respiratory tract, liver and breast cancers; therefore, avoidance or restriction of alcohol consumption to two drinks/day in men and one drink/day in women is a global public health priority.

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