A Mediterranean diet is high in vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and olive oil and low in meat, sweets, and saturated fat. It is linked to lower risks of cancer and relief of some symptoms and imbalances common among people with cancer.
How do experts use a Mediterranean diet?
Both medical groups and integrative experts provide recommendations for a Mediterranean diet in treating people with cancer. Learn more about the approaches and meanings of recommendations.
Clinical practice guidelines
2013 clinical practice guidelines from the American College of Chest Physicians recommend nutritional modification toward a diet rich in non-starchy vegetables and fruits, limiting consumption of a large amount of red meat and processed meat.
The 2020 survivorship care for healthy living guidelines recommend a plant-based diet consistent with a Mediterranean diet:
- Plant-based food is made from vegetables, legumes, fruits, grains, nuts, seeds, or oils.
- Eat plant-based food for at least half of your diet.
- Eat lots of vegetables, fruits, and whole grains.
- Eat 3 or fewer servings of soy a day.
- Eat animal-based food—meat, poultry, fish, eggs, milk, or honey—for half or less of your diet.
- Eat less than 18 ounces of red meat a week.
Published protocols, programs, and approaches
A Mediterranean diet is used in programs, approaches, and protocolsa package of therapies combining and preferably integrating various therapies and practices into a cohesive design for care from these integrative oncologists, drawing from both scientific research and observations from years or even decades of treating people with cancer.
Lise Alschuler, ND, FABNO, and Karolyn Gazella
Alschuler LN, Gazella KA. The Definitive Guide to Cancer, 3rd Edition: An Integrative Approach to Prevention, Treatment, and Healing. Berkeley, California: Celestial Arts. 2010.
Approaches are described for certain cancer types, or along with certain conventional therapy treatments, or for particular conditions such as insulin resistance.
Lorenzo Cohen, PhD, and Alison Jefferies, MEd
Cohen L, Jefferies A. Anticancer Living: Transform Your Life and Health with the Mix of Six. New York: Viking. 2018.
This book introduces the concept of the Mix of Six, which is identical to six of our 7 Healing Practices ›
Dr. Cohen and Ms. Jefferies explain that while each plays an independent role, the synergy created by all six factors can radically transform health, delay or prevent many cancers, support conventional treatments, and significantly improve quality of life.
Gerald M. Lemole, MD; Pallav K. Mehta, MD; and Dwight L. McKee, MD
Lemole GM, Mehta PK, McKee DL. After Cancer Care: The Definitive Self-Care Guide to Getting and Staying Well for Patients with Cancer. New York, New York: Rodale, Inc. 2015.
These doctors present easy-to-incorporate lifestyle changes to help you “turn on” hundreds of genes that fight cancer, and “turn off” the ones that encourage cancer, while recommending lifestyle approaches to address each type.
Barbara MacDonald, ND, LAc
MacDonald B. The Breast Cancer Companion—A Complementary Care Manual: Third Edition. Self-published. 2016.
Naturopathic physician Barbara MacDonald provides information about breast cancer, its conventional treatment, and natural approaches to enhancing treatment, managing side effects, reducing risk of recurrence, and healthy living after cancer treatment is completed.
Neil McKinney, BSc, ND
McKinney N. Naturopathic Oncology, Fourth Edition. Victoria, BC, Canada: Liaison Press. 2020.
This book includes descriptions and uses of many natural and complementary protocols for cancer in general and for specific cancers. It also includes information on integrative support during conventional cancer treatment.
Gurdev Parmar, ND, FABNO, and Tina Kaczor, ND, FABNO
Parmar G, Kaczor T. Textbook of Naturopathic Oncology: A Desktop Guide of Integrative Cancer Care. 1st edition. Medicatrix Holdings Ltd. 2020.
This book provides information on the treatment of 24 cancers, plus the most effective treatments of the most common symptoms affecting cancer patients while they undergo chemotherapy, radiotherapy, or surgery.
A Mediterranean-style diet is consistent with both Ayurvedic and traditional Chinese medicine approaches.
The focus on a Mediterranean diet’s plant-based meals with healthy fats is very much aligned with Ayurvedic recommendations for diet.1Deva A. The Ayurvedic Perspective on Modern Diets. Banyan Blog. August 31, 2021. Viewed June 16, 2017.
Traditional Chinese medicine has long held that “grains, meat, vegetables and fruit should be used in proper proportions so as to maintain the normal function of human body.”2Wu Q, Liang X. Food therapy and medical diet therapy of traditional Chinese medicine. Clinical Nutrition Experimental. 2018 Apr;18:1-5.
Learn more about traditional medicine and how to find practitioners.
Other expert assessments
ACS recommends following a healthy eating pattern at all ages, which aligns with a Mediterranean diet.
A healthy eating pattern includes:
- Foods that are high in nutrients in amounts that help you get to and stay at a healthy body weight
- A variety of vegetables—dark green, red and orange, fiber-rich legumes (beans and peas), and others
- Fruits, especially whole fruits in a variety of colors
- Whole grains
A healthy eating pattern limits or does not include:
- Red and processed meats
- Sugar-sweetened beverages
- Highly processed foods and refined grain products
These recommendations include eating a diet rich in whole grains, vegetables, fruits, and beans, which aligns with a Mediterranean diet.
Survey of naturopathic oncologists
A 2018 survey identified a Mediterranean diet as one of the most frequently identified interventions used by members of the Oncology Association of Naturopathic Physicians.3Seely D, Ennis JK, McDonell E, Zhao L. Naturopathic oncology care for thoracic cancers: a practice survey. Integrative Cancer Therapies. 2018 Sep;17(3):793-805.
Recommends eating a Mediterranean diet
CancerChoices Senior Clinical Consultant Laura Pole, RN, OCNS, February 11, 2018: Several other diets—also plant-based with many elements similar to the Mediterranean diet—are used for cancer prevention and/or for people with cancer. Some examples:
- The American Institute for Cancer Research recommends a plant-based diet very similar to the Mediterranean diet. The AICR website describes their cancer protective diet as consisting of mostly plant foods, with the addition of dairy, eggs, fish, poultry and moderate amounts of meat, and with minimal processing and little added sugar and fat.
- Ornish Spectrum Diet: used as part of the Ornish Lifestyle Medicine Program for Prostate Cancer
- Keith Block’s Life over Cancer Core Diet Plan4Block KI. Life over Cancer: The Block Center Program for Integrative Cancer Treatment. New York: Bantam Dell. 2009.
- DASH (dietary approaches to stop hypertension) eating plan from the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute
- The MIND Diet (Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay) is a hybrid of the Mediterranean and DASH diets, originally tested to see if it has effects on cognitive function but also studied in specific cancers. For general information see The MIND Diet: What to Know.
Keep reading about a Mediterranean diet
|1||Deva A. The Ayurvedic Perspective on Modern Diets. Banyan Blog. August 31, 2021. Viewed June 16, 2017.|
|2||Wu Q, Liang X. Food therapy and medical diet therapy of traditional Chinese medicine. Clinical Nutrition Experimental. 2018 Apr;18:1-5.|
|3||Seely D, Ennis JK, McDonell E, Zhao L. Naturopathic oncology care for thoracic cancers: a practice survey. Integrative Cancer Therapies. 2018 Sep;17(3):793-805.|
|4||Block KI. Life over Cancer: The Block Center Program for Integrative Cancer Treatment. New York: Bantam Dell. 2009.|