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.

Other recommendations

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.

Recommends eating a Mediterranean diet

Traditional medicine

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.

Expert commentary

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 Plan3Block 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 Mediterranean diet

Authors

Andrew Jackson, ND

Research Associate
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Andrew Jackson, ND, serves as a CancerChoices research associate. As a naturopathic physician practicing in Kirkland, Washington, he teaches critical evaluation of the medical literture at Bastyr University in Kenmore, Washington. His great appreciation of scientific inquiry and the scientific process has led him to view research with a critical eye.

Andrew Jackson, ND Research Associate

Nancy Hepp, MS

Lead Researcher and Program Manager
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Ms. Hepp is a researcher and communicator who has been writing and editing educational content on varied health topics for more than 20 years. She serves as lead researcher, program manager, and writer for CancerChoices. Her graduate work in research and cognitive psychology, her master’s degree in instructional design, and her certificate in web design have all guided her in writing and presenting information for a wide variety of audiences and uses. Nancy’s service as faculty development coordinator in the Department of Family Medicine at Wright State University also provided experience in medical research, plus insights into medical education and medical care from the professional’s perspective.

Nancy Hepp, MS Lead Researcher and Program Manager

Curator and reviewer

Laura Pole, RN, MSN, OCNS

Senior Clinical Consultant
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Laura Pole is senior clinical consultant for CancerChoices. Laura is an oncology clinical nurse specialist who has been providing integrative oncology clinical care, navigation, consultation, and education services for over 40 years. She is the co-creator and co-coordinator of the Integrative Oncology Navigation Training at Smith Center for Healing and the Arts in Washington, DC. Laura also manages the “Media Watch Cancer News That You Can Use” listserv for Smith Center/Commonweal. In her role as a palliative care educator and consultant, Laura has served as statewide Respecting Choices Faculty for the Virginia POST (Physician Orders for Scope of Treatment) Collaborative as well as provided statewide professional education on palliative and end-of-life care for the Virginia Association for Hospices and Palliative Care.

For CancerChoices, Laura curates content and research, networks with clinical and organizational partners, brings awareness and education of integrative oncology at professional and patient conferences and programs, and translates research into information relevant to the patient experience as well as clinical practice.

Laura sees her work with CancerChoices as a perfect alignment of all her passions, knowledge and skills in integrative oncology care. She is honored to serve you.

Laura Pole, RN, MSN, OCNS Senior Clinical Consultant

Last update: June 28, 2022

CancerChoices provides information about integrativein cancer care, a patient-centered approach combining the best of conventional care, self care and evidence-informed complementary care in an integrated plan cancer care. We review complementaryin cancer care, complementary care involves the use of therapies intended to enhance or add to standard conventional treatments; examples include supplements, mind-body approaches such as yoga or psychosocial therapy, and acupuncture therapies and self-care lifestyle actions and behaviors that may impact cancer outcomes; examples include eating health-promoting foods, limiting alcohol, increasing physical activity, and managing stress practices to help patients and professionals explore and integrate the best combination of conventionalthe cancer care offered by conventionally trained physicians and most hospitals; examples are chemotherapy, surgery, and radiotherapy and complementary therapies and practices for each person.

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