Public Health Nutrition


Diet and cancer in Mediterranean countries: carbohydrates and fats

Cristina Bosettia1, Claudio Pelucchia1 and Carlo La Vecchiaa1a2 c1

a1 Istituto di Ricerche Farmacologiche “Mario Negri” – Milano, Italy

a2 Istituto di Statistica Medica e Biometria “G.A. Maccacaro”, Università di Milano – Milano, Italy


Objective Several aspects of the diet characteristic of the Mediterranean countries are considered favourable not only on cardiovascular disease, but also on cancer risk. We considered some aspects of the Mediterranean diet (including, in particular, the consumption of olive oil and carbohydrates) on cancer risk.

Design, Setting and Subjects Data were derived from a series of case-control studies, conducted in Italy since the early 1990s, on over 10 000 cases of thirteen cancer sites and over 17 000 controls.

Results Olive oil, and other mono- and unsaturated fats, appear to be favourable indicators of breast, ovarian, colorectal, but mostly of upper aero-digestive tract cancers. Whole grain foods are also related to reduced risk of upper aero-digestive tract and various other cancers. In contrast, refined grain intake and, consequently, glycaemic index and glycaemic load were associated to increased risk for several cancer sites. Fish, and hence a diet rich in n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids, tended to be another favourable diet indicator, while frequent red meat intake was directly related to some common neoplasms. An a priori defined Mediterranean diet score was inversely related to upper digestive and respiratory tract cancers.

Conclusions These data provide additional evidence that major characteristics of the Mediterranean diet favourably affect cancer risk.

(Received September 01 2008)

(Accepted April 01 2009)


c1 Corresponding author: Email