`Mediterranean Diet with a Swiss Twist Lowers Cancer and Heart Disease Risk


Mediterranean Diet with a Swiss Twist Lowers Cancer and Heart Disease Risk

Jan. 19, 2015
Sukhsatej Batra

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Vis­i­tors to a recent trade fair in Zurich, who eval­u­ated 140 sam­ples, pre­ferred EVOOs with a sweet taste over those which were bit­ter. Whichever olive oil taste pro­file peo­ple favor deep in but­ter coun­try, a recent study has shown, even a cul­tur­ally-adapted adher­ence to the tra­di­tional Mediter­ranean style diet can extend their lives.

The Mediter­ranean diet, rich in fruits, veg­eta­bles, legumes, com­plex car­bo­hy­drates, olive oil, fish and wine but low in dairy and meat, has been asso­ci­ated with longevity and a low inci­dence of can­cer and heart dis­ease. The pro­tec­tive effect, more pro­nounced in the Mediter­ranean coun­tries, prompted researchers in Switzer­land to deter­mine if adher­ence to a Mediter­ranean diet was effec­tive in a Swiss pop­u­la­tion influ­enced by their Ger­man, Ital­ian and French cul­tures.

The study included 17,861 par­tic­i­pants who were part of two major stud­ies con­ducted in Switzer­land: The National Research Pro­gram 1A and The Swiss Mon­i­tor­ing of Trends and Deter­mi­nants in Car­dio­vas­cu­lar Dis­ease. The researchers selected a cul­tur­ally diverse pop­u­la­tion from the three dis­tinct lan­guage regions of Switzer­land for whom mor­tal­ity fol­low-up was avail­able for over 30 years through the national health and sta­tis­ti­cal reg­istry.
See more: Arti­cles about the Mediter­ranean Diet
The study asso­ci­ated adher­ence to the Mediter­ranean diet with death from can­cer, car­dio­vas­cu­lar dis­ease and all causes, how­ever the diet, had one dis­tinct dif­fer­ence. Unlike the tra­di­tional low-dairy Mediter­ranean diet, milk and dairy prod­ucts are an inte­gral part of the Swiss diet and were con­sumed almost daily by the sam­ple pop­u­la­tion.

Diet intake was ana­lyzed using a sim­pli­fied 24-hour recall method where the par­tic­i­pants responded in affir­ma­tive or neg­a­tive to intake of 11 dif­fer­ent food groups: sal­ads, fruits, veg­eta­bles, dairy prod­ucts, grains, meat, fish, type of oil, alco­hol, eggs and choco­late. The researchers scored adher­ence to the Mediter­ranean diet using a 9‑point score, where min­i­mal adher­ence was a score of 0 and max­i­mum adher­ence by a score of 9.

Fre­quency of food group intake by the 8,665 men and 9,196 women, whose aver­age age was 45 years at the time of the sur­vey, was almost sim­i­lar but had two notable dif­fer­ences. Women ate fruit more fre­quently than men did, while men con­sumed alco­hol more fre­quently than the women.

Sta­tis­ti­cal analy­sis revealed that fruit con­sump­tion low­ered risk of dying from heart dis­ease and can­cer in both gen­ders, although a higher intake of monoun­sat­u­rated and risk of death from heart dis­ease was only observed in men. On the other hand, alco­hol con­sump­tion low­ered risk of mor­tal­ity from car­dio­vas­cu­lar dis­ease but increased risk of dying from can­cer.


The most inter­est­ing result, how­ever, was the asso­ci­a­tion between con­sump­tion of dairy prod­ucts and lower risk of mor­tal­ity from all causes, can­cer, and heart dis­ease in both men and women. These results are in con­trast to the con­sen­sus that dairy prod­ucts increase intake of sat­u­rated fats and thereby increase risk of car­dio­vas­cu­lar dis­ease.

A pos­si­ble expla­na­tion the inves­ti­ga­tors offer to the unex­pected ben­e­fi­cial asso­ci­a­tion observed in this study could be that Swiss dairy prod­ucts from purely grass-fed alpine cows” are high in n‑3 fatty acids and have a lower con­tent of sat­u­rated fat than dairy prod­ucts from other coun­tries. The authors also quote other lit­er­a­ture that found a pro­tec­tive effect of dairy con­sump­tion to inci­dence of heart dis­ease and can­cer.

Even though the study had one main draw­back – a crude one-day method used to assess food intake — the study found that adher­ence to a Mediter­ranean diet that embraced cul­tural dif­fer­ences was ben­e­fi­cial to health and reduced risk of mor­tal­ity from can­cer and heart dis­ease.

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