The diet, which is rich in fruits, vegetables, fish, whole grains, nuts and legumes, is typical of the area around Greece, southern Italy and Crete.
Studies have already shown that people who tend to follow a traditional diet of this area have lower rates of heart disease, cancers of the stomach and colon, as well as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's disease.
For the study, researchers examined the diets of more than 14,000 Greek women. At the outset of the study, women completed detailed dietary questionnaires and gave information on their lifestyle habits and demographics.
Each woman was given a Mediterranean diet score, ranging from 0 to 9, based on how often they consumed vegetables, legumes, fruit and nuts, whole grains, fish and olive oil or other sources of monounsaturated fats; they also won points by limiting meat and dairy.
Of the 14,800 women included in the study, 240 were diagnosed with breast cancer over an average follow-up of 10 years.
Researchers found that overall postmenopausal women whose Mediterranean diet who closely followed the Mediterranean diet with scores between the 6-to-9 range were 22 percent less likely to develop breast cancer than their counterparts with scores between 0 and 3. That was with factors such as age, education, smoking history, weight and exercise habits taken into account.
The link was seen only among women who were past menopause, and not younger women.
The findings show an association between Mediterranean eating and lower breast cancer risk, but do not prove a cause-and-effect relationship. While further studies are needed to confirm the results, they are encouraging and support previous studies that have shown the diet can lower the risk of heart disease and cancers of the colon and stomach.
The study was published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.
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