10 Tips to Benefit From The Mediterranean Diet

Health & Wellness

May is National Cancer Research Month. It’s an opportunity to applaud all those involved in cancer research, particularly research dedicated to mesothelioma. It’s also a chance to share some of that research and answer survivors’ most common questions.

A question people diagnosed with mesothelioma frequently ask is: “What can I do to improve my health now?” As a registered dietitian, I share research and tips with the patients I work with to help them improve overall health with a healthy mesothelioma diet

A recent review of studies related to diet and cancer found that The Mediterranean Diet was helpful and safe for those affected. The American Institute for Cancer Research recommends a similar diet to help keep our body healthy for prevention and even after diagnosis.  

What Is the Mediterranean Diet?

Foods historically part of the traditional cuisine in countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea and their neighbors are part of what’s called The Mediterranean Diet. These foods are still wildly popular in the region and across the world today. 

UNESCO officially recognized the culinary traditions of this diet as an “Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.” The organization named Croatia, Cyprus, Greece, Italy, Morocco, Portugal and Spain as “Emblematic Communities” to support the diet’s legacy as members of a special task force.

The Mediterranean Diet’s 5 Key Features

  1. Focus on vegetables, legumes, fruits, nuts and whole grains.
  2. Use Olive Oil as a primary source of fat.
  3. Eat more fish.
  4. Limit dairy products to 1-2 servings per day.
  5. Eat less red meat, poultry and processed meats.

This type of diet is high in fiber, which the AICR highly recommends for cancer prevention. We’ve talked about the importance of whole grains for mesothelioma patients, for example, in The Mesothelioma Center’s blog before.

Eating foods typical for The Mediterranean Diet means you’ll likely follow a lower fat diet, which may lead to weight loss. While many studies find being a lower body weight can be beneficial to fight cancer, it’s important to be careful as unintended weight loss can be a problem for mesothelioma patients.

Finding the right balance for you is important. If your healthcare team advises increasing calories to maintain a healthy weight, a nutritionist can help you balance tips for adding more calories to meals while benefiting from elements of The Mediterranean Diet.

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10 Tips for Following a Mediterranean Diet as a Mesothelioma Survivor

Before making changes to your diet, be sure to speak with your mesothelioma doctor. A dietitian who specializes in mesothelioma nutrition can help you or your caregiver make adjustments to your meals.

As you begin trying new foods, it can be helpful to keep a nutrition journal and record how you’re feeling. Are any foods you’ve tried left you not feeling your best? Do you have more energy? Has your appetite improved? 

Top Mediterranean Diet Tips

  1.  Adjust your plate: Try adjusting your plate so meat (and especially red meat) isn’t the main ingredient. Gradually reduce your meat portion to about 4-6 oz.
  2. Try new recipes: For something new to try, substitute red meat with a meat-free option or fish! UNESCO and AICR have a lot of great recipes. Your local fish market or grocery store can also give you tips for cooking fish.
  3. Swap sweets with fruit: Cut down on processed sweets such as cookies, cakes and soda.  Replace traditional dessert with fresh fruit to boost your intake of plant foods and still satisfy your sweet tooth. Frozen fruits like blueberries or grapes make a fun treat.
  4. Skip soda and sweet tea: Soda and sweetened drinks such as sweet tea can add a lot of processed sugar to your diet. Like swapping desserts with fruit, try infusing fruits in water. Mint, rooibos and green tea can make drinking unsweet tea easier. Mixing a small amount of fruit juice with sparkling water can also help replace soda.
  5. Use more olive oil: To use more olive oil, switch out recipes that call for vegetable oil or butter. Make your own salad dressing using olive oil, lemon juice and seasonings.
  6. Use herbs and spices: Sneak in more herbs and spices for a boost of antioxidants. Add some cinnamon to your pancake mix. Throw some oregano into your pasta. Steep some mint leaves in hot water for a flavorful tea.
  7. Keep it colorful: When you look at your plate, it should be full of different colors. Each color provides a host of different nutrients. Some people call it “eating the rainbow.” 
  8. Embrace frozen foods: Frozen fruits and vegetables are just as good as fresh. Sometimes they’re actually fresher because they’re usually picked at their peak and frozen quickly thereafter. It also means that most fruit is available year round. Frozen means less waste too because you only take what you need.
  9. Avoid preservatives: Replace bacon, sausages, deli meats and hot dogs with unprocessed meats, poultry or a meat-free alternative. The preservatives used in those foods can be harmful, particularly in large amounts. Cut down gradually if they’re a big part of your diet.
  10. Be as active as you can: Go for walks with a friend, try some weight-bearing exercises or join a yoga class. Swimming, cycling and gardening are all great forms of activity too. Moving your body helps maintain your muscle mass.

Tips in our nutrition guide can also work in conjunction with The Mediterranean Diet approach to balancing meals. Recipes and meal prep suggestions can be adapted to fit your personal needs.

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