Mediterranean diet thwarts skin cancer


David Hartas and Foti Lambis enjoy some sun and Mediterranean fare. Picture: ADAM McLEANSun-seekers should not only slip, slop, slap this summer, but tuck into their olives, oily fish and oregano too.

New research released at a Sydney dietetics conference this week reveals that eating a Greek-style Mediterranean diet could be the latest weapon in the fight against skin cancer.

Dietitians Association of Australia spokeswoman Dr Catherine Itsiopoulos said the research by Tel Aviv University’s Dr Niva Shapira was exciting.

“The Mediterranean diet, which includes a lot of olive oil and oily fish; fruit, vegetables and herbs; yoghurt and red wine in moderation, is full of omega-3 fatty acids and antioxidants,” she said.

“This type of diet has already been shown to improve heart health and longevity, and now this research has shown it plays a part in protecting skin from sun damage, and ultimately skin cancer.

“So the message is that protecting your skin is not only about sun protection, but about what you eat too.”

Dr Itsiopoulos said the research showed that the protective nutrients from Mediterranean-style foods like olives and tomatoes embedded in the skin and helped protect it against the sun’s damaging rays.

“Dr Shapira studied two groups of Greek women who were exposed to the sun for six hours a day over two weeks,” she said.

“One group was given an antioxidant-enriched drink and ate lots of fruit and vegetables, while the other drank water or soft drinks.

“In the first group there was a 16 per cent drop in the blood levels of malondialdehyde, a marker for oxidative stress in the body which is linked to cancer risk.

“In the second group drinking only water or soft drinks there was a 55 per cent increase in those blood markers.”

Dr Itsiopoulos said Greece had one of the lowest rates of melanoma in the world, with two to three cases of skin cancer per 100,000 people. This compared with 30 to 40 cases per 100,000 people in Australia.

Wollongong cafe owner Frank Demertzi is a second-generation Greek and serves mainly Mediterranean fare at his Levendi cafes at Belmore Basin and in Dapto.

“This latest research just shows how good it really is for you,” he said.

Dr Emilio Ros, from the University of Barcelona, also talked about the Mediterranean diet at the International Congress of Dietitians, which finishes today.

This week he will discuss his work with nutrition researchers at the University of Wollongong and specialists at Wollongong Hospital.

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