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Discusses Women's Health

I’m writing this website from Tel Aviv where I am visiting family. We intend to cook a turkey with stuffing as well as all the traditional sides and desserts. After carefully planning the meal (we had to special order a large turkey), I couldn’t help but notice a nutrition based study that was published in this week’s JAMA. It suggests that a Mediterranean diet with olive oil may reduce breast cancer risk.

The study was conducted in Spain. The authors analyzed the effects of two dietary interventions on menopausal women. One group consumed a Mediterranean diet and supplemented it with 1 liter per week of olive oil. The second group consumed a Mediterranean diet supplemented with 30g of mixed nuts daily. The control group received advice to reduce their dietary intake of fat.

(There goes the skin on the turkey.) The trial participants’ average age was 67.7 and most had undergone menopause before the age of 55. Less than 3% used hormone therapy at the time they enrolled in the study. The medium follow up was five years. During that period of time there were 35 confirmed cases of breast cancer. The rates of breast cancer per thousand person years (that’s how the statisticians report this) were 2.9 for the control group, 1.8 for the Mediterranean diet with nuts group and 1.1 for the Mediterranean diet with olive oil. That means that the olive oil consumer group of women had a 68% lower risk of breast cancer compared with the control group!

A quick review: The Mediterranean diet consists of an abundance of fruits, vegetables, whole-grains, beans, nuts, legumes, herbs and spices. Fish and seafood should be eaten at least twice a week and moderate portions of poultry, eggs, cheese and yogurt are a daily part of this diet. Meats and sweets should be consumed as infrequently as possible. And then there is olive oil… At least according to this study it should be used to cook just about everything and in large amounts.

The study may provide one more incentive to maintain a Mediterranean diet. We know it can reduce heart disease. The researchers saw results after just five years. Whether we maintain this diet for our hearts or our breasts, the diet has to be consistent. So, as we join family and friends to be thankful on Thanksgiving we can be somewhat Mediterranean. After all, the turkey is poultry, yams are in the healthy vegetable category, (mashed potatoes with butter are not) and pumpkin is a fruit. (I just don’t know what to do with the fact that the pumpkin is mixed with sugar and butter and placed on a pie crust…) Perhaps the turkey should be basted with olive oil, and we should use lots of the oil in the salad and any other vegetable we make.

But hey, this is one meal and it’s great to have a traditional way to celebrate our American thankfulness. I plan to do it, even from Tel Aviv…

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