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Mediterranean diet followers less likely to develop breast cancer, study says

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WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. -- New research shows that a good diet may do more than keep you lean, it could be cancer fighting.

A recent study published in JAMA Internal Medicine found that among the more than 4,000 women researchers observed, those who followed a Mediterranean diet high in extra-virgin olive oil were 68 percent less likely to develop breast cancer.

A Mediterranean diet is one of the best diets not only for heart, prevention of heart attack and stroke, but it's also a wonderful diet for prevention of breast cancer, Dr. Judith Hopkins, medical oncologist with Novant Heath, said.

“There is a theory that is not yet proven that extra virgin olive oil may have some type of interaction that may actually lower estrogen levels,” Hopkins added.

The Mediterranean diet is high in fruits, vegetables, nuts and includes fish and poultry.

Olive oil replaces unhealthy fats such as butter.

“You really want plants to be the star of every meal and to consume meat in portions more like a condiment or like a side dish instead of being the focus of the meal,” Alice Smith, registered dietitian with Novant Health, said.

Hopkins says the key to breast cancer prevention is not so much the Mediterranean diet as it is weight loss.

While a good diet is a strong factor in prevention, Hopkins adds that breast cancer has complexities that go beyond that.

"Most post-menopausal women who develop breast cancer are overweight, but having said that, I am not overweight, I am post-menopausal, and I did develop breast cancer,” Hopkins said.

"You can do everything correctly, so to speak, but you can still get breast cancer.”