A new study (1) has found that older adults who follow a traditional Mediterranean diet which is rich in plant-fats, such as fats from olives, nuts/seeds and oily fish, seem to have a reduced risk of type 2 diabetes, even without weight loss or calorie counting.
A traditional Mediterranean style of eating includes plentiful amounts of vegetables, fruits, nuts/seeds, olive oil, legumes (beans and peas), wholegrains, fish (including oily fish such as salmon, trout, sardines and mackerel) and low-fat dairy products. It is low in sugar and refined/processed foods
This study (1) was set up in order to test the effects of two Mediterranean-diet interventions compared to a low-fat diet on incidence of diabetes in over 400 non-diabetic individuals aged between 55 and 80 who were at risk of cardiovascular disease (heart disease and stroke). Each participant had at least three risk factors for heart disease, such as high blood pressure, smoking or excess weight. The individuals involved in the study were split into 3 groups:
1.A low-fat diet
2.Mediterranean diet supplemented with 1 virgin olive oil (up to 1 litre per week)
3.Mediterranean diet supplemented with 30g of nuts per day
The participants of the study were followed for around 4 years. The incidence of diabetes development was reduced in both the Mediterranean diet groups when compared to the low-fat diet group. When the results for the two Mediterranean diet groups were combined diabetes incidence was reduced by 52% when compared to the low-fat diet group. It was also found that those people who adhered most strongly to the Mediterranean diets had an increased reduction in their risk of diabetes (compared to those whose adherence was poor). Interestingly diabetes risk reduction in the Mediterranean diet groups occurred in the absence of significant changes in body weight or physical activity. The authors of this study concluded that (1) “Mediterranean diets without calorie restriction appear to be effective in the prevention of diabetes in subjects at high cardiovascular risk”
Previous studies have found that Mediterranean diet may help reduce the risk of heart disease as well as other health problems.
The researchers of this study note, that the healthy fats in the Mediterranean diet are thought to have anti-inflammatory effects. This is important since low-level inflammation in the body seems to play a role in a number of disease processes including diabetes, heart disease and obesity. It is important to remember that although, in this study, the Mediterranean eating pattern brings benefits in the absence of weight loss, that does not negate the importance of regular exercise or calorie-consciousness for the optimal health. In overweight people losing excess weight can curb inflammation and exercise can have numerous health benefits, including a reduced risk of heart disease. It is overall diet and lifestyle that is important for health.
(1)Jordi Salas-Salvadó J et al. 2010. Reduction in the Incidence of Type 2-Diabetes with the Mediterranean Diet: Results of the PREDIMED-Reus Nutrition Intervention Randomized Trial. Diabetes Care Published online before print October 7, 2010, doi: 10.2337/dc10-1288
Written by Ani Kowal