Diabetes Risk Reduced by Mediterranean Diet


People at risk for diabetes may have that risk reduced by adherence to the Mediterranean diet according to researchers who conducted a meta-analysis of 19 studies, involving more than 162,000 subjects over 5.5 years. The researchers are presenting their findings tomorrow at the American College of Cardiology meeting in Washington DC.

The Mediterranean diet is a relatively sensible plan, involving fruits and vegetables, nuts and beans, fish, olive oil, healthy grains, small amounts of meat and dairy. It does not call for extreme calorie limitations or dependence on any single food type.  Small amounts of cheese, yogurt, eggs, red meat, and poultry are permissible. Fish and seafood twice weekly are encouraged. Olives, nuts, avocados and other “good” fats are ok.  Extra-virgin olive oil for cooking and herbs and spices to add flavor are also good. For drinking: mostly water, red wine in moderation. Fruits may be had for dessert; occasional sweets are permitted.

The data being presented indicates that the Mediterranean diet reduces the risk of diabetes by 21 percent in comparison with other diet plans.  For those at high risk of heart disease, the Mediterranean diet was even more effective, lowering the risk of diabetes by 27 percent.

For those at risk for heart disease, diabetes prevention is particularly important. According to the American Diabetes Association, there is a strong association between heart disease, stroke, and diabetes. People with diabetes are two times more likely to have a heart attack or stroke than those without. Two out of three people afflicted by diabetes will die from cardiovascular disease.

Of course, there have been endless numbers of studies conducted  on the relationship of diet to risk of diabetes or heart disease. This particular study improves on data already generated by establishing that the Mediterranean Diet lowers the risk of diabetes without regard to sex, age, race, or culture, according to Demosthenes Panagiotakos, the lead investigator in the study. Importantly, the analysis looked at data from both European and non-Europeans, which puts to rest concerns that the results obtained by adherence to the Mediterranean diet are affected by the environment, genetics, and lifestyle of Europeans.

This study is particularly topical in the context of a worldwide explosion of diabetes cases in the past 30 years. Not surprisingly, the diabetes epidemic corresponds to a growing obesity epidemic.  Panagiotakos noted the relationship of diabetes to obesity, calling it “well-known…especially in Westernized populations,” and argued for a change in diet as an effective treatment for preventing diabetes. He also noted that the research would provide evidence to inform care for the condition.

For those considering the Mediterranean diet to reduce the risk of obesity or diabetes, there is even more good news. The Mediterranean diet may also lower the risk of Alzheimer’s, osteoporosis, and depression.  It can also lower blood pressure and cholesterol, and may also help avoid some types of cancer. One should not rely on diet alone, however. Many factors affect one’s health, including genetics, an active life-cycle, and smoking.  If one is trying to lose weight, one is encouraged to stick with the diet for six months, exercise regularly, and control portion size. So grab a clementine, go for a walk, and leave the cigarettes at home.

By Laura Prendergast


American Diabetes Association

The Mayo Clinic