Following a Mediterranean diet may lower diabetes risk

Closely adhering to a diet rich in fruit and vegetables, olive oil and fish, but with moderate dairy and low red meat intake, may reduce largely the risk of developing diabetes. This finding
extends the benefits of the so-called Mediterranean diet beyond its potential to lower heart disease and cancer risk.

Martínez-González and colleagues from the University of Navarra recruited 13380 Spanish university graduates initially free of diabetes, and assessed their dietary
habits with a food frequency questionnaire at baseline and every two years thereafter. Food intake data were used to calculate the degree of adherence to the Mediterranean diet based on a score
from 0 to 9 points.

Subjects would score one point each for a high intake of fruits, grains, vegetables, fish, and legumes, and for a high ratio of monounsaturated to saturated fatty acids in their diet.
Additional points were given for low red meat and moderate dairy and alcohol consumption. Those who scored >6 points were classified as adhering closely to the Mediterranean diet.

Over an average course of 4.4 years, 33 participants developed new onset confirmed type 2 diabetes. Relative to the low-adherence group (score <3), participants with a score >6 had an 83%
lower risk of developing the disease. Moreover, each 2 point increase in the score was associated with a 35% lower relative risk.

Those who adhered most to the Mediterranean diet also were more physically active, which in itself favourably affects diabetes risk. At the same time, these participants were more likely to
display one or more risk factors for developing diabetes. They were older, had a higher body mass index (BMI), a higher total energy intake, and were more likely to be former smokers and
have higher blood pressure or a family history of diabetes. Consequently, the Mediterranean diet helped them offset this higher risk.

The authors concluded that “substantial protection against diabetes can be obtained with the traditional Mediterranean diet, rich in olive oil, vegetables, fruits, nuts, cereals, legumes, and
fish, but relatively low in meat and dairy products.”

For more information, see

Martínez-González MA et al (2008). Adherence to Mediterranean diet and risk of developing diabetes: prospective cohort study. British Medical Journal.
336(7657):1348-51. Epub 2008 May 29.

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