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Studies: Mediterranean Diet May Cut Diabetes Risk, And Slow Disease

More good news on the health front. Two studies suggest eating a Mediterranean-style diet may lower your risk of diabetes – or, if you’ve contracted the disease, slow its progression more effectively than a low-fat diet. Mediterranean Diet Fotosearch

The Mediterranean diet is rich in olive oil, fresh vegetables and fruits, whole grains, beans, nuts, and seafood.

In the first study, researchers found that people who followed that kind of diet faced a 21 percent lower risk of diabetes. Moreover, the diet lowered the risk even more – 27 percent – among people at high risk of heart disease. The researchers analyzed 19 different studies that followed more than 162,00 people over 5-1/2 years. The results were presented recently at the American College of Cardiology’s annual meeting in Washington.

“Adherence to the Mediterranean diet may prevent the development of diabetes irrespective of age, sex, race or culture,” Demosthenes Panagiotakos – a professor at Harokopio University in Athens who spearheaded the analysis – said in a news release.

The 19 studies analyzed covered European and non-European populations. Panagiotakos said this was important because most published studies have been European-based. That raised questions about whether certain factors in these regions – like genetics, the environment, lifestyle and lower stress levels – may have influenced the results.

However, Panagiotakos and his colleagues found that regardless of the population – European or non-European, or high or low risk of heart disease – the association between the Mediterranean diet and a lower risk of diabetes remained.

The number of diabetes cases has doubled worldwide in the past 30 years and has been linked to the growing obesity epidemic. If uncontrolled, diabetes can lead to complications including blindness, kidney failure, cardiovascular disease and amputations.

Panagiotakos said he believes the Mediterranean diet, in particular, lowers the risk of diabetes by helping to guard against obesity. Earlier research has shown that following a traditional Mediterranean diet was also linked to weight loss, reduced risk of heart disease and related death, as well as lower blood pressure and blood cholesterol levels.

“Diabetes is an ongoing epidemic and its relation to obesity, especially in the Westernized populations, is well known. We have to do something to prevent diabetes and changing our diet may be an effective treatment,” Panagiotakos said.

In the second study, researchers found that eating plenty of olive oil, fish, and whole grains was more effective at slowing the progression of type 2 diabetes than curbing fat intake. The researchers tracked people who had been recently diagnosed with the disease. The trial followed these people for more than eight years.

The results, in Diabetes Care, suggested that people who stuck to a Mediterranean-style diet – versus a low-fat diet – went significantly longer before they needed diabetes medication. Also, more of these people had their diabetes go into remission.

The study’s lead author, Katherine Esposito, told Reuters Health that people diagnosed with diabetes should try to follow a healthy diet, and that a Mediterranean diet was a good choice. She also noted that maintaining the right levels of healthy fats was key, versus cutting fat as a way to reduce calorie intake.

“One of the main aspects of the Mediterranean diet is the percentage of daily fat, which is higher than 30 percent of daily calories; however, the main fat is monounsaturated, usually from olive oil in the Mediterranean basin,” Esposito, of the Diabetes Unit at University Hospital at the Second University of Naples in Italy, told Reuters Health.

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