October 2, 2009

Mediterranean Diet & Diabetes

For recently-diagnosed diabetics, following a Mediterranean-style diet may reduce the need for blood sugar medications. The effect of this diet on...

Adding to the laundry list of reasons to consume a well−rounded, Mediterranean−style diet is a new study reporting that recently−diagnosed diabetics required blood sugar medications much less often if they stuck to this type of diet, rather than to a low−fat diet. The study is published in September’s Annals of Internal Medicine.

Translating these numbers into risk factor, eating a Mediterranean diet was associated with a 37% decreased risk of needing diabetes medication.

Dario Giugliano and his team at Second University of Naples tracked 215 people who had recently been diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. Half of the group were told to follow a low−fat diet, while the other half were told to follow a Mediterranean diet. Giugliano reminds us that the “Mediterranean−type diet is a diet high in plant foods, such as fruits, nuts, legumes and cereals, and fish, with olive oils as the primary source of monounsaturated fat and low to moderate intake of wine, as well as low intake of red meat and poultry.”

Participants were followed for four years, at which point several health factors were measured and each individual’s requirement for diabetes medications – or not – was recorded. The researchers found that 70% of the participants following the low−fat diet were on medication versus 44% of those on the Mediterranean diet. Translating these numbers into risk factor, eating a Mediterranean diet was associated with a 37% decreased risk of needing diabetes medication.

There were other benefits to following the Mediterranean diet as well. Those on it had lower blood pressure, cholesterol, and slightly lowered Body Mass Index compared to those on the low−fat diet. Giugliano says that “the Mediterranean diet has been associated with a number of healthful outcomes, including reduced risk of cardiovascular disease, cancer and mortality. Given that patients with type 2 diabetes still have a twofold risk of death as compared to the non−diabetic population, these potential benefits are intriguing.”

One way in which the Mediterranean diet may help control diabetes is that it is lower in carbohydrates than other eating plans. Certain carbohydrates – starches and sugars – are the main culprits in raising blood sugar levels. But Giugliano says that while the carbohydrate quotient is likely part of the beneficial effect of the Mediterranean diet, its effect on insulin sensitivity is greater than one might expect based purely on this measure. At any rate, he says that he would recommend the diet to anyone battling type 2 diabetes, which unfortunately represents a growing number of the population these days.

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