Mediterranean diet can reduce risk of type 2 diabetes

by Barbara Hewitt on January 8, 2014

Older people may reduce their risk of developing type 2 diabetes by following a Mediterranean diet that is rich in olive oil, fruit, vegetables and fish, a new study suggests.

Previous research has strongly suggested that there are numerous health benefits from following a Mediterranean diet and research from Spain now backs this up. It says that adopting a Mediterranean may protect people at high risk of heart disease against diabetes.


A Mediterranean diet, full of fruits and vegetables, is palatable and sustainable, and could lessen the risk of diabetes in older people

Researchers at the Rovira i Virgili University in Tarragona analysed data on more than 3,500 people at an increased risk for heart disease and found those who were put on a Mediterranean diet were about 30% less likely to develop diabetes over four years compared to those assigned to a general low fat diet.

‘Randomized trials have shown that lifestyle interventions promoting weight loss can reduce the incidence of type 2 diabetes, however, whether dietary changes without calorie restriction or increased physical activity also protect from diabetes development has not been evaluated in the past,’ said Dr. Jordi Salas-Salvado, professor of nutrition at the university and head of the Department of Nutrition at the Hospital de Sant Joan de Reus in Spain.

A Mediterranean diet is generally high in vegetables, fibre rich grains, vegetables, fish and plant based unsaturated fat such as olive oil and nuts. They are low in red meat and high fat dairy products.

Of the 3,541 who took part in the study all were aged 55 to 80 and none had diabetes but they had other health risks due to smoking, being overweight and having high cholesterol. They were randomly assigned to adopt one of three diets.

One consisted of a Mediterranean style diet that derived most of its unsaturated fat from extra virgin olive oil; the second was a Mediterranean style diet that used mixed nuts as its main source of unsaturated fat. The third diet emphasised reducing all fat consumption. None of the diets, however, asked the participants to cut down on how many calories they ate or to increase how much they exercised.

After about four years, 273 of the participants had developed diabetes. That included 6.9% from the extra virgin olive oil group, 7.4% from the mixed nuts group and 8.8% from the reduced fat group.

The researchers caution that the difference in diabetes cases among people on the mixed nuts and reduced fat diets may have been due to chance. They can’t explain why the mixed nuts diet didn’t show quite the same benefit as the extra virgin olive oil diet.

But Salas-Salvado said the difference between the two Mediterranean diets could also be a coincidence, because both have additional unsaturated fatty acids that are linked to a reduced diabetes risk.

He said cutting calories along with adopting a Mediterranean-style diet would likely reduce risks even further. ‘These benefits have been observed in participants between 55 to 80 years old at high cardiovascular risk.

Following a Mediterranean diet is palatable and sustainable, therefore it could have public health implications for the prevention of diabetes, he concluded.

The opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of the Community and should not be interpreted as medical advice. Please see your doctor before making any changes to your diabetes management plan.

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