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Mediterranean Diet May be Key to Delaying Diabetes

Apr 18, 2014 10:57 AM EDT

A diet rich in olive oil, fish and whole grains, classically known as the Mediterranean diet, may help delay diabetes rather than simply cutting out fats, according to a follow-up analysis.

Type 2 diabetes patients may think going the low-fat route is enough to veer them towards a healthier lifestyle, but an eight-year study shows that the Mediterranean diet can keep the disease at bay for longer.

"Everybody thinks of fat as being bad, but this shows that it depends on what kind of fat," Dr. Leanne Olansky, an endocrinologist at the Cleveland Clinic who was not involved in the new study, told Reuters Health.

Eating your fill of olive oil, fish, whole grains, legumes and poultry ensures this healthy balance.

"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," said lead study author Katherine Esposito.

Esposito, of the Diabetes Unit at University Hospital at the Second University of Naples in Italy, continued to monitor two groups of people from a previous study - one which followed the Mediterranean way and the other which ate a low-fat diet. All participants started these regimens after first being diagnosed with type 2 diabetes in an attempt to stave off the disease and too keep blood sugar levels under control for as long as possible.

It wasn't until eight years later that those on the Mediterranean diet required diabetes medication, compared to patients on the low-fat diet - who restricted fatty or sugary snacks - who needed the medication at the six-year mark.

"Although we don't know exactly what it is about Mediterranean diets that helps control blood sugar, it likely has to do with high levels of fiber, less red meat, and more olive oil and fish, a good source of protein with unsaturated fat," Esposito speculated.

But the results, published in the journal Diabetes Care, are so promising that most patients continue to abide by the Mediterranean diet, researchers say.

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