PhotoYou've heard that adopting a Mediterranean diet is good for your heart. Now a study shows it is also linked to a lower risk of diabetes, especially among people at high risk for cardiovascular disease.

"Adherence to the Mediterranean diet may prevent the development of diabetes irrespective of age, sex, race or culture," said Demosthenes Panagiotakos, Ph.D., professor at Harokopio University, Athens, Greece, and lead investigator of this meta-analysis to be presented at the American College of Cardiology's 63rd Annual Scientific Session.

"This diet has a beneficial effect, even in high risk groups, and speaks to the fact that it is never too late to start eating a healthy diet."

Reduces diabetes risk

The study found that adherence to this diet was associated with a 21% reduced risk of diabetes, compared to the control dietary groups. This reduced risk was even more pronounced among people at high risk for cardiovascular disease – among whom diabetes prevention is especially critical. 

"A meta-analysis captures the limitations of individual studies, and this type of study is important to help inform guidelines and evidence-based care," Panagiotakos said.

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

The researchers found that regardless of the study population – European or non-European or high or low risk of cardiovascular disease – the association between the Mediterranean diet and lower risk of diabetes remained.

While there is no set Mediterranean diet, it commonly emphasizes fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, beans, nuts, fish, olive oil and even a glass of red wine.

The number of diabetes cases has doubled worldwide in the past 30 years and has been linked to the growing obesity epidemic. People with diabetes have trouble controlling their blood sugar because they either do not produce the hormone insulin or do not use it properly. 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 the traditional Mediterranean diet is also linked to weight loss, reduced risk of heart disease and related death, as well as lower blood pressure and blood cholesterol levels.

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