According to the American Diabetes Association, 25.8 million adults and children in the US have diabetes. The condition is much more common in individuals over the age of 50, but new research suggests that older people may reduce their risk of developing type 2 diabetes by following a Mediterranean diet.
This is according to a study recently published in the journal Annals of Internal Medicine.
A Mediterranean diet mainly consists of high consumption of vegetables, fruits, beans, olive oil, whole grains and fish.
Previous research has strongly suggested that there are numerous health benefits from following a Mediterranean diet. Late last year, Medical News Today reported on a study suggesting that middle-aged women may have a longer lifespan and better health if they follow the diet, while another study suggests the diet may reduce genetic stroke risk.
According to the study investigators from Spain, research has shown that weight-loss interventions, such as a low-calorie diet, are effective for the prevention of diabetes.
But they note there is limited information as to whether changes in diet that do not lead to weight loss, or involve reduction in calories or increased exercise, have the same effect.
Subjects assigned to Mediterranean or low-fat diet
To find out, the researchers analyzed 3,541 men and women without diabetes aged 55-80-years-old who were at high risk for heart disease - a condition known to be a risk factor associated with type 2 diabetes.
All participants were randomly assigned to one of three diets. The first was a Mediterranean diet in which subjects were required to consume 50ml of extra-virgin olive oil each day.
Some participants followed a Mediterranean diet alongside 30g of mixed nuts each day, while the remaining subjects followed a low-fat diet.
During a 4-year follow-up period, the participants following the Mediterranean diet were given guidance by dietitians. They were instructed to increase consumption of fruits and vegetables, beans, and fish, and to avoid red or processed meat, butter and candies.
The investigators note that none of the subjects were told to reduce their calorie intake or increase their physical activity.
Mediterranean diet 'may reduce diabetes risk'
At the end of the follow-up period, the researchers found that 273 participants had developed diabetes. Of these, 101 were from the low-fat diet group, while 80 were from the Mediterranean diet group with additional extra-virgin olive oil, and 92 were from the Mediterranean diet group with extra nuts.
The researchers say their findings suggest:
"A Mediterranean diet without calorie restrictions that is supplemented with EVOO (extra-virgin olive oil) or nuts may reduce the risk for type 2 diabetes."
The investigators point out that there were only minor changes in participants' body weight, waist circumference and physical activity and these did not differ by group.
They conclude that following a Mediterranean diet is "palatable and sustainable," therefore it could have public health implications for the prevention of diabetes.