For people recently diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, eating plenty of olive oil, fish and whole grains slows progression of the disease more than restricting fat, according to a new analysis.
In a randomized controlled trial that followed participants for more than eight years, those following a Mediterranean-style diet went significantly longer before needing diabetes medication and more of them had their diabetes under control, compared to those on a low-fat diet.
Cutting calories is important, and cutting fat is an easy way to cut calories, but according to this study, maintaining the right level of healthy fat is important.
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.
The research team continued to follow participants in a previous study who had been divided into two groups - one assigned to follow a Mediterranean diet and the other a low-fat diet - when they were first diagnosed with type 2 diabetes.
Both diets were designed to help prevent the disease from getting worse and to keep blood sugar under control without medication for as long as possible.
On both diets, women aimed to consume 1,500 calories per day and men aimed for 1,800 per day. Mediterranean dieters ate plenty of vegetables and whole grains and replaced most red meat with poultry and fish. Monthly sessions with nutritionists helped them keep less than half of their calories coming from carbohydrates and at least 30 percent of calories from fat, mainly olive oil.
The low-fat diet restricted fatty or sugary snacks, limiting fat to less than 30 percent of daily calorie intake.
At the end of a four-year study period, some of the participants in each group still hadn't gone on medication.
At the six-year mark, all the people in the low-fat diet group had gone on diabetes medication, but it wasn't until the eight-year mark that all people in the Mediterranean diet group needed medication.
Diabetes "remission," in which blood sugar levels appear healthy with no signs of diabetes, was rare overall but slightly more common in the Mediterranean group.
"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 fibre, less red meat and more olive oil and fish, a good source of protein with unsaturated fat," the lead researcher said.
People on the Mediterranean diet tended to lose more weight than those on the low-fat diet, which may be because the Mediterranean diet is easier to stick to.
Learn my 8 tips to adopt a Mediterranean-style diet.
Source: Diabetes Care, online April 10, 2014.
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