Mediterranean Diet as Diabetes Therapy

September 9/Disease Risk Factor Week -- A study published in Annals of Internal Medicine found that compared with a low-fat diet, a low-carbohydrate Mediterranean-style diet led to more favorable changes in glycemic control and coronary risk factors and delayed the need for antihyperglycemic drug therapy for overweight patients with newly diagnosed type 2 diabetes.

Compared with the standard U.S. diet, the Mediterranean diet uses larger amounts of nuts, whole grains, fruits, and vegetables. It also uses fewer carbohydrates and larger amounts of "healthy" oil and fat, such as olive oil. The diet has been shown to improve some risk factors for heart disease and diabetes in people at risk for those diseases. However, its effects in people who already have the diseases have not been studied, and few direct comparisons of Mediterranean and standard diets are available.

The study involved 215 overweight people with newly diagnosed type 2 diabetes who were not yet treated with drugs. The researchers randomly divided the participants into two groups. They gave the first group the information they needed to eat a Mediterranean diet. They gave the second group the information they needed to eat a low-fat diet. They then followed the two groups for four years. They compared the time it took participants' blood sugar levels to increase high enough to require treatment with diabetes drugs.

After four years, 44% of the participants in the Mediterranean diet group needed treatment with diabetes drugs versus 70% for the low fat diet group. Participants who ate a Mediterranean diet also lost more weight and had greater improvements in some risk factors for heart disease.

From the September 14, 2009, Prepared Foods E-dition