Olive oil, fresh fish, a variety of delicious nuts and vegetables… the Mediterranean diet has long been linked to health benefits such as longevity, promoting healthy cardiovascular function and slowing or preventing memory loss. A 2013 study, for example, found that people following a Mediterranean diet rich in healthy fats and nutrients had a 30 per cent lower risk of heart disease or stroke.
Now, a recent study has suggested that taking a cue from the traditional cooking style of countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea may also reduce the risk of diabetes, even without weight loss or exercise.
Mediterranean diet and diabetes
The research, published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, suggested that the minerals and phytochemicals in vegetables, seeds and fish can fight the body’s gradual inability to break down sugar and insulin, which can be a precursor to Type 2 diabetes.
“The trial provides strong evidence that long-term adherence to a Mediterranean diet supplemented with extra-virgin olive oil without energy restrictions…results in a substantial reduction in the risk for type 2 diabetes among older persons with high cardiovascular risk,” said lead researcher on the study Dr. Jordi Salas-Salvado.
“Of note, this dietary pattern is palatable and has a high potential for long-term sustainability, with obvious public-health implications for primary prevention of diabetes.”
What is the Mediterranean diet?
The Mediterranean diet is largely plant-based, with a wholesome mix of fruits, vegetables, nuts and grains, and protein coming mostly from fish and legumes. It is not a prescriptive diet, but rather a philosophy that promotes healthy, balanced eating that can be sustained over a lifetime.
- The main elements of the Mediterranean diet include:
- Plenty of vegetables, legumes, fruits and wholegrain cereals.
- Vegetables including leafy greens and tomatoes as part of most meals.
- Minimal intake of red meat.
- Fish, including oily fish like salmon, mackerel, sardines and tuna.
- Olive oil as the main added fat, replacing other oils, butter and lard.
- Fresh fruit, dried fruit, nuts or low-fat yoghurt as snacks and dessert.
- Avoiding processed and packaged food wherever possible, instead favouring plant-based, seasonally fresh and locally grown foods.
- Using herbs and spices instead of salt to flavour foods
- Red wine in moderation, consumed with meals.