April 28, 2023 – Following a Mediterranean diet lowers the risk of developing Type 2 diabetes more than previously thought, a new study says.
Instead of evaluating the diet’s health benefits in the usual way of asking people what they ate and then waiting to see if they developed Type 2 diabetes, researchers sampled people’s blood and looked for evidence of the popular diet’s health benefits in the form of blood biomarkers. It turns out, what people said they ate and what their blood indicates they ate are pretty different.
The Mediterranean diet encourages eating lots of vegetables, fruits, olive oil, fish, and nuts. Researchers were able to identify people who strictly followed the diet by finding evidence, or biomarkers, in the form of molecules called fatty acids and carotenoids in their blood.
The fatty acids are indicators of how much fish, nuts, olive oil, and dairy someone eats. The carotenoids indicate the amount of fruit and vegetables someone eats.
Researchers evaluated stored blood samples and self-reported diet information from more than 20,000 people who were followed in a European study for about 10 years. They found that the people whose blood biomarker levels indicated they were following a Mediterranean diet had a nearly 30% reduced risk of developing Type 2 diabetes during those 10 years.
In a second analysis, researchers found that if they had just asked people what they ate, the analysis would have indicated that the Mediterranean diet only reduced the risk of developing Type 2 diabetes by 10%.
Led by researchers at the University of Cambridge in England, the study was published Thursday in the journal PLOS Medicine.
People who are at an increased risk of developing Type 2 diabetes are those with a family history of diabetes, are overweight or obese, or are age 45 or older, according to the National Institutes of Health.
Type 2 diabetes is a disease that impacts how the body changes food into energy. Lowering the risk of diabetes also lowers the risk of dangerous complications that are common among people with diabetes. These include heart disease, chronic kidney disease, nerve damage, and other problems with feet, oral health, vision, hearing, and mental health, the CDC says.