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How a Mediterranean diet could reduce diabetes risk in overweight women by 30%

How a Mediterranean diet could reduce diabetes risk in overweight women by 30%
(Image credit: Getty)

A Mediterranean diet can help overweight women reduce their risk of developing Type 2 diabetes by up to 30%, according to a new study (opens in new tab) published in JAMA Network. Researchers at the Brigham and Women’s Hospital at Harvard Medical School found that women who ate a diet rich in fruits, veggies, whole grains, nuts and fish had lower rates of Type 2 diabetes compared with women who did not. 

Type 2 diabetes is a health condition that causes the level of sugar (glucose) in your blood to become too high. It requires monitoring of blood sugar levels, most often done at home using one of the best glucose meters (opens in new tab).

Over 25,000 female healthcare workers took part in the Women’s Health Study, a now-completed clinical trial that looked at the risks and benefits of low dose aspirin and Vitamin D in the prevention of cardiovascular disease and cancer. Participants had an average age of 52.9 and were diabetes-free at the start of the trial.

Key highlights and insight arising from the study:  

  • Women with a BMI of 25 or higher at the start of the study, and who stuck closely to a Mediterranean diet, were 30% less likely to develop diabetes compared to those who didn't follow the diet or who had a BMI of under 25. 
  • Healthy Mediterranean-style foods that could help reduce your risk include oily fish, nuts, and fresh and colorful vegetables and fruits.

Researchers assessed 40 different biomarkers typically associated with Type 2 diabetes, including insulin resistance, lipoprotein metabolism, BMI and inflammation. While they found no clear cause and effect, what they did find was that the biomarkers that contributed most to the inverse association between a Mediterranean-style diet and diabetes were insulin resistance and BMI. 

An image showing avocados photographed on a yellow background

(Image credit: Getty)

Tracked for up to 25 years (between 1992 and 2017), each woman completed food questionnaires about her dietary intake to help researchers develop a baseline between 0 and 9. The higher a woman’s intake of Mediterranean style foods, the higher the baseline score. 

Dr Samia Mora (opens in new tab), Associate Professor of Medicine at Harvard, says that even small changes make a big difference. “In our study, just a few points on the scale was enough to be associated with the reduced risk for Type 2 diabetes.”

Foods that can help reduce Type 2 diabetes risk

Caroline West Passerrello (opens in new tab), a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, states that the results of the Women's Health study, “supports previous research that shows that a diet that focuses on fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins can positively influence those biomarkers and reduce the risk for certain chronic health conditions like Type 2 diabetes.”

With 85% of diabetics (opens in new tab) being overweight, research that offers ways to reduce the likelihood of developing the disease is welcome. Based on the centuries-old dietary traditions of those living in Crete, various other regions in Greece, and parts of southern Italy and France, the Mediterranean diet typically includes the following:

  • High amounts of complex carbohydrates and fiber
  • Moderate amounts of unsaturated fat, proteins, and alcohol
  • Low amounts of simple sugars

To avoid feeling overwhelmed with a new diet, start off with small yet consistent changes. This includes choosing lower glycemic index foods, which release their sugars slowly into the bloodstream, as opposed to high glycemic foods that release rapidly causing a spike in insulin and blood sugar.

Looking for more health and wellness content? Then read our guide to the best Medicare Part D plans (opens in new tab), if you need help covering the cost of prescription drugs for an ongoing health condition, as well as our guide to best health insurance companies (opens in new tab).

Kathryn is a freelance health and wellness writer who is passionate about the mind-body connection, the role of food as medicine, and exploring how we can live in more sustainable and humane ways. A lover of the natural world, she’s at her happiest when walking the beach, staring out at the ocean, or when sat amongst lakes and mountains. For Top Ten Reviews, Kathryn covers more of our in-depth health content, ranging from diabetes news to vision care. And it isn’t just human wellness Kathryn is interested in - she also writes about the health of our furry friends over at our sister site PetsRadar.