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Can a Mediterranean Diet Prevent Type 2 Diabetes?

The Mediterranean diet is known to be one of the healthiest diets in the world. It primarily focuses on whole plant foods, such as beans, legumes, whole grains, vegetables, fruit, and healthy fats like nuts, olives, and extra virgin olive oil (EVOO). With its abundant consumption of nutrient-rich foods, the Mediterranean diet can be a delicious and healthy diet for many different types of people. The Mediterranean diet can also be an effective and useful diet to decrease the risk or prevent certain diseases or conditions. Today we are going to focus on the Mediterranean diet and its contribution to the prevention of type 2 diabetes.

Of course, always consult with your doctor or Registered Dietitian before changing your diet. And remember, this article serves as a resource for information and is not a prescription. Like any eating pattern, it should be incorporated along with physical activity and an overall healthy lifestyle.

Can a Mediterranean Diet Prevent Diabetes?

The short answer is yes, the Mediterranean diet has been shown to aid in the prevention of type 2 diabetes.

In a recent study, over 3000 individuals, age 60-80, with increased cardiovascular risk (smoking, hypertension, high cholesterol, low HDL cholesterol, overweight or obese, etc.) followed either a Mediterranean diet with the addition of extra virgin olive oil, a Mediterranean diet with the addition of nuts, or a control diet. The results of this study showed evidence that the Mediterranean diet supplemented with extra virgin olive oil actually reduces the risk of developing type 2 diabetes. This means that by incorporating not only the Mediterranean style of eating, but also by incorporating extra virgin olive oil, one's risk of developing type 2 diabetes is decreased.

This is great news, and there’s more of it. This study isn’t the first to explore the effect of the Mediterranean diet on type 2 diabetes prevention. Many studies over the years have shown similar results. In a cohort study done in 2008, similar results were seen. Martinez-Gonzalez et al. determined that “A traditional Mediterranean food pattern is associated with a significant reduction in the risk of developing type 2 diabetes”.

Now that we know the Mediterranean diet can have a preventative effect on type 2 diabetes, it's time to explore why it has this effect.

Mediterranean Diet’s Preventative Effects:

The Mediterranean diet has a preventative effect on type 2 diabetes due to a couple of reasons.

One of the main reasons is that a Mediterranean diet can decrease insulin resistance. In a randomized study, participants with metabolic syndrome were put on a Mediterranean diet and their results were measured after 2 years. Findings showed that a Mediterranean diet not only decreased insulin resistance, but also reduced the prevalence of metabolic syndrome in the participants. Because insulin resistance and metabolic syndrome increase the risk of type 2 diabetes development, a Mediterranean diet can help prevent the disease.

Having a low level of HDL cholesterol is another factor that increases the risk of developing type 2 diabetes (HDL cholesterol is typically viewed as the good or healthy cholesterol in our bodies). A recent study showed that a traditional Mediterranean diet with olive oil can actually increase the function of HDL cholesterol in those with higher cardiovascular risk. This is beneficial in relation to type 2 diabetes because although it will not increase the HDL cholesterol, it will help the already present cholesterol in the body function.

Research also shows that a higher adherence to the Mediterranean diet is also associated with decreased risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Martinez-Gonzalez et al. said that “Higher adherence to a Mediterranean diet rich in olive oil, plant-based foods … but low in meats was inversely associated with incidence of type 2 diabetes among initially healthy participants”. This means that following a Mediterranean style eating pattern will be beneficial in the prevention of type 2 diabetes.

How to incorporate the Mediterranean Diet:

Now you know why the Mediterranean diet can be so helpful in the prevention of type 2 diabetes, but do you know how to actually incorporate it in your life? If not, have no fear –– the Mediterranean diet is simple and delicious. Focus is placed on fresh foods, healthy fats, and minimally processed items. The main way to start incorporating this diet is to increase your vegetable, whole grain, and extra virgin olive oil intake, while decreasing your consumption of red meat, processed items, and added sugar. Listed below are a few articles that may be beneficial to those thinking about trying this diet!

If you’re not sure what foods are included in the Mediterranean diet, read this article discussing the breakdown of all the food components: Let’s break down The Mediterranean Diet.

If you live a busy life, are not ready for change, or you're just not sure how to start following this diet, read this article: 6 Ways to Incorporate the Mediterranean Diet into Your Daily Life

If you are ready to pick up some fresh and healthy foods that are included in the Mediterranean diet, read this article: Mediterranean Diet Grocery Shopping Guide

If you looking for a simple and quick place to start, try this one: 5 Healthy Mediterranean Diet Snacks

The Takeaway...

Implementing a Mediterranean style diet into your life can provide many benefits, with one main benefit being a decreased risk of developing type 2 diabetes. With a primary component of the Mediterranean diet being extra virgin olive oil (EVOO), it could be beneficial to add Olivaio into your diet as well. By incorporating extra virgin olive oil (EVOO), with traditional Mediterranean dishes, you are sure to benefit your taste buds as well as your health.

To learn more about ways to incorporate extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) or a Mediterranean style diet into your cooking, visit our recipe page on olivaio.com.

Written by Isabelle Hammack

Reviewed by Kelly Powers, MA, RDN, a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist who takes a holistic approach to nutrition and health. Kelly is a recipe developer with a food blog highlighting whole foods, simple recipes, and her life in San Francisco. She’s the creator of 52 Weeks, a weekly meal plan program that helps users get back in the kitchen and feed themselves well. Kelly is also a co-founder of Olivaio.