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Mediterranean Diet May Protect Against Type 2 Diabetes

Study authors say drinking wine an integral part to their findings

Jacob Gaffney
Posted: July 14, 2008

A study, published online in the British Medical Journal, finds that sticking to a Mediterranean diet, which includes modest alcohol consumption, helps reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes by up to 83 percent, when compared to those who don't closely adhere to the regimen.

The research comes two months after American scientists found that the Mediterranean diet helps type 2 diabetes patients better regulate their metabolism. The Mediterranean diet is rich in olive oil, grains, fruits, nuts, vegetables and fish, and low in meat and dairy products. Alcohol is allowed, (preferably wine), but only if it's a glass or two.

The current study stated that scientific evidence suggests that such a diet has a protective role against cardiovascular disease, but little is known about its role on the risk of developing diabetes in healthy populations. The researchers, who are based at the University of Navarra in Pamplona, Spain, and related medical centers, recruited 13,380 healthy graduates between 1999 and 2007 and followed their dietary habits for four years.

The former students completed a 136-item food-frequency questionnaire designed to quantify their entire diet. The scientists then applied the now-standard Mediterranean diet scale developed in 2003 in order to gauge how closely each participant followed the diet. Simply put, if one eats their vegetables every day, they are assigned a value of one. If they skip fresh produce, they are assigned a zero. Therefore, the closer one adheres to the tenets of the diet, the higher the score, for a possible total of nine points.

For alcohol, a subject is assigned a "one" if they drink between one and three servings of alcohol per day, for men, and half to two drinks for women. If they drink more or less, they were assigned a "zero." Those who scored at the top end of the scale, between seven and nine points, highly followed a Mediterranean diet, the study states. A score between three and six indicates "moderate" adherence with "low" followers falling between zero and two points.

After the scientists added the numbers up and compared the results to the occurrence of type 2 diabetes across the subjects, they found that those who highly followed the Mediterranean diet showed an 83 percent reduction in the risk of developing type 2 diabetes, when compared to the "low" category.

"Moderate" Mediterranean diet followers had a 60 percent lower risk of type 2 diabetes when the same comparison was made.

Lead researcher Miguel Martínez-Gonzalez, of the university's department of preventive medicine and public health believes larger studies across a greater geographical areas are needed to help elucidate the connection between a Mediterranean diet and the risk of type 2 diabetes.

In addition, he added, the alcohol may be a necessary aspect, but it is only one part of the diet. And, being in Spain, the choice of beverage is as important as the amount that is consumed. "Of course the major source of alcohol was wine, especially red wine, but I think that the whole food pattern and the combination of healthy items with their synergies and interactions is more important than any single element," said Martínez-Gonzalez.

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