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New research finds that previous studies may have underestimated how effective the Mediterranean diet is for lowering your risk of type 2 diabetes. Davide Illini/Stocksy
  • The risk of type 2 diabetes can be significantly reduced by eating a Mediterranean diet.
  • In a first study of its kind, researchers developed a blood test to determine the impact of eating a Mediterranean diet on type 2 diabetes risk.
  • This test identified a stronger link between the Mediterranean diet and a reduced risk of type 2 diabetes than previous tests, which were based on self-reporting.

The Mediterranean diet may reduce type 2 diabetes risk even more than previously thought.

That’s according to new evidence from researchers at the University of Cambridge, UK who have developed a novel blood test to determine the impact of eating a Mediterranean diet on type 2 diabetes risk.

This is the first study of its kind to use a blood test to measure levels of certain molecules and calculate a biomarker score in the blood. Previous research has been limited by self-reporting.

To compare the difference, the study authors also asked participants to self-report food consumed.

Researchers found that using the biomarker score identified a stronger link between the Mediterranean diet and reduced risk of type 2 diabetes than self-reporting.

This may suggest previous self-report-based studies may have underestimated the association between following a Mediterranean diet and type 2 diabetes risk.

The study ultimately examined the biomarker scores of 340,234 people living in eight European countries.

The study authors also note that more research is needed to confirm the new findings since it is currently unknown to what extent the biomarker score is specific to the Mediterranean diet.

There are many reasons the Mediterranean diet keeps taking the top spot in the U.S. News and World Report annual ranking of best diets year after year.

Experts clearly agree it is one of the most sustainable eating patterns with significant health benefits, including helping to reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes and heart disease.

Kristin Kirkpatrick, MS, RDN, a nutritionist and the author of “Skinny Liver,” who was not involved in the study, says she’s not surprised to see this study yield similar results that other studies on the Mediterranean have previously concluded, but what is interesting here is the addition of the link between measured adherence to the diet and health benefit.

Rahaf Al Bochi, RDN, LD Spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and owner of Olive Tree Nutrition LLC was also not involved in the study. She says this new research provides a promising association between adhering to a Mediterranean diet and reducing the risk for type 2 diabetes.

Al Bochi also echoes the researchers in saying that more research is required, especially since the sample size is based on only participants living in European countries.

The American Heart Association has included the Mediterranean-style diet in their most recent update of an American Heart Association tool for evaluating heart health — and for good reason.

“The Mediterranean diet emphasizes plenty of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, nuts, seeds, legumes, fish, herbs, and olive oil, with some meat, poultry, and dairy incorporated,” says Al Bochi. “This means it is rich in vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and unsaturated fats that have been associated with health benefits,” she explains.

Kirkpatrick agrees saying the diet is very high in nutrient density and contains many foods that, on their own, have been found to decrease mortality and reduce the risk of several chronic conditions. The diet also is limited in added sugars, refined grains, and saturated fats, explains Kirkpatrick.

The American Heart Association explains this Mediterranean-style of eating can help you achieve a healthy eating pattern which plays a big role in preventing heart disease and stroke and reducing risk factors such as obesity, diabetes, high cholesterol, and high blood pressure.

Whether you’re considering switching to a Mediterranean diet or you simply want to incorporate more foods in this category, health experts say there are a few simple tips to keep in mind that can help you make sustainable changes.

Start slowly to begin

“Take a baby steps approach,” says Kirkpatrick. To do this, she suggests people may want to start with a particular area of their existing or current diet or eating habits.

“For example, if you are used to utilizing high amounts of saturated fats, then limiting those and adding in more unsaturated fats like monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats might help,” she says. “This looks like having nuts and seeds as snacks or utilizing more extra virgin olive oil in cooking,” Kirkpatrick adds.

Al Bochi suggests shifting toward a more Mediterranean-style diet by adding an extra serving of vegetables and fruits to your current meals.

Prioritize your primary protein

Kirkpatrick says you can also assess your primary protein sources and add some Mediterranean factors here, focusing more on beans, legumes, and fatty fish.

Al Bochi agrees, suggesting adding more plant-based proteins like beans, lentils, nuts and seeds to the menu.

The American Heart Association offers the following serving size tips for people who prefer eating meat:

  • a piece of meat about the size of a deck of cards
  • one small chicken drumstick or thigh
  • 3/4 cup of fish, flaked
  • 2 thin slices of lean roast beef (sliced 3″ x 3″ x 1/4″)

Focus on what to add rather than subtract

“Focus on what you can add to your diet, instead of limit,” says Al Bochi. Kirkpatrick says you can’t go wrong with simply adding more fruits and vegetables into your existing diet.

She says this will be a step towards a more Mediterranean approach that can be maintained over time.

Al Bochi also suggests adding more Mediterranean foods to the diet by using olive oil as your main fat.

While following a Mediterranean eating plan is about what you do and do not consume, Al Bochi says it’s important to keep in mind that it is more a lifestyle than a diet.

“The Mediterranean diet is a lifestyle that encourages mindful eating, socializing over food, and adding daily movement,” she says. The American Heart Association echoes this by saying diet isn’t the only part of Mediterranean living that’s important for heart health.”

According to the AHA, it’s an eating pattern that is historically associated with lifestyles that include exercise and social activity.