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Mediterranean Diet helps prevent diabetes in overweight women

a bowl of minestrone soup, including legumes, vegetables, and monounsaturated fats

It appears that following a more Mediterranean-style diet may help prevent the development of diabetes in overweight women even more than in women of clinically normal weight.

In an article recently published in JAMA Network Open (2020;3(11):e2025466), an international team of researchers analyzed data gathered for the Women's Health Study, an ongoing prospective study of over 25,000 women that began recruitment in in 1992 and has continued gathering data through December 2017.

Each participant responded to demographic questionnaires as well as health questionnaires that were updated via written survey every year. At the start of the study the participants provided blood samples for metabolic testing and completed a detailed dietary questionnaire that allowed the researchers to assign each participant a Mediterranean Diet score ranging from 0 to 9.

After almost 25 years of data gathering, the authors compared the Mediterranean Diet scores of those who developed diabetes with those who did not.

For their analysis, in addition to breaking down the Mediterranean Diet score into low, medium, and high (0-3 points, 4-5 points, and 6-9 points), the authors took into account the participants' Body Mass Index as well as their metabolic scores, including blood pressures and cholesterol scores.

It should be no surprise that overall, those whose Mediterranean Diet scores were 6 or above were far less likely to develop diabetes than those whose Mediterranean Diet scores were 3 or below - as much as 30% less likely.

What's a surprise in this study is that when the authors separated the participants by Body Mass Index, grouping them into BMI 25 or over (clinically overweight) or BMI under 25 (clinically normal weight or underweight), they found that the reduction in risk of diabetes applied only to those women whose BMI was 25 or higher (clinically overweight).

What this means for you

While excess body weight can mean an increased risk of several chronic diseases, from diabetes to some cancers, this research helps underscore that improving what you eat can have just as much - if not more - of an effect on your health as weight loss.

First posted: December 16, 2020