The Mediterranean Diet May Lower Diabetes Risk In Women, New Study Suggests

mbg Editorial Assistant By Abby Moore
mbg Editorial Assistant
Abby Moore is an Editorial Assistant at mindbodygreen. She earned a B.A. in Journalism from The University of Texas at Austin and has previously written for Tribeza magazine.
Mediterranean Dish of Mozzarella, Tomatoes, Basil, Caprese

Whether you're investing time in cooking a well-curated grilled fish and vegetable dish, or you're just heating up a can of chickpeas, both fit into the Mediterranean diet. The versatility and the ease of this flavorful eating plan are enough to win most people over, and the list of health benefits just seems to keep growing.

A new study published in JAMA Network Open found women who ate a Mediterranean diet were 30% less likely to develop type 2 diabetes than women who did not. 

The research, conducted by investigators at Brigham and Women's Hospital, looked at more than 25,000 female participants from the Women's Health Study, which spanned over 20 years. Though the initial health study was not intended to analyze diet, participants were asked to complete food frequency questionnaires (FFQs), describing what they ate each day.

Using that data, a team of researchers, including Samia Mora, M.D., MHS, and Shafqat Ahmad, Ph.D., looked at the relationship between women's diets, type 2 diabetes, and other biomarkers that may be responsible for the metabolic disease

The correlation between the Mediterranean diet and diabetes. 

The Mediterranean diet emphasizes healthy fats, like olive oil, nuts, seeds, and fatty fish, as well as whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and legumes. It has often been considered the healthiest and most sustainable diet, due to the fresh, flavorful, yet nonrestrictive offerings. 

Research has linked the diet to stress reduction, heart health, and now a decreased risk of type 2 diabetes—particularly for women. But how? 

To find an association, researchers asked each participant to score their Mediterranean diet intake from 0 to 9: Higher numbers for fruits, veggies, whole grains, legumes, nuts, and fish; midrange for moderate alcohol intake; and low scores for red or processed meat.

To rule out underlying health conditions, they also measured vitals, like cholesterol, lipoproteins in the body, and insulin resistance

Women who ate a Mediterranean diet at the beginning of the study developed type 2 diabetes at a 30% lower rate than those who didn't. Those without insulin resistance were the least likely to be at risk for diabetes. 

"Most of this reduced risk associated with the Mediterranean diet and type 2 diabetes was explained through the biomarkers related to insulin resistance, adiposity, lipoprotein metabolism, and inflammation," Ahmad said in a news release. "This understanding may have important downstream consequences for the primary prevention of diabetes disease."

That said, there are limitations to the research. For example, most women in the study were white and well educated, and all worked as health professionals, making for limited diversity in the research pool. Plus, the diet was self-reported and, therefore, might not be as accurate. 

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Bottom line.

The association between the Mediterranean diet and a reduced risk of type 2 diabetes is promising. Mora says the findings support the idea that people can manage their metabolic health risks and that small changes add up over time.

And do you want your passion for wellness to change the world? Become A Functional Nutrition Coach! Enroll today to join our upcoming live office hours.

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