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Study: Healthy Diet Can Help Avoid Diabetes Drugs

Research has found that eating a healthy Mediterranean-style diet may help people with type 2 diabetes keep their disease under control without drugs better than following a typical low-fat diet.

In the longest-term study of its kind, researchers from Italy found that people with type 2 diabetes who ate a Mediterranean diet rich in vegetables and whole grains with at least 30% of daily calories from fat (mostly olive oil) were better able to manage their disease without diabetes medications than those who ate a low-fat diet with no more than 30% of calories from fat (with less than 10% coming from saturated fat choices).

After four years, researchers found that 44% of people on the Mediterranean diet ended up requiring diabetes medications to control their blood sugars compared with 70% of those who followed the low-fat diet.

Study Details

In the study, researchers randomly assigned 215 overweight people recently diagnosed with type 2 diabetes who had never been treated with diabetes medications to either a Mediterranean-style diet or a low-fat diet.

The Mediterranean diet was rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains and healthy fats such as olive oil. It was also low in red meat, which was replaced with fish or poultry. Overall, the diet consisted of no more than 50% of daily calories from carbohydrates and no less than 30% of calories from fat.

The low-fat diet was based on American heart Association guidelines and was rich in whole grains and limited in sweets with no more than 30% of calories from fat and 10% from saturated fats, such as animal fats.

All patients were encouraged to exercise regularly, and after four years of follow-up, the Mediterranean diet group had better glycemic (blood sugar) control and were less likely to require diabetes medications to bring their blood sugar within healthy levels.

By the end of the study, which was published in the Sept. 1 issue of the Annals of Internal Medicine, 56% of patients following the Mediterranean diet were able to control their blood sugar without medication, compared with 30% of those on the low-fat regimen. The Mediterranean dieters were also able to maintain slightly more weight loss than the low-fat group.

On the basis of their findings, the study's authors suggest that some diabetes patients may be able to substitute diet and exercise for blood-sugar-lowering medications.

Research Paper Details:

Esposito K, Maiorino MI, Ciotola M, et al. Effects of a Mediterranean-Style diet on the Need for Antihyperglycemic Drug Therapy in Patients With Newly Diagnosed Type 2 Diabetes: A Randomized Trial. Annals of Internal medicine, Vol 151:5 306-314, 2009.