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Unlocking the potential: the Mediterranean diet and extra virgin olive oil in type 2 diabetes

Unlocking the potential: the Mediterranean diet and extra virgin olive oil in type 2 diabetes

November is World Diabetes Awareness Month, and with approximately 537 million adults living with the condition worldwide1, it’s an important reminder of how this risk can be reduced with lifestyle changes.  In fact, Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus (T2DM) can be prevented or delayed in up to 58% of cases2.  When it comes to combating Type 2 Diabetes, a multifaceted approach is required; and among the various strategies available, nutrition intervention is a key consideration. More specifically, the Mediterranean diet has gained attention due to the growing body of research showing it to have benefits for both the prevention and management of this condition.

The Mediterranean diet focuses on plant-based foods, including fruit, vegetables, wholegrains, legumes, nuts, seeds and liberal amounts of extra virgin olive oil.  Along with these foods, the eating pattern emphasises fish and seafood over red meat, daily physical activity, and eating meals with family and friends as a social experience rather than alone.  All these aspects of the Mediterranean diet combine to provide an eating pattern that is full of healthy fats, antioxidants, fibre, and other beneficial macro and micronutrients. Additionally, the eating pattern focuses on the enjoyment of food, and reminds patients what they should eat more of, rather than being a restrictive diet.

What does the research show?

The body of evidence showing the benefits of the Mediterranean diet and the prevention and management of Type 2 Diabetes is large and continues to grow. For example, a systematic review and meta-analysis of one randomised controlled trial and 8 prospective cohort studies showed that greater adherence to a Mediterranean diet was associated with a significant reduction in the risk of diabetes3.  Additionally, a recent prospective epidemiological cohort study of over 25,000 US women who were followed up for 20 years showed that higher adherence to a Mediterranean diet was associated with a 30% relative risk reduction in Type 2 Diabetes4.

Along with reducing the risk of Type 2 Diabetes, research shows the Mediterranean diet is also useful in managing the condition5. As a key part of the Mediterranean diet, extra virgin olive oil has also garnered attention for its role in glycemic control.  A systematic review and meta-analysis of 4 cohort studies and 29 randomised controlled trials showed that high olive oil intake was associated with improved glucose metabolism in those with Type 2 Diabetes6. Furthermore, the Mediterranean diet and extra virgin olive oil have also been shown to be protective against complications of Type 2 Diabetes, including heart disease, stroke and other vascular diseases7,8.

Conclusion

In conclusion, the Mediterranean diet, complemented by the inclusion of extra virgin olive oil, represents a powerful tool in prevention and treatment of Type 2 Diabetes. Educating patients on the benefits of this eating pattern and how to follow it can empower them to improve their health while focusing on the enjoyment of food and movement, rather than restriction. 

In the words of Dr Simon Poole (GP, author of Diabetes for Dummies 6th edition, and Olive Wellness Institute Advisory Panel member) “The Mediterranean Diet is a truly sustainable and protective nutritional approach to optimize control of diabetes or even prevent or reverse the condition. Extra virgin olive oil plays a central role with improvements in insulin sensitivity, effects on satiety and decreasing the glycemic load of a meal.”

View article references

  1. Facts & Figures [Internet]. International Diabetes Federation; 2021 [cited 2023 November 17]. Available from: https://idf.org/about-diabetes/diabetes-facts-figures/
  2. [Internet]. Diabetes Australia [cited 20023 November 17]. Available from: https://www.diabetesaustralia.com.au/prevention/#:~:text=There%20are%20different%20types%20of,risk%20of%20type%202%20diabetes.
  3. Schwingshackl L, Missbach B, König J, Hoffmann G. Adherence to a Mediterranean diet and risk of diabetes: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Public Health Nutr. 2015 May;18(7):1292-9. doi: 10.1017/S1368980014001542.
  4. Ahmad S, Demler OV, Sun Q, et al. Association of the Mediterranean Diet With Onset of Diabetes in the Women’s Health Study. JAMA Netw Open.2020;3(11):e2025466. doi:10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2020.25466
  5. Esposito K et al. A journey into a Mediterranean diet and type 2 diabetes: a systematic review with meta-analyses. BMJ Open. 2015 Aug 10;5(8)e008222. doi:1136/bmjopen-2015-008222.
  6. Schwingshackl, L., et al., Olive oil in the prevention and management of type 2 diabetes mellitus: a systematic review and meta-analysis of cohort studies and intervention trials.Nutr Diabetes, 2017. 7(4): p. e262.
  7. EstruchR, Ros E, Salas-Salvadó J, et al. Primary prevention of cardiovascular disease with a Mediterranean diet. N Engl J Med 2013;368:1279–90. doi:10.1056/NEJMoa1200303
  8. Miguel A et al. Benefits of the Mediterranean Diet: Insights form the PREDIMED study. Prog Cardiovasc Dis. 2015 Jul-Aug; 58(1):50-60. Doi 1016/j.pcad.2015.04.003.