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That's the finding of researchers who reviewed 19 studies that included more than 162,000 people in different countries for an average of 5.5 years.
The analysis revealed that a Mediterranean diet -- which is rich in fish, nuts, vegetables and fruits -- was associated with a 21 percent lower risk of type 2 diabetes compared with other eating patterns.
A Mediterranean diet reduced the risk of diabetes even more -- by 27 percent -- among people at high risk for heart disease. Diabetes prevention is especially important for people at risk of heart disease, according to the authors of the study, which is to be presented Saturday at the American College of Cardiology annual meeting, in Washington, D.C.
"Adherence to the Mediterranean diet may prevent the development of diabetes irrespective of age, sex, race or culture," lead investigator Demosthenes Panagiotakos, a professor at Harokopio University in Athens, Greece, said in a college news release. "This diet has a beneficial effect, even in high-risk groups, and speaks to the fact that it is never too late to start eating a healthy diet."
Panagiotakos noted that the studies included in the review included Europeans and non-Europeans. This is important because most studies that have examined the effects of a Mediterranean diet have been European-based and there have been concerns that region-specific factors such as genetics, environment, and lifestyle might affect the results.
This review showed that a Mediterranean diet reduces type 2 diabetes risk in both Europeans and non-Europeans. This type of large-scale analysis "is important to help inform guidelines and evidence-based care," Panagiotakos said in the news release.
The number of diabetes cases worldwide has doubled in the past 30 years and this spike has been linked to the growing obesity epidemic.
"Diabetes is an ongoing epidemic and its relation to obesity, especially in the Westernized populations, is well known. We have to do something to prevent diabetes and changing our diet may be an effective treatment," Panagiotakos said.
Studies presented at meetings are typically considered preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed medical journal.
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SOURCE: American College of Cardiology, news release, March 27, 2014