A Mediterranean Diet that is high in olive oil and nuts may counter the risk of stroke in people who are genetically predisposed to get diabetes, a new study has found.
The findings, which were published online Aug. 13 in the journal Diabetes Care, suggest, but don’t conclusively prove that the diet lowers or even eliminates the extra risk of stroke, perhaps by lowering the rate of diabetes.
“Our work has placed a solid step on the ladder of personalized nutrition and successful health,” said study co-author Jose Ordovas, director of the nutrition and genomics laboratory at Tufts University’s USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging.
Although foods vary from the different regions of Greece, Spain and southern Italy, the Mediterranean diet is generally defined as emphasizing olive oil, nuts, fresh produce and fish along with whole grains, seeds and healthier kinds of fat. There’s less focus on dairy products and meat, and limited consumption of pasta.
In the study, researchers randomly assigned more than 7,000 people aged 55 to 80 in Spain to eat a low-fat diet, or a Mediterranean diet high in nuts, or a Mediterranean diet high in extra-virgin olive oil. Researchers then followed the participants for an average of five years through 2010.
Some of the participants had a genetic trait in common: a mutation in a gene that boosts the risk of type 2 diabetes by as much as 50% compared to others with another form of the gene. Ordovas said that about 30% of white people have the riskiest form of the mutation.
Those with the mutation who went on the low-fat diet were nearly three times more likely than others to have a stroke, the investigators found. But those who went on the Mediterranean diets had about an equal level of risk as those without the genetic mutation.
The percentage of people in the various groups who suffered strokes ranged from 1.4% to 4.3%.
“Switching to a Mediterranean diet is not going to hurt anybody, and it will help those people with risk factors or a family history of disease,” Ordovas said. “However, if switching is not totally possible, then incorporating elements of this diet such as extra-virgin olive oil, nuts, veggies, fruits, will get you somewhere. Or better yet, exchanging less healthy items with those in the diet.”