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Diet composition and the risk of type 2 diabetes: epidemiological and clinical evidence

  • M. Parillo (a1) and G. Riccardi (a2)


In the last 10 years nutritional research on diabetes has improved dramatically in terms of both number of studies produced and quality of methodologies employed. Therefore, it is now possible to attempt to provide the evidence on which nutritional recommendations for the prevention of type 2 diabetes could be based. We therefore performed a literature search and, among the papers published in indexed journals, we selected relevant epidemiological (mostly prospective) and controlled intervention studies. Lifestyle factors that have, so far, been consistently associated with increased risk of type 2 diabetes are overweight and physical inactivity. However, recent evidence from epidemiological studies has shown that the risk of type 2 diabetes is also associated with diet composition, particularly with: (1) low fibre intake; (2) a high trans fatty acid intake and a low unsaturated:saturated fat intake ratio; (3) absence of or excess alcohol consumption. All these factors are extremely common in Western populations and therefore the potential impact of any intervention on them is large: indeed, >90% of the general population has one or more of these risk factors. The ability to correct these behaviours in the population is estimated to reduce the incidence of diabetes by as much as 87%. Recent intervention studies have shown that type 2 diabetes can be prevented by lifestyle changes aimed at body-weight reduction, increased physical activity and multiple changes in the composition of the diet. Within this context, the average amount of weight loss needed is not large, about 5% initial weight, which is much less than the weight loss traditionally considered to be clinically significant for prevention of type 2 diabetes. In conclusion, new emphasis on prevention by multiple lifestyle modifications, including moderate changes in the composition of the habitual diet, might limit the dramatic increase in incidence of type 2 diabetes envisaged worldwide.

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