I’m sure you’ve heard before that the health and longevity of people in the Mediterranean was thanks to their olive oil, fish, and a whole grain-filled diet. A new study suggests that there is some truth behind this idea. Results from the study found that for people recently diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, a Mediterranean diet slows the progression of the disease more than the commonly advised low-fat diet.

The eight-year trial followed participants recently diagnosed with diabetes as they ate two different diets believed to slow the progression of diabetes; a Mediterranean diet consisting of lots of olive oil, fish, and whole grains, and a low fat diet that restricted sugary and fatty food. All of the participants had recently been diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. In both diets the participants aimed to consume about 1,500 calories per day for women and 1,800 for men.

It was found that participants on the Mediterranean diet went significantly longer before needing diabetes medication. Also, more of them had their diabetes go into remission, compared to those on a low-fat diet. “There’s been lots of epidemiology suggesting that a Mediterranean diet was beneficial with metabolic syndrome and diabetes, “Dr. Leanne Olansky, an endocrinologist at the Cleveland Clinic, explained to Reuters. “But this was a randomized controlled trial, so we know it really was the diet causing the results. This is the kind of evidence that we use to determine if drugs are effective,” Olanksy added. Although researchers are not exactly sure what it is about the Mediterranean diet that helps control blood sugar, it is thought to have something to do with high levels of fiber, less red meat, and more olive and fish oil.

Type 2 diabetes, also known as adult-onset or noninsulin dependent diabetes, is a chronic condition that affects the way the body metabolizes sugar. While it's most common in adults, increased child obesity rates have led many to develop the chronic disease as well. If diet and exercise don’t control your blood sugar, you may need diabetes medication or insulin therapy. A low-fat diet is commonly advised to those who are diagnosed with type 2 diabetes because it tends to help reduce the overall calorie intake and improves cholesterol levels. It typically involves reducing intake from foods such as butter, eggs, and cheese.

Although it is the common belief that fat is bad for a diabetic's diet, this study shows that it depends on the kind of fat. Instead of completely cutting out fat, people diagnosed with diabetes should aim to have a healthy diet, and a Mediterranean diet is a good, healthy option, lead study author Katherine Esposito told Reuters. “Cutting calories is important and cutting fat is an easy way to cut calories, but according to this study, maintaining the right level of healthy fats is important,” Esposito concluded.

Source: Esposito K, Maiorino MI, Petrizzo M, et al. The Effects of a Mediterranean Diet on Need for Diabetes Drugs and Remission of Newly Diagnosed Type 2 Diabetes: Follow-up of a Randomized Trial. Diabetes Care. 2014