A Mediterranean diet could be “protective” against heart disease for people with type 1 diabetes, a six-year study has indicated.

It found that people with type 1 diabetes who eat more plant-based foods, healthy fats, lean proteins and fewer processed foods and sugars could lower their risk of cardiovascular disease.

These foods are staples in the Mediterranean diet and the dietary approaches to stop hypertension (DASH) diet.

Arpita Basu, associate professor at the University of Nevada at Las Vegas, said: “Type 1 diabetes increases the risk of developing cardiovascular disease, which raises the likelihood of heart attacks, strokes and other serious health complications.

“We wanted to find out how people’s regular eating habits affected blood inflammatory markers that predict cardiovascular disease risk in adults with type 1 diabetes.”

The latest findings build on earlier work by the researchers which found that that DASH and Mediterranean dietary patterns were linked to less fat accumulation around heart tissue in adults with and without type 1 diabetes, along with lower risk of coronary artery calcification, which is an advanced form of heart disease in those without diabetes.

Associate Professor Basu said: “Both DASH and Mediterranean diets revealed protective associations, which means these dietary patterns can make a difference when consumed regularly.

“Our findings are more practical than those from clinical studies of these diets because those usually manipulate dietary behaviour in a way that may not be sustainable in daily life.

“This new study reports the protective associations of these diets with selected blood cardiovascular disease markers that may explain our previous findings and provide new data on how diet affects inflammation in type 1 diabetes.”

The study involved 1,255 adults, made up of 563 people with type 1 diabetes and 693 participants who don’t have diabetes. They completed food questionnaires which were used to work out nutrient consumption and to evaluate how much participants’ food intake aligned to the diet types frequently used to manage cardiovascular disease management: the Mediterranean diet, the alternative healthy eating index (AHEI) and DASH.

Markers of cardiovascular disease risk and inflammation were also examined.

People whose diets closely followed DASH and Mediterranean patterns had lower levels of two of these markers.

Associate Professor Basu said: “There is an urgent need to address dietary quality in adults with type 1 diabetes.

“In a clinical setting, assessing dietary intakes using the DASH and Mediterranean dietary checklists could be an effective way to identify gaps and improve intakes. Specific foods that are part of these dietary patterns, such as olives and nuts in the Mediterranean diet, could be added to the diet even if the entire diet cannot be altered.”

The study also found that people with type 1 diabetes tend to eat a high-fat diet with increased animal protein which is higher in saturated fats and cholesterol, due to eating fewer carbohydrates.

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