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Nearly 30 million Americans are living with diabetes, but new research suggests we may be able to reduce that number simply by changing the way we eat. In a joint review conducted by Joslin Diabetes Center and Harvard School of Public Health, researchers found that diet and nutrition play a critical role in the prevention and control of type 2 diabetes. (Type 2 is the most common form of the disease, in which the body doesn’t use insulin properly and blood sugar levels are higher than normal.)

In particular, patients who followed a Mediterranean-style diet rich in healthy fats from fish, olive oil and avocado (along with leafy green vegetables, low-sugar fruits, plain Greek yogurt and nuts) had a lower risk of developing diabetes, even when they didn’t restrict caloric intake or lose any weight. This was in contrast to participants who followed a strictly low-fat diet, which typically includes more refined carbohydrates known to stimulate insulin secretion.

Indeed, new research confirms that diet quality—especially the type of fats and carbohydrates consumed—is intrinsically connected to healthy blood sugar, metabolism and fat storage. Evidence of this was seen in overweight patients who had been recently diagnosed with type 2 diabetes; when they switched to a Mediterranean diet they had less need for blood sugar-lowering medication compared with those following a low-fat diet.

According to study author and Harvard professor Dr. Osama Hamdy, “We undertook this review because we believe that most of the current dietary guidelines for patients with diabetes do not reflect recent evidence. Nutrition can be used as a medicine to prevent and control diabetes in a very effective way.” Whether you have type 2 diabetes or simply want to maintain optimal health, here are 5 simple tips for improving your diet quality:

  1. Eat plenty of non-starchy vegetables and low-sugar fruits.
  2. Eliminate sugar, refined carbohydrates and grains.
  3. Eat healthy fats such as Omega-3 (fish oil), Omega-9 (olive oil), and medium-chain triglyceride saturated fat (coconut oil); reduce your intake of unhealthy Omega-6 fats (mostly vegetable oil).
  4. Eat at least 12 portions of lean protein daily.
  5. Eat fermented foods, which contain beneficial bacteria.

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You can add brain health to your list of reasons to eat more fish. Researchers from the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine recently completed a long-term study on how diet and lifestyle factors affect brain health and found that eating baked or broiled fish at least once a week can promote healthy brain function later in life.

The research team gathered data from more than 260 people during the study, during which participants routinely underwent high-resolution brain MRI scans to measure brain function. Regular fish eaters showed a greater volume of grey matter (responsible for routing sensory and motor stimuli) in the brain areas involved in memory and learning.

But why only baked or broiled and not fried fish? “Baked or broiled fish contains higher levels of Omega-3s than fried fish because the fatty acids are destroyed in the high heat of frying,” said lead investigator Dr. Cyrus Raji. Fish is an excellent lean protein source and many studies have linked fish-derived Omega-3 fatty acids to optimal health. Here’s a simple and delicious recipe you can try today!

Savory Mediterranean-Style Baked Fish
Serves 2

Ingredients:
Two 4-oz. white fish fillets (flounder or tilapia)
One 10-oz. bag fresh spinach
2 small plum tomatoes, sliced
2 shallots, sliced
1 tbsp. chopped black olives
1 tbsp. capers
2 tbsp. fresh orange juice
Freshly ground black pepper to taste

Directions: Preheat oven to 400°. Place fillets in a shallow glass baking dish; top with spinach, tomatoes, shallots, olives and capers. Drizzle orange juice over entire dish. Bake for about 10 minutes per inch of thickness. Sprinkle with pepper and serve hot.

Not a big fan of fish? Consider taking a high-concentration, purity-guaranteed fish oil supplement each day to reap the Omega-3 benefits!

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