Extra-virgin olive oil, a key component of the highly praised Mediterranean diet, appears to have a variety of health benefits, including improving the nutritional value of foods when used for frying and reducing cholesterol levels after meals compared to other types of fat. Now, a small new study out of Italy suggests that the oil may have another benefit: reducing after-meal blood sugar levels in people with Type 1 diabetes.
To determine whether the quality of fat eaten with either high- or low-glycemic meals affects after-meal blood sugar levels, researchers from Federico II University in Naples looked at 13 people with Type 1 diabetes who were using insulin pumps. The participants were randomly assigned to a week of eating either three meals with a high glycemic index (the glycemic index ranks foods based on their effect on after-meal blood sugar levels, with high-glycemic foods raising levels the most) or three meals with a low glycemic index, followed by the alternate eating plan the next week.
The meals in each set contained similar amounts of carbohydrate, but differed in the type and amount of fat, ranging from low fat, to high in saturated fat (43 grams, or roughly 1.5 ounces, of butter), to high in monounsaturated fat (37 grams, or roughly 1.3 ounces, of extra-virgin olive oil). The subjects wore continuous glucose monitors throughout the study period.
The researchers found no significant differences in after-meal blood glucose levels based on fat amount and type for the low-glycemic meals. For high-glycemic meals, however, after-meal glucose levels rose significantly more slowly following meals containing extra-virgin olive oil compared to those that were low-fat or contained butter, being reduced by roughly 50% over the three-hour period after the meals.
“By combining carbs with extra-virgin olive oil as the fat of choice rather than butter, patients can help limit carbohydrate excursion,” said Martin J. Abrahamson, MD, who was not involved with the research, in an e-mail to Reuters Health. And limiting these after-meal spikes can not only help reduce the risk of diabetes complications, but improve quality of life, the researchers note.
Nonetheless, they are quick to point out that, “We need to remember that extra-virgin olive oil is a fat, and is, therefore, rich in calories. It has to be used with a balanced overall calorie intake.”
For more information, see the article “Extra-Virgin Olive Oil Improves Postprandial Glucose in Type 1 Diabetes” or the study’s abstract in the journal Diabetes Care. And to learn more about reducing after-meal blood sugar spikes, see “Strike the Spike II: Dealing With High Blood Glucose After Meals,” by 2014 Diabetes Educator of the Year Gary Scheiner, MS, CDE.
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Diane Fennell: Diane Fennell has been an editor at Diabetes Self-Management magazine since 2003. She is currently the Editorial Director. (Diane Fennell is not a medical professional.)
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