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Researchers in the US have published findings of a study in Journal of Urban Health wherein they have offered an insight into how Mediterranean diet could help HIV, diabetes patients adhere more to medication regimens.

Scientists from University of San Francisco joined hands with those from Project Open Hand to evaluate whether helping people get medically appropriate, comprehensive nutrition would improve their health. Project Open Hand is a San Francisco Bay Area non-profit agency that has provided nutritious meals to low-income people with HIV since 1985, and more recently to elderly people and those with other medical conditions, such as type 2 diabetes.

The study notes that while offering food assistance to patience as an approach to improve medication adherence and health has been shown to be effective in low-resource countries, but it has not been well studied in the developed world. The study showed increases in the number of people with diabetes who achieved optimal blood sugar control, and decreases in hospitalizations or emergency department visits, but because of the small size, these changes did not reach statistical significance. Participants with diabetes also consumed less sugar and lost weight.

Researchers followed the participants for six months and found they consumed fewer fats, while increasing their consumption of fruits and vegetables. Overall, those in the study had fewer symptoms of depression and were less likely to binge drink. For those with HIV, adherence to antiretroviral therapy increased from 47 to 70 per cent.

The meals and snacks, which participants picked up twice a week, were based on the Mediterranean diet and featured fresh fruits and vegetables, lean proteins, healthy fats like olive oil, and whole grains. They were also low in refined sugars and saturated fats, based on current recommendations from the American Diabetes Association and American Heart Association.

The meals and snacks fulfilled 100 percent of daily caloric requirements. Average energy requirements used to design daily meals were 1800–2000 kcal for people living with HIV and 1800 kcal for people with type 2 diabetes. This threshold evolved to account for the varied energy requirements of individuals of different sizes and metabolic needs.

The team plans to follow up with another six-month study of 200 HIV-positive clients in San Francisco and Alameda counties. “Feeding people who are too sick to take care of themselves is at the core of our mission,” said Project Open Hand CEO Mark Ryle.

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