With 1 in 20 New Zealanders living with type 2 diabetes – and that number predicted to rapidly rise –  research into a New Zealand diet designed for diabetes prevention could not be more timely.

Scientists from Waipapa Taumata Rau, University of Auckland are investigating the role a diet rich in New Zealand food and beverage products, ‘the NZ Synergy diet’, can play in reducing the risk of developing type 2 diabetes, with a focus on Chinese adults.

“Asian Chinese are at high risk for type 2 diabetes and they often store fat around and inside their internal organs, such as the liver and pancreas, where it is much more dangerous.” says Associate Professor Jennifer Miles-Chan, Principal Investigator for the Synergy study.

“We’ve recently found biomarkers that are associated with an increased risk of type 2 diabetes, and we noticed these markers differed significantly between our European and Chinese participants. We are looking at whether the Synergy diet can alter these biomarkers, decreasing the risk of developing diabetes, and if there is a difference in the way the two groups respond to the diet.”

The NZ Synergy diet is designed to New Zealand Ministry of Health and Chinese Pagoda guidelines, and includes products from 13 New Zealand food and beverage companies that contain ‘functional ingredients’ (for example, products that are high in antioxidants like polyphenols). The study team believes each of these functional ingredients could boost the diet’s effect on the way the body handles glucose.

“The diet is in ‘energy balance,’ where participants shouldn’t lose or gain weight. This is very important to us as we know that weight loss will improve blood glucose. We want to see if the Synergy diet can improve blood glucose independently of weight loss.” says Miles-Chan.

The Synergy study is funded by the High-Value Nutrition Ko Ngā Kai Whai Painga National Science Challenge.

The study is being run out of the University’s Human Nutrition Unit (HNU), Australasia’s only residential nutritional trial centre. Participants live ‘in house’ at the HNU’s villa in Auckland’s Mount Eden, with all meals and snacks provided. This ability to closely manage the diet and food intake of the participants makes Synergy a ‘gold standard’ for nutritional trials.

During their two-week stay, participants will get to enjoy a tasty and nutritious menu (with all meals and snacks – including dessert), all prepared by the Unit’s metabolic chef.

 The study is partnering with 13 New Zealand Food and Beverage companies. Each partner is contributing products that the research team believes are of great benefit to metabolic health.

“We see the Synergy Study as a win-win for all concerned. The study participants will get key information about their own health and wellbeing and the chance to decrease their diabetes risk over the two-week stay. Our industry partners get key information about how a diet containing their products influences metabolic risk at the molecular level, right through to holistic measures of mood and appetite. And the research scientists get world-class scientific outputs that will inform the way in which we can better prevent progression to type 2 diabetes in high-risk individuals. What could be better?” says Miles-Chan.

The Synergy team are currently seeking Chinese and European Caucasian adult volunteers who think they may be at risk of type 2 diabetes.

“We know that 1 in 4 New Zealanders have pre-diabetes, and many people aren’t aware they do. Volunteers don’t need to know if they have high blood-sugar levels to sign up for the study – we can test that for you.”

Find out more about participating part in this world-leading diabetes research