The Mediterranean Diet: Good for You and Your Diabetes

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The Mediterranean diet. It’s not really a diet, which implies short-term changes, but more of a lifelong eating style.

Studies have shown that some of the healthiest people are those who live in the Mediterranean region. And now research suggests that following a Mediterranean diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and fish can be helpful in managing diabetes.

The Diabetes Link

A 2013 study in the journal Diabetologia suggests that people who follow a Mediterranean diet have a lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes, compared with those who don’t follow the diet. Research suggests a healthy Mediterranean eating style can reverse the metabolic syndrome, a group of risk factors that can lead to diabetes.

Though researchers aren’t sure what it is about Mediterranean diets that helps control blood sugar, it may be that it’s low in red meat and saturated fats and high in olive oil, fiber, fish and unsaturated fat. And because it’s rich in taste and flavor, many say it’s easier to stick to than other diets.

It’s also an excellent way to lose weight and keep it off. And since being overweight is one of the biggest risk factors for type 2 diabetes, it may just be the perfect eating plan to help prevent and control diabetes, especially since it’s in line with the American Diabetes Association’s nutrition guidance.

The Mediterranean Basics

Plant-based Foods. With the Mediterranean diet, you can load up on seasonal fruits and vegetables, which pack a punch in nutrients as well as flavor. Folks in the Mediterranean also know how to use herbs and spices to transform their vegetable dishes, which helps cut back on extra salt, sugar and fat when cooking.

Beans, Nuts and Whole Grains. These healthy carbohydrates are great substitutes for some of the sugar- and starch-laden ones you’ll find in white breads and pasta. Nuts are also a great source of healthy, unsaturated fats, and make an excellent salty snack over processed choices.

Fish. Fish is the primary animal protein found in the Mediterranean diet, while chicken is eaten in moderation, and red meat is rare. Fish like salmon, halibut, trout, albacore tuna and sardines are rich in omega-3 fatty acids—great for brain and heart health.

Olive Oil. This healthier, monounsaturated fat is primarily used in Mediterranean cooking in place of saturated fats like butter and margarine, which can increase your cholesterol levels. 

Moderation. You can still enjoy proteins and dairy like eggs, cheese and yogurt, just have them in moderation, and save sweets and red meat for special occasions. Dessert in the Mediterranean often involves fruit, or can simply be a piece of fruit alone. You can also enjoy a glass of red wine (at the most one per day for women, two for men), a staple of many Mediterranean diets.

Activity. Perhaps becausepeople in the Mediterranean are known for walking as part of their daily routine, an active lifestyle is another aspect of the culture that people think about when choosing a healthy Mediterranean lifestyle. The additional activity, combined with fresher, healthier eating, is a strong recipe for keeping your weight and diabetes under control.

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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2019 Jul 8

  1. Salas-Salvadó J, Bulló M, Estruch R, et al. Prevention of Diabetes With Mediterranean Diets: A Subgroup Analysis of a Randomized Trial. Ann Intern Med. 2014;160(1):1-10.

  2. Mediterranean Diet.

  3. Esposito K, Giugliano D. Mediterranean Diet and Type 2 Diabetes.Diabetes Metab Res Rev. 2014 Mar;30 Suppl 1:34-40.

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