Does the Mediterranean Diet Work for Diabetics?

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Does the Mediterranean Diet Work for Diabetics?

How do you make the Mediterranean diet work for you if you have diabetes? And is this diet really the best one for you? Keep reading to find out!

What is all of the hype about the Mediterranean diet?

The Mediterranean diet is an eating pattern that reflects the way of traditional eating in the countries that surround the Mediterranean region. It’s actually not a diet in the strict sense of the word, but more of an eating plan or pattern. But it’s more than just eating certain foods — this eating plan emphasizes not just what you eat, but how you eat. For example, it encourages eating with others and taking the time to truly enjoy your food rather than eating on the run or, even worse, eating standing over the kitchen sink.

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What are the benefits of this way of eating?

Because this diet focuses on choosing whole foods, as well as more plant-based foods, it’s not only delicious, it’s good for you, too. In fact, the Mediterranean diet earned the top spot for the U.S. News & World Report’s “Best Diets Overall” for 2022, and it ranked #1 for the “Best Diabetes Diet,” as well. All well and good, but why switch to this way of eating? There’s been an abundant amount of research on the Mediterranean diet and we can only say good things about it. In short, research has shown that this diet:

  • Reduces the risk of heart disease and death from heart disease
  • Reduces the risk of death from stroke by about 30%
  • Reduces the risk of type 2 diabetes
  • Increases or sustains the length of telomeres, part of DNA (long telomeres are considered to be protective against chronic diseases and an early death)
  • May reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease
  • Cuts the risk of Parkinson’s disease in half
  • Reduces the overall risk of death from cancer
  • Reduces the risk of certain types of cancer, such as breast, prostate, colon, stomach, and pancreas

A Mediterranean diet can likely help decrease inflammation, thanks to being rich in antioxidants, and vitamins and minerals that have antioxidant properties. Chronic inflammation is thought to contribute to many of the above conditions, as well potentially depression and obesity.

What can you eat on a Mediterranean diet?

To be clear, this “diet” is a focus on healthy foods that are primarily plant-based. It’s not a plan that is overly restrictive, or that entails “foods to avoid,” nor is it a plan that requires supplements. That being said, here’s the rundown on what Mediterranean-style eating includes:

Animal foods are eaten in smaller amounts, and consist primarily of fish and seafood. Red meat is recommended a few times a month. Other animal foods, such as poultry, eggs, cheese, and yogurt are fine, but in smaller amounts daily or a few times per week. Processed foods, such as cookies, chips, and sugary foods are limited and eaten for special occasions.

What can you drink on a Mediterranean diet?

Water is a key beverage to drink if you follow this eating plan. Seltzer and sparkling water are fine, as well. Moderate amounts of red wine can be included, as this beverage is part of Mediterranean culture and is thought to contain substances that promote heart health. However, it’s not a “requirement” to drink wine, and if you don’t drink wine or alcoholic beverages, there’s no need to start. Also, remember that moderation means one 5-ounce glass of wine for women, and up to two glasses for men.

Can you follow a Mediterranean diet if you have diabetes?

Absolutely! You might be feeling a little worried about the carbs in the foods that are recommended. Here are some tips to help you:

  • Focus on fitting in vegetables at every meal (yes, they’re fine for breakfast!). Nonstarchy, low-carb veggies, such as broccoli, spinach, and other greens, are your best bets.
  • Include fruits and whole grains, but watch your portions and count those carbs.
  • Try to eat fish or seafood when possible. Frozen and canned seafood are fine to have.
  • Add a healthy fat to your meals: e.g., nuts, seeds, nut butter, avocado, olive oil.
  • Include legume/bean-based meals, too. Legumes contain carbs, but they’re high in fiber and have a low glycemic index.
  • Drink plenty of water during the day.

Remember to monitor your blood sugars if you make switch to the Mediterranean diet (or any diet, for that matter). You may need an adjustment in your diabetes medication after you get started on this new way of eating. Also, if you need more guidance, consider meeting with a dietitian or diabetes educator.

What about other lifestyle factors?

Remember that the Mediterranean diet is one part of Mediterranean culture — regular physical activity and eating meals with friends and family, as well as taking the time to enjoy your food, provides are important contributors to physical, mental, and emotional health, as well.

Want to learn more about the Mediterranean diet? Read “Five Reasons to Try the Mediterranean Diet” and “Eating Patterns and Type 1 Diabetes: Mediterranean Diet,” then try five of our favorite diabetes-friendly Mediterranean recipes.

Amy Campbell, MS, RD, LDN, CDCES

Amy Campbell, MS, RD, LDN, CDCES

Amy Campbell, MS, RD, LDN, CDCES on social media

A Registered Dietitian and Certified Diabetes Educator at Good Measures, LLC, where she is a CDE manager for a virtual diabetes program. Campbell is the author of Staying Healthy with Diabetes: Nutrition & Meal Planning, a co-author of 16 Myths of a Diabetic Diet, and has written for  publications including Diabetes Self-Management, Diabetes Spectrum, Clinical Diabetes, the Diabetes Research & Wellness Foundation’s newsletter, DiabeticConnect.com, and CDiabetes.com

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