Deciding what to eat can be a challenge for anyone, but it’s especially difficult for many people with diabetes. Often, they’re told to cut out unhealthy foods — those that can spike blood glucose levels, or lead to unhealthy blood levels of cholesterol or triglycerides. And don’t forget to watch your salt intake to control your blood pressure. The question for many is: what’s left to eat?
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That’s why for many people, it’s helpful to focus on a way of eating — a diet — that emphasizes what you should be eating, rather than just what you shouldn’t. There are countless diet plans out there, though, so which one should you choose? That’s where rankings from a reputable source can be helpful.
For years, U.S. News & World Report has compiled an annual list of the best diets based on expert advice — both an overall list, and sublists for specific goals and groups. And for the fourth year in a row, the Mediterranean diet is the top-ranked diet on the list.
What sets the Mediterranean diet apart?
Like several other top diets on the list, the Mediterranean diet emphasizes eating a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables, beans and other legumes, whole grains, and nuts and seeds. But it also has some special features that make it stand out from the others.
The Mediterranean diet is based on eating patterns found across the Mediterranean region, which vary from country to country and even village to village. But some patterns are clear across the region. Most people, at least traditionally, eat a diet that’s rich in fruits and vegetables, whole grains, beans, nuts, olive oil, and flavorful herbs and spices. Fish and other seafood are a frequent source of protein, and it’s also common to eat poultry, eggs and dairy in moderation. But according to this way of eating, sweets and red meat should be reserved for special occasions.
Drinking red wine in moderation — if you choose to do so — is also a staple of the Mediterranean diet, which appeals to many people. An emphasis on olive oil, seafood and optional red wine are generally what set the Mediterranean diet apart from other healthy eating patterns.
Mediterranean diet wins for health and ease
The 24 health and nutrition experts that U.S. News consulted for its rankings gave the Mediterranean diet the top overall spot based on its health, ease of following and compatibility with both short- and long-term weight loss. It also received the top spot in a few different specialty categories: best plant-based diets, best heart-healthy diets (tie), best diabetes diets (tie), best diets for healthy eating (tie), and easiest diets to follow.
The Mediterranean diet wins in the overall ranking based largely on its health and ease — most people can grasp the concept fairly quickly, and many different resources are available for recipes and meal ideas. If you need a visual guide, there is a Mediterranean diet pyramid available from Oldways, a nonprofit group focused on food and nutrition. Another advantage is that most people who follow the Mediterranean diet feel satisfied after meals rather than hungry all the time, since it doesn’t specifically restrict calories and emphasizes foods rich in fiber and healthy types of fat.
While the Mediterranean diet didn’t get the top ranking for weight loss, there is some evidence that it may help you lose weight or maintain a healthy weight. One study, published in May 2019 in the journal The Lancet Diabetes & Endocrinology, found that after following a version of the Mediterranean diet that included nuts for five years, adults with type 2 diabetes or at an elevated risk for cardiovascular disease had a smaller waistline, on average, than a control diet group.
For more information on the health benefits of following the Mediterranean diet, check out “Five Reasons to Try the Mediterranean Diet.”
Want to learn more about the Mediterranean diet? Read “Eating Patterns and Type 1 Diabetes: Mediterranean Diet” and watch “What Is the Mediterranean Diet?” then try five of our favorite diabetes-friendly Mediterranean recipes.