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Mediterranean Diet and Diabetes


Does this plant-based eating plan have benefits for you?


By Nicola Bridges


You may have heard a lot of buzz about the Mediterranean diet, but experts prefer you don’t call it a diet at all. Instead, think of it as a sustainable, life-long eating plan based on the foods of the region surrounding the Mediterranean Sea. Study after study shows it can have huge benefit in managing — and preventing — type 2 diabetes. 

Why? At its core, this eating plan recommends unrefined and higher fiber carbohydrates (which can help control glucose intake) and focuses on unsaturated, plant-based fats that promote heart health (key for lowering risk of heart disease, which can be doubled for people with diabetes). These aspects may be why it's so beneficial for people with diabetes.

But beyond these recommendations, it centers around fresh, whole foods — plenty of vegetables, fruits, beans and legumes, whole grains, nuts, seeds and olive oil, as well as fish, chicken, low-fat dairy and eggs. Sounds delicious, right? Here’s how to try it:


Focus on plant foods. Although low-fat dairy and lean meat are allowed, don’t overdo them. Keep your crisper full of produce and your pantry full of beans and whole grains, and start there. For example, toss cut vegetables in olive oil and crushed garlic and oven-roast on high heat. Use them to build a week’s meals: with broiled fish and brown rice for dinner, on top of quinoa tossed with garbanzos for lunch, and alongside eggs scrambled in olive oil (instead of butter) for breakfast. With everything, serve a small salad or piece of fruit (about the size of your fist). Limit red meat to just a few times a month.


Pay attention to portions. While Claire Shorenstein, RD, CDN at Montefiore Medical Center in New York City is a fan of this eating plan for its higher fiber intake, a positive for people with type 2, she recommends keeping an eye on portions to keep calories in check and blood sugar balanced. “Moderation is key,” she reminds — even when it comes to good-for-you-foods. “On any diet or eating plan, it’s all about full total calories,” adds Steve Edelman, MD, an endocrinologist and president of the nonprofit Take Control of Your Diabetes in San Diego, CA. 


Be mindful of indulgences. Although this eating plan allows for red wine and dark chocolate, Hope Warshaw RD, CDE, president of the American Association of Diabetes Educators, cautions that alcohol and sweets have to fit within the calorie intake and physical activity goals recommended by your healthcare team. So check with them on these treats, which are meant to be enjoyed in moderation: up to 1 1/2 ounces of dark chocolate per day, along with a 5-ounce glass of red wine for women (2 for men), typically with dinner. And remember that even within these limits, alcohol can interfere with insulin and diabetes-control medications, Shorenstein notes, so drink wisely. Your blood glucose management can also be affected when you drink alcohol. 

With these guidelines in mind, though, this eating plan can be a flavorful, nutritious way to help you manage your diabetes.

Published on May 6, 2016.

Nicola Bridges has 25 years in digital health writing and teaches Emerging Media at the University of San Diego.

Reviewed by Toby Smithson, MS, RDN, LD, CDE on April 29, 2016.
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