While there isn’t a diet that works for everyone with diabetes, there is a diet that has healthy practices we could all adopt. For 2019, US News and World Report named the Mediterranean Diet as the Best Diet Overall and the Best Diet for Diabetes. ADA also gives their approval of a Mediterranean-style eating pattern as a healthy choice in their 2019 Standards of Medical Care in Diabetes.
According to the World Health Organization, heart disease and stroke are the two leading causes of death worldwide. People with diabetes often struggle with high blood pressure and cholesterol in addition to trying to manage blood glucose. So, following a diet that promotes heart health is important. The Mediterranean diet has been shown to lower risk for heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and improve glycemic control. Other benefits include weight loss, brain health, and bone health.
Why Does the Mediterranean Diet Work?
This diet works because it’s centered around real foods that are high in vitamins, minerals, fiber, and antioxidants. This helps reduce inflammation, improve insulin resistance, and balance gut bacteria. The combination of carbohydrates with protein and healthy fat helps to control blood glucose. The Mediterranean Diet places an emphasis on exercise and mindful eating which also improve blood glucose.
What is the Mediterranean Diet?
The Mediterranean Diet is plant-based with a focus is on vegetables, whole grains, fruits, legumes, seeds and nuts, fish and seafood, low-fat dairy, and herbs and spices. Olive oil is the recommended fat in place of butter or margarine. Meat (beef, pork, lamb/mutton, goat) and sweets are foods to eat less often. So, notice what’s missing from this diet-processed food which we know is detrimental to our health.
5 Tips to Incorporate from the Mediterranean Diet
- Eat more plants
Your plate should be mostly plants. Think about including vegetables, fruits, whole grains, beans and lentils, and nuts and seeds. And yes, plants contain carbohydrates, but that isn’t a reason to avoid them. Plants contain varying amounts of carbohydrates. Pair some higher-carb plants with lower-carb plants. For example, lentils and brown rice are higher in carbs, so include some broccoli and beets with pumpkin seeds for lower-carb plant choices. Plan your meals around plants.
- Choose more whole grains
A whole grain is the entire edible part of a grain including the bran, endosperm, and the germ. Whole grains include foods such as brown or wild rice, quinoa, oats, barley, farro, bulgur, buckwheat, cornmeal, wheat berries, millet, whole wheat flour, and whole wheat pasta. Refined grains are processed and usually the bran and germ are removed which reduces the amount of fiber, iron, B vitamins, and phytonutrients. Whole grains are more filling than refined grains and may reduce the risk of heart disease and some types of cancer. Whole grains also have more fiber to help with glycemic control. Look for the words “whole grain” on the package.
- Eat seafood regularly
The American Heart Association recommends eating fish or shellfish at least two times a week to lower risk of heart disease. Fatty fish like salmon, mackerel, herring, lake trout, sardines and albacore tuna are high in omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3 fatty acids benefit your heart by decreasing triglyceride levels, slowing the growth rate of plaque in arteries, and lowering blood pressure. Plan two meals each week that include fish or seafood.
- Include healthy fats
The Mediterranean Diet is low in saturated fat. Choosing unsaturated fat in place of saturated fat helps to lower “bad” LDL cholesterol and improve “good” HDL cholesterol. Olive oil is recommended because it is a monounsaturated fat that contains a type of antioxidant called polyphenols. Polyphenols help to absorb free radicals, are anti-inflammatory, protective against heart disease, and certain types of cancer. The polyphenol content is higher in olive oil that has a stronger flavor. Consider cooking and baking with olive oil and use it for salad dressings.
- Swap the sweets
You know sweets will raise blood glucose, but I often hear people avoiding fruit because it contains carbohydrates as well. Remember, the type of carbohydrate is just as important as the amount of carbs. The Mediterranean Diet encourages fruit in place of sweets for dessert. Fruit contains fiber and antioxidants your body needs. Make your carbs count and limit the sweets.
Remember, there isn’t one diet that works for everyone. Try one of these tips to make your diet healthier. If you are looking for a place to start with Mediterranean-style recipes, check out the Diabetes Food Hub Mediterranean recipes.
by Christine McKinney, RD LDN CDE