Mediterranean Diet for Type 2 Diabetes


What is the Mediterranean diet?

The Mediterranean diet is a centuries-old way of eating that consists of the predominant foods eaten in the countries along the Mediterranean Sea—Greece, Spain and Southern Italy. There is no one uniform diet in this region, but there are many commonalities. Diets in these countries are heavy in fish, red wine, whole grain breads, fruits, vegetables, rice and pasta. There is very little red meat eaten in this region. Butter is replaced with olive oil and salt with herbs and spices. Food is often lightly cooked and very little is processed.

Does the Mediterranean diet help control type 2 diabetes?

When living with type 2, one of the most important factors in choosing a diet is to consider its impact on weight loss and carb intake. There is evidence that the Mediterranean diet can help with weight loss. Mediterranean diets are low in refined sugars and oils, butter, processed meats (and processed foods in general). You’ll note that these are all foods that those living with type 2—whatever diet they are following—are advised to limit or avoid entirely. There follows below a long list of foods customary in a Mediterranean diet—your possibilities are many and delicious. But be alert: There are also included in this diet some foods that, consumed indiscriminately, can pack on the pounds. Those include carbohydrate-heavy dishes such as pasta, potatoes and rice. Fortunately, there are multiple versions of the Mediterranean diet, and many versions do restrict or exclude high-carb foods in favor of healthier choices. Something as simple as substituting whole grain pasta or brown rice, for instance, can help to limit the amount of carbs consumed.  

In addition to its ability to promote weight reduction and reduce carb intake, the Mediterranean diet has been shown to positively affect the course of a number of chronic diseases. Its most significant impact shows a decrease in the risk of heart disease for those who follow it. The Mediterranean, in short, is considered a “heart smart” diet. Since those living with type 2 diabetes are especially in danger of developing heart disease, this preventive factor is yet another reason to embrace the Mediterranean style of eating.

What, exactly, can I eat?

“You should base your diet on these healthy, unprocessed Mediterranean foods:

  • Vegetables: Tomatoes, broccoli, kale, spinach, onions, cauliflower, carrots, Brussels sprouts, cucumbers, etc.
  • Fruits: Apples, bananas, oranges, pears, strawberries, grapes, dates, figs, melons, peaches, etc.
  • Nuts and seeds: Almonds, walnuts, macadamia nuts, hazelnuts, cashews, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, etc.
  • Legumes: Beans, peas, lentils, pulses, peanuts, chickpeas, etc.
  • Tubers: Potatoes, sweet potatoes, turnips, yams, etc.
  • Whole grains: Whole oats, brown rice, rye, barley, corn, buckwheat, whole wheat, whole-grain bread and pasta.
  • Fish and seafood: Salmon, sardines, trout, tuna, mackerel, shrimp, oysters, clams, crab, mussels, etc.
  • Poultry: Chicken, duck, turkey, etc.
  • Eggs: Chicken, quail and duck eggs.
  • Dairy: Cheese, yogurt, Greek yogurt, etc.
  • Herbs and spices: Garlic, basil, mint, rosemary, sage, nutmeg, cinnamon, pepper, etc.
  • Healthy Fats: Extra virgin olive oil, olives, avocados and avocado oil.

The site adds a reminder that “whole, single-ingredient foods are the key to good health.” [1]

For those living with type 2, almost all of these foods can be enjoyed without much thought and with little restriction, but keeping track of carb intake and controlling portions is always key. Potatoes and the other tubers listed are the ones especially high in carbs that can cause blood sugar spikes. Nuts offer many health benefits, but they are often high in calories and therefore cannot be eaten willy-nilly. As with all diets, some degree of moderation, based on your known restrictions, is essential.

Can I ever eat steak and French fries again?

Basing your diet on Mediterranean food choices doesn’t mean that you can no longer enjoy the finer choices from other cuisines—or even, occasionally, your favorite comfort food. Changing our diet means changing our daily habits. It doesn’t mean never again eating all the other tempting foods that you have removed from your regular day-to-day diet. Red meat, for instance, can still be consumed once or twice a month on the Mediterranean diet. If you have been accustomed to eating red meat every day, then this restriction could be difficult to follow, but the rewards can be great. By reducing saturated fats and replacing them with unsaturated fats, life expectancy increases for everyone, especially those living with type 2. However, if you’re a meat-and-potatoes person and that’s what you live for, then perhaps a diet other than the Mediterranean might work better for you. In this case, there are a number of other diet possibilities available to you, and you might want to check out a low-carb way of eating— Keto, for instance.

Red wine?

Not only can red wine help us relax at the end of the day, it also has health benefits, even for those managing their type 2 diabetes. A glass of red wine a day has been shown to lower cholesterol and help with heart health. Red wine is also part of the Mediterranean diet. Of course, as with most drinks and foods we enjoy, moderation again is key to reaping the benefits.

Still not sure whether the Mediterranean diet is for you? Give it a try and find out. Experimenting with different ways of eating can ultimately lead us to the diet that suits us best. Try a variety of foods and recipes, sampling foods you’re unfamiliar with or reviving dishes that you haven’t had in a while. Our tastes change with times, and you may be surprised that things you didn’t previously much fancy will taste much better to you now. A type 2 diabetes diagnosis can lead to greater discovery about the foods that taste good to us but also the ones that make us feel (and become) healthier.

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