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Is the Mediterranean Diet Good for Diabetes?

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Is the Mediterranean Diet Good for Diabetes?

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Key Takeaways

  • A Mediterranean-style diet is primarily plant-based and includes fewer red meat and processed foods than the Standard American diet.
  • Research suggests that a Mediterranean diet may help people with diabetes to reduce insulin resistance, improve blood sugar management, and lower HbA1C levels.
  • There is no strict method for following a Mediterranean diet, which is why working with a registered dietitian can help to incorporate some of its tenets into your routine. 

The Standard American Diet is known for its abundance of calorie-dense and nutrient-poor foods and beverages. By contrast, the Mediterranean diet is rich in plant-based foods, seafood and poultry, fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and monounsaturated fats.  

Both the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the American Diabetes Association (ADA) recommend a Mediterranean-style diet for people with diabetes. In this article, you’ll learn about the potential benefits of this style of eating and how to incorporate its tenets into your daily life.

Nourish offers personalized nutrition counseling to help you meet your blood sugar and diabetes needs. If you’re ready to take the next step in your health, consider booking a virtual appointment with a registered dietitian.

What is the Mediterranean Diet?

The Mediterranean diet is a generic term used to refer to a style of eating found in populations that live along the Mediterranean Sea. Over twenty countries border the Mediterranean sea and there are many cultural, religious, and agricultural differences between them. Still, there are several common factors that tie their dietary patterns together, including:

  • Cooking with extra virgin olive oil and other types of oils.
  • Eating lots of whole grains, vegetables, fruits, beans, seafood, poultry, and nuts.
  • Limiting red meat, dairy, added sugars and highly processed foods.

Potential benefits

Research conducted through both observational and randomized control trials suggests that the Mediterranean diet may offer several important health benefits, including: 

  • Reduced risk of heart disease. 
  • Improved blood sugar control, HbA1C levels, blood pressure and reduced insulin resistance in people with diabetes.
  • Decrease in early vascular aging.
  • Reduced risk of osteoporosis, inflammatory bowel disease, preterm birth, macular degeneration, kidney stones, dry eye, breast and colorectal cancers, neurocognitive disorders, and depression.

Mediterranean diet and diabetes

Existing data suggest that an eating pattern based on the Mediterranean diet can help people with diabetes to better manage their blood sugar levels, improve blood pressure, HbA1C, cholesterol levels, and reduce insulin resistance. In fact, one systematic review and meta-analysis from 2013 found a Mediterranean diet to be more effective at improving blood sugar control in people with diabetes than low-carbohydrate, low-glycemic index, and high protein diet alternatives.

Foods Included in the Mediterranean Diet

Because the Mediterranean diet is based on general eating patterns followed by many different populations living in different countries, there are a wide variety of foods included in the eating pattern, including:

  • Fruits, like grapes, melon, apple, figs, and dates. 
  • Vegetables, like swiss chard, radicchio, arugula, and mushrooms. 
  • Whole grains, beans and nuts.   
  • Lean proteins, like seafood and poultry.
  • Herbs, like basil, saffron, mint, oregano, and rosemary.
  • Extra virgin olive oil.
  • Red wine.

Foods to limit

There are no foods that are strictly off-limits with a Mediterranean diet. However, foods eaten less frequently include:

  • Red meat, like beef, pork, or lamb.
  • Dairy products, including butter.
  • Eggs.
  • Highly processed foods, like hot dogs, potato chips, and deli meats.
  • Added sugars, like those found in sodas and other sweet treats.

Does a Mediterranean Diet Reduce Insulin Resistance?

According to the CDC, a Mediterranean-style diet can help to reduce insulin resistance in people with diabetes in addition to improving blood sugar management and HbA1C levels. 

Ways to Incorporate the Mediterranean Diet

Because of its flexibility, there are many ways to incorporate the Mediterranean diet into your regular eating routine. For example, if you’re not a fan of seafood, you can still get your recommended omega-3 intake by consuming walnuts, flax, and chia seeds.  Vegetarians and vegans can also follow a Mediterranean-style diet by increasing their use of nuts, legumes, and pulses. 

Ultimately, there is no need to sacrifice your likes, dislikes, preferences, or cultural beliefs in order to follow a Mediterranean-style diet. Working with a registered dietitian is a great way to customize the eating pattern to fit your lifestyle and health goals.

If you’re interested in incorporating the Mediterranean diet into your routine, Nourish can connect you with a registered dietitian specialized in diabetes management and meal planning. If you need help optimizing your diet, consider booking a virtual appointment today.

Tips for Eating a Mediterranean Diet with Diabetes

If you’re interested in eating a Mediterranean-style diet as part of your diabetes management plan, here are a few factors you can consider: 

  • Honor your unique preferences and health needs: Rigid food rules can make it hard to stick to a new eating pattern. Thankfully, the Mediterranean diet can be customized on an individual basis depending on your likes, dislikes, and other preferences. 
  • Consult with a registered dietitian: There is no one way to manage diabetes with nutrition—even when following a Mediterranean-based diet. Consulting with a registered dietitian will help to ensure that you’re making choices that are sustainable, enjoyable, and health-promoting.  
  • Limit dairy products, red meat, sweets, and highly processed foods: Reducing your intake of these foods can help you to reap some of the benefits of a Mediterranean-style diet.
  • Continue to monitor your blood sugar levels: It’s important to continue monitoring your blood sugar levels and any other health markers as recommended by your healthcare provider when implementing a new eating pattern into your routine.
  • Keep an open mind: Though a Mediterranean diet can offer several health benefits for people with diabetes, it won’t be right for everyone. If following a Mediterranean diet doesn’t work for your lifestyle, reach out to your registered dietitian or healthcare provider for additional, personalized recommendations. 

Takeaway

Existing research shows that a Mediterranean-style diet can offer several health benefits for people with diabetes, including reduced insulin resistance, better blood sugar management, and lower A1C levels. Though not all people following a Mediterranean-style diet may eat exactly the same, it’s generally characterized by its prioritization of plant-based foods and lean proteins and a lack of added sugars and processed foods. There is no one-size-fits-all strategy for incorporating the Mediterranean diet into your lifestyle, which is why working with a registered dietitian can help to ensure that you reap some of its potential health benefits while still honoring your unique food preferences.

Managing Diabetes with an RD

Want to learn more about the possible benefits of the Mediterranean diet and other diabetes-friendly eating patterns? Working with a registered dietitian can help you to create a personalized meal plan for diabetes to ensure that you’re eating a balanced diet that won’t adversely affect your blood sugar levels.

Book an appointment with Nourish and see a registered dietitian through your insurance.

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