Diet for diabetes

Why the Mediterranean Diet is best for Diabetics.

The Mediterranean diet is a healthy eating pattern that can lead to a lower risk of heart disease, diabetes, and cancer.

A Mediterranean diet is predominantly a pescatarian diet in which, besides olive oil, seafood provides the primary source of dietary fat.

Carbohydrates and other necessary nutrients are derived from plant-based foods, fruits, and vegetables, whole grains, beans, nuts, and seeds. In this way, it is similar to a flexitarian diet. 

While dairy products can be consumed, it is recommended that consumption be restricted to low to moderate amounts. Similarly, eggs and red meat can be consumed, albeit infrequently (2-3 times per week).  

Alcohol in the form of red wine is acceptable in low to moderate amounts. While concentrated sugars and honey are consumed, it is infrequently and in small amounts. 

Why is a Mediterranean Diet Beneficial?

The Mediterranean diet is lower in saturated fat, trans-fat, and added sugar (and processed foods), providing far less of these undesirable things than the typical American and Western diet contains, these are things that contribute to type 2 diabetes. At the same time, it is higher in (whole foods), fiber, unsaturated fats, and omega-3 fatty acids.

Saturated fat is a type of fat that comes mainly from animal products, such as red meat and dairy. It raises cholesterol levels in the blood by clogging your arteries. Saturated fats are bad for you if consumed excessively with a continual, habitual food pattern because they can lead to heart disease, which can then make it difficult to exercise. For people with diabetes, it can worsen the condition, and therefore they should avoid saturated fats when possible or swap for unsaturated fat.

If you want to lower your saturated fat consumption, avoid meat's fatty cuts and go for the leaner cuts of meat. Also, buy reduced-fat or skim dairy products instead of full-fat dairy products. When cooking, choose vegetable oils in liquid forms such as olive oil rather than lard or coconut oil.

Mediterranean diet can be low cost; affordability must be considered in this day and age with food prices skyrocketing. While olive oils are certainly not cheap, the reduction in meat intake far outweighs the costs of transitioning towards a Mediterranean diet, especially if you grow your own vegetables.

The Mediterranean diet is a Blue Zone Diet

The term Blue Zone refers to geographical areas in the world where people live for a very long time; while not unique to Blue zones, it is far more common for people to live longer than the average. In Blue Zones, including Okinawa, Japan; Sardinia, Italy; Nicoya, Costa Rica; Ikaria, Greece, 95% of the diet is plant-based. In two of the five blue zones, the diets are considered to be Mediterranean diets where meat is consumed no more than 2-3 times a week. The diet is characterized by locally produced seasonal produce; however, it is not the only factor contributing to longevity. Regular daily exercise is also the norm, greatly influenced by the warm climate in Mediterranean countries. 

Considering the above, the argument for a Mediterranean diet is strong; after all, to live a long time, your diet has to be healthy, no?  If you visit Sardinia, for example, you will see centenarians all around, evidence that the Mediterranean diet is the right choice for everyone.

Why is it good for People with Prediabetes and Diabetes

If you have prediabetes, following the Mediterranean diet could potentially reduce your chances of developing Type 2 Diabetes (by around 20% when compared to the control group).

People with Type 2 Diabetes tend to have higher insulin levels due to acquired insulin resistance, an increase that the Mediterranean lifestyle (diet and physical activity both play a role in this) can help reduce, potentially through the combined effects of weight loss and improving the sensitivity of the cells to insulin. 

Mediterranean dieters consume more fiber, so they will naturally have a low glycemic index rich diet which can help with the postprandial glycemic control in the short term.“But each component of the Mediterranean diet could be involved in processes related to diabetes homeostasis, many of them sharing common physio-pathological pathways.“ In the long run, studies showed adherence to the Mediterranean diet decreases HbA1C (by approx. 0,5%), and improves fasting glucose homeostasis, better HOMA index, etc.

Also, the Mediterranean diet reduces the risk of cardiovascular diseases (CVD), which is common among people with type 2 diabetes.

A Summary of the Benefits:

  • A1C reduction
  • Reduced triglyceride level
  • Reduced risk of major cardiovascular issues
  • Reduced risk of diabetes

The Downsides to the Mediterranean Diet

Vegetarian diets or diets that are predominantly plant-based, including the Mediterranean diet, can result in dietary deficits such as low levels of some organic sources of minerals such iron, calcium, zinc, and iodine.  It can also result in a deficit of some fatty acids and micronutrients such as vitamin B12, so it's worth having these levels of these assessed regularly.

If you stick to the recommendations according to your age and gender and eat animal products occasionally, like lean meats (chicken breasts), fish, dairy products (eg. cheese), or even eggs, then it shouldn't be a problem.  That being said, always consult your GP/dietitian concerning any potential complicating health conditions.

A Mediterranean diet + Plate Method.

Managing the transition from the standard western diet to a Mediterranean diet can be difficult at first, especially if you have previously not cared for vegetables. Sticking to the diet is the most difficult part, which is why we recommend using tools to aid your efforts. Besides our DiabTrend application, one such useful tool is the Diabetes Plate Method, which, while not designed specifically for the Mediterranean diet, is still very effective.

Another tool specific to the Mediterranean diet is the Mediterranean diet score. 

Mediterranean diet score

This tool is for health professionals with appropriate nutritional knowledge and competencies. It can be used as both an audit tool and part of a baseline dietary assessment. The tool comes in the form of a daily consumption survey, which provides a baseline to start from, and at a future date, it can be used to track progress towards the goal of complete adoption.

Monitoring your Mediterranean diet using DiabTrend

Sticking to any diet outside the typical routine can be tough, which is why adherence to the plan needs to be tracked. Without some kind of food tracker or food diary, people tend to deviate from the plan or make the same mistakes time and time again, repeating the errors of the past.

DiabTrend makes dietary management easy, in part because of its recipe database, all suitable for people with diabetes. All the required nutrient data is provided, so all users need to do is select the portion size. You can add your own recipes and share them within the community as they share theirs with you.

Richard Johnson
Reading time: 
April 25, 2022

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