Mediterranean Diet and Diabetes

The Plant-Based Diet Pattern That Can Curb Your Disease Risk

Olive oil is rich in nutrients.
Olive oil is rich in nutrients. Image Source/Getty Images

Olive oil, cheese, yogurt, whole grains, beans, wine, fruits, and vegetables—sounds good doesn't it? Hardly sounds like "dieting," but these Mediterranean diet staples may be components of a diet that can reduce risk for heart disease, some cancers, and add some years to your life. What's more, a Mediterranean diet is linked to a lower risk of Type 2 diabetes as well as better glycemic control in diabetics.

Why is This Diet so Healthy?

This diet has plenty of heart-healthy monounsaturated fat, mostly from olive oil, as well as nuts and seeds. This type of fat has been found to reduce belly fat, promote weight loss, and reduce cholesterol. In addition, the diet has a good amount of heart-healthy, anti-inflammatory, triglyceride-lowering, omega-3 fatty acids from seafood and walnuts. Fruits, vegetables, legumes and whole grains provide fiber and antioxidants. Combined, these components together make for a powerhouse diet.

Mediterranean Diet Background

The Mediterranean diet is based on the lifestyle and traditional way of eating in some countries that surround the Mediterranean Sea. As overall populations, people in these countries tend to have a lower incidence of heart disease and decreased mortality. A survey in the 1960's took a closer look at the diet of people who lived on the Greek island of Crete because their death rate was seven times lower than that of American men.

However, it wasn't widely popularized until the 1990s when Walter Willett of Harvard University's School of Public Health shed more light on the subject with the book Eat, Drink, and Be Healthy, which advocates this lifestyle. Many other modern diet plans are based in varying degrees on the Mediterranean diet.

The folks at Harvard, along with the World Health Organization and the nonprofit group Oldways Preservation and Exchange Trust, created a Mediterranean diet pyramid which has physical activity and enjoying meals with others at its base. Many current recommendations for a healthy diabetes diet and lifestyle have come about because of research into the Mediterranean diet.

Mediterranean Diet Basics

  • Take time to enjoy food in the company of others.
  • Drink plenty of water.
  • Get plenty of exercise.
  • Focus on in-season, plant-based foods.
  • Use extra-virgin olive oil as your main dietary fat.
  • Fill your plate with fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds, legumes, herbs and spices.
  • Eat fish and seafood often, two times per week or more.
  • Enjoy daily or weekly moderate portions of cheese, yogurt, eggs, and poultry.
  • Have red meats and sweets less often.
  • Eat fruit for dessert and limit other sweets.

Diabetes-Specific and Related Benefits

  • Decreased risk for type 2 diabetes.
  • Decreased risk for heart disease.
  • Better diabetes control.
  • High blood pressure, insulin resistance, and poor blood fat levels are components of metabolic syndrome which is the name for a group of conditions that can indicate an increased risk for heart disease. Studies have shown the risk for these factors are reduced with this diet.
  • Risk for inflammation, which is thought to be related to diabetes, is reduced as well.
  • Insulin sensitivity may be improved.
  • Weight gain prevention and weight loss promotion are favorable because this diet is generally lower in calories, high in fiber, high in monounsaturated fat, and contains plenty of antioxidants.
  • Decreased risk for macular degeneration.
View Article Sources
  • Esposito, K., et al. Prevention and control of type 2 diabetes by Mediterranean diet: a systematic review. Diabetes Research and Clinical Practice, August 2010 89(2): 97 - 102
  • Koloverou, E. The effect of Mediterranean diet on the development of type 2 diabetes mellitus: a meta-analysis of 10 prospective studies and 136,846 participants. Metabolism 2014 63(7): 903 - 11
  • Med Diet & Health. Oldways Health Through Heritage
  • Schroder, H. "Protective Mechanisms of the Mediterranean Diet in Obesity and Type 2 Diabetes." Nutritional Biochemistry September 2006 18(3):149-60.