Dr Oz Explains the Mediterranean Diet
Is the Mediterranean Diet Best for Diabetes?
Research shows the heart-healthy Mediterranean diet is also beneficial for people with type 2 diabetes. Find out how this approach can improve your blood sugar and help you lose weight.
By Diana Rodriguez
Medically Reviewed by Kelly Kennedy, RD
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Following a Mediterranean diet can help people with type 2 diabetes improve blood sugar control and lose weight, all the while satisfying the taste buds with fresh, flavorful ingredients.
The diet — which gets its name from the traditional eating and cooking patterns of people in countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea — has long been studied for its heart health benefits, but research also suggests this approach can offer advantages for people living with type 2 diabetes.
In a study published in March 2013 in theAmerican Journal of Clinical Nutrition, researchers in the United Kingdom compared the Mediterranean diet to vegetarian, vegan, low-carbohydrate, high-protein, high-fiber, and low-glycemic index diets, and found that the Mediterranean diet came out on top.
Study participants following Mediterranean, low-glycemic index, low-carbohydrate, and high-protein diets all experienced better blood sugar control, as was indicated by their lower A1C scores. (A1C is a measure of average blood sugar levels over a three-month period.) However, people following the Mediterranean diet saw significant additional benefits — they lost the most weight and saw improved cardiovascular health, including better cholesterol levels.
"The Mediterranean diet is rich in fruits and vegetables, and uses whole grains and lean protein, such as fish, as well as olive oil and nuts as the sources of fat," says Betul Hatipoglu, MD, an endocrinologist and a clinical associate professor of medicine at the Cleveland Clinic Lerner College of Medicine in Ohio. "These healthy choices make the diet very rich in monounsaturated fat and fiber, and both have been known to lower the cholesterol and blood sugar in diabetics."
The Mediterranean diet also allows red wine, fat-free or low-fat dairy (such as yogurt), eggs, and lean meat all in moderation, says the Everyday Health nutritionist Kelly Kennedy, RD. Flavoring food with herbs and spices instead of salt is also encouraged.
"The Mediterranean diet positively affects blood sugar and blood pressure as well as cholesterol,” Kennedy says. “It typically replaces saturated and trans fats with unsaturated fats, and this might explain the positive effect on insulin sensitivity."
Creating a Mediterranean Meal Plan at Home
Switching to a Mediterranean diet isn’t as radical or complicated as it might sound — and, though we wouldn't discourage you from visiting, you don’t have to move to southern Europe to adopt the region’s eating style. Like many healthy diets, it starts with choosing fresh fruits and vegetables whenever you can, and using lean protein sources such as fish, skinless chicken, and legumes rather than red meat, says Dr. Hatipoglu.
Fill your kitchen with a few staples to help you make the transition. As Kennedy says, “The key with the Mediterranean diet is that it emphasizes minimally processed foods." Here's a shopping list to help you stock up:
- Whole grains Try brown rice, barley, quinoa, bulgur, farro, buckwheat, and wheat berries. Choose whole-grain breads, rolls, tortillas, and pastas.
- Seeds, nuts, and legumes Good choices include kidney beans, chickpeas, lentils, almonds, walnuts, pistachios, and sunflower and sesame seeds.
- Vegetables Aim for a rainbow of color with avocados, bell peppers, Brussels sprouts, asparagus, olives, tomatoes, leafy green vegetables, cucumbers, and eggplants.
- Fruits Branch out from your usual favorites and shop for melons, figs, dates, grapes, and pomegranates in addition to old standbys like citrus fruits, berries, and apples.
- Fresh fish Heart-healthy choices include fatty fish such as salmon, sardines, and halibut — all rich in omega-3s.
- Healthy dairy Choose reduced-fat cheeses and low-fat or nonfat yogurt and milk.
- Herbs and spices Season foods with flavorful and healthy choices like basil, garlic, cumin, cloves, cinnamon, chili powder, saffron, mint, ginger, oregano, nutmeg, and rosemary.
- Healthy oils for cooking Instead of butter, cook with healthy fats like canola, grapeseed, and extra-virgin olive oils.
Video: Why is the Mediterranean diet good for your heart?
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