For Diabetes: Go Mediterranean

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Eating a nutritious diet is important when you have diabetes. Putting certain foods on your plate-such as fruits and vegetables, beans, and whole grains-can help you better control blood sugar levels. Enter the Mediterranean diet. It's been shown to boost heart health. And now, research finds it may be useful in managing diabetes, too.

Diet and diabetes

In a recent issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, researchers reviewed past studies on various types of diets and their effectiveness in managing diabetes. They found that several diets were good choices for people with the disease. Those diets included the Mediterranean diet, a low-carbohydrate diet, a high-protein diet, and a low glycemic index (GI) diet. The low GI diet entails eating foods that minimally boost blood sugar.

All four of these diets helped to lower blood sugar levels. And like the low-carbohydrate and low GI diets, the Mediterranean diet also improved cholesterol levels-vital in helping to prevent complications related to diabetes, including heart disease and stroke. What's more, the Mediterranean diet was most effective in helping people lose weight.

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The basics of the Mediterranean diet

The Mediterranean diet reflects many of the same healthy-eating principles that the American Diabetes Association recommends. Based on how people along the Mediterranean Sea have traditionally eaten for centuries, it emphasizes plant-based foods. That means primarily eating fruits and vegetables, nuts and beans, herbs and spices-and little salt.

The diet also limits red meat. Fish is the favored protein, and it's typically eaten more than twice a week. Other foods that may make an occasional appearance on the plate include poultry, low-fat dairy, and eggs. A moderate amount of red wine may accompany a meal. And for dessert? It's often simply fruit.

Olive oil is another major component of the Mediterranean diet. It's the chief fat chosen in cooking. Unlike the butter and margarine many Americans use to prepare their meals, olive oil doesn't contain saturated fats, which can clog your arteries and lead to heart disease. Instead, it offers healthy monounsaturated fats, which help keep cholesterol levels down.

If you are considering the Mediterranean diet, talk with your doctor to see if it may be right for you. No single diet seems to be the most effective in managing diabetes. People with diabetes should choose a diet that works best for them based on their individual goals.

Always talk with your health care provider to find out more information.

A Mediterranean-Inspired Menu

It's easier than you think to eat a Mediterranean-style diet. Simply focus less on meats and carbohydrates and more on plant-based foods and monounsaturated fats. Here's a sample menu to get you started:

1/3 cantaloupe
1 slice whole grain toast with 2 tsp peanut butter
1 cup nonfat yogurt

2 cups spinach salad topped with 2 oz grilled chicken breast
Dressing made from 1 tbsp olive oil and 1 tbsp vinegar
1 apple

5 oz fish (such as cod or halibut) cooked in olive oil
1 small sweet potato
2 to 3 cups of vegetables, such as broccoli or carrots
1 cup fresh fruit

Need a snack between meals? Grab a small handful of nuts.

Medical Reviewers: Foster, Sara, RN, MPH Last Review Date: Apr 14, 2013

© 2000-2015 Krames StayWell, 780 Township Line Road, Yardley, PA 19067. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.

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