Lower Blood Sugar Naturally with a Mediterranean Diet

What does a Mediterranean diet have to do with prediabetes and diabetes?

Mediterranean diet eat fish

Add fish to your menu a couple times each week.

Though commonly thought of as “a blood sugar problem,” both prediabetes and type 2 diabetes are metabolic disorders that affect the health of the blood vessels, heart, liver and more. In addition to helping with blood sugar control, a Mediterranean-style diet offers benefits to these parts of the body and others.

What is a Mediterranean Diet?

People who live in countries surrounding the Mediterranean Sea have traditionally eaten health-promoting diets. We often refer to the Mediterranean diet, but there really is no one traditional diet in this region because the typical foods varied from country to country. That’s why I frequently say a Mediterranean-style diet. Even though the specific foods are different, the basics are the same:  mostly whole and minimally-processed foods, and lots of vegetables; legumes like chickpeas, kidney beans and lentils; fruits; and whole grains. Diets in the Mediterranean region are also rich in nuts, olive oil and fish. Meals are seasoned with abundant herbs and spices, which actually contain the same types of health-boosting phytonutrients that are present in fruits and vegetables. Dinner might include a glass of wine, but not several. Fruit is a more common dessert than baked goods. In general, the diet is not low in fat, but it’s fairly low in saturated fats and rich in unsaturated fats. Meals are eaten leisurely, which may help prevent overeating.

Clearly, the focus is on wholesome foods without fats or carbs being demonized. Here are some truths about carbs.

A Mediterranean Diet for Diabetes and Prediabetes

Research has linked Mediterranean-style diets to lower risks of developing type 2 diabetes. A large meta-analysis of more than 100,000 people from around the world found that those individuals whose diets most closely resembled a Mediterranean style were 23% less likely to develop type 2 diabetes. A large study in Spain (called the PREDIMED study) found that after four years, those participants assigned to follow a Mediterranean-style eating pattern were 52% less likely to develop type 2 diabetes than those assigned to a low fat diet. This is a pretty impressive testimonial for the power of healthful eating!

Eating a Mediterranean diet can bring you better blood sugar and a healthier heart. Click To Tweet

Among people with newly diagnosed type 2 diabetes, a Mediterranean-style weight loss diet resulted in better blood sugar levels, more pounds lost, and better cardiovascular risk factors compared to a low fat diet. The Mediterranean-style diet in this study included more fat from olive oil and nuts, so the amount of carbohydrate was slightly less – about 44% of total calories, so certainly not low carb, but lower than most low fat diets.

Additionally, people who follow a Mediterranean-style eating pattern have less incidence of metabolic syndrome, reduced risks of heart attacks, stroke and even dementia – all problems that hold increased risks for people with prediabetes and type 2 diabetes.

Mediterranean diet salad for blood sugar control

I enjoyed this beautiful salad at Harvest Table Restaurant in Meadowview, VA.

8 Ways to Follow a Mediterranean Diet

  1. Focus on what to eat, not what to avoid. Not only is it no fun to follow of a list of foods to avoid, it’s also not very helpful. I’ve known too many people to avoid whatever foods they think are unhealthful, but still lack a nutritious diet. Simply not eating sweets or fast food doesn’t mean you’re consuming adequate nutrition. Instead make it your mission to consume the delicious foods we know to boost health. So what should you eat? Fill up on these:
    • Eat fruits and vegetables with most meals and snacks.
    • Enjoy beans, lentils and other legumes a few times each week.
    • Sit down to salads often.
    • Try fish a couple times each week.
  2. Slow down. It’s more healthful, more enjoyable and more “Mediterranean” to eat in a leisurely way. It’s very American, and in my view unpleasant, to grab food between two other events. Life is much more enjoyable when we make eating an event. And while we’re slowing down and focusing on the food, let’s enjoy the company of others too as much as we can.
    Making eating an event in itself is 1 of 8 ways to follow a Mediterranean Diet.Click To Tweet   For even more tips, check out 10 Ways to Follow a Mediterranean Diet at Dinner.
  3. If you drink, drink with meals. It’s common to drink wine in countries near the Mediterranean Sea. However, drinking a few cocktails before dinner is not a regular part of the eating pattern.
  4. Rethink your meat. Instead of serving up a large portion of steak or chicken, shrink the meat and pile on the vegetables and whole grains. Or mix animal and vegetables proteins.
  5. Finish your meal sweetly. Top off your dinner or lunch or both with a juicy piece of fruit or even a small serving of dried fruits. Frequently, when I’ve traveled abroad, our hosts served a small tray of fresh and dried fruits and a few nuts to wrap up a meal. eat fruit for dessert on a Mediterranean diet
  6. Swap fats. Replace butter and other solid fats like coconut oil with liquid oils rich in unsaturated fats. Olive oil is the most common oil in many regions of the Mediterranean. Other liquid oils are also suitable. Additional sources of healthful fats include nuts, seeds, olives and avocados.
  7. Spice it up. Build flavor naturally with herbs and spices. Enjoy both fresh and dried. Here’s my guide on how to use herbs and spices.
  8. Turn it into a habit. Everyday work toward making some improvements – big or small – to your eating pattern. Do this with a sense of curiosity, not with a sense of drudgery or deprivation. Ask yourself, what you can do differently. What do you like? What might you like better? How might it be easier to prepare a similar healthful meal next time. Habits come with a productive mindset. Here are 5 Steps to Build Healthy Habits.

And finally, Oldways has a wonderful introduction to a Mediterranean-style eating pattern with links to recipes and resources, including a Mediterranean diet food list.

What are some of your favorite ways to eat like a Mediterranean?

Interstingly, the 3 most popular recipes on my site have origins from countries surrounding the Mediterranean Sea. Check them out.

Jill-Weisenberger_about-image-2
Jill Weisenberger

Jill Weisenberger, MS, RDN, CDE, CHWC, FAND, is a Nutrition, Culinary & Diabetes Expert, Wellcoach®-certified health and wellness coach, Freelance Writer, Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and Certified Diabetes Educator. She's also the author of four books, including a best-seller. She's a nationally-recognized media expert in high demand for print and online interviews, as well as corporate and one-on-one nutritional counseling. Jill's philosophy is that nutrition science should be understandable, realistic and oh so delicious.

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5 Comments

  1. Brian Bender on May 24, 2018 at 8:51 pm

    Great article! I’m reminded of Dan Buettner’s “Blue Zones,” where 2 of the 5 regions of the world that have disproportionately high concentrations of active, healthy centenarians, are from the Mediterranean region (Ikaria, Greece and Sardinia, Italy). And a recent video published by UCLA and Dr. M. Sanjayan also speak to the huge potential for reducing CO2 emissions and mitigating climate change when switching to a Mediterranean diet from a typical Western diet. Win-win, for your health and the planet’s!

    • Jill Weisenberger on May 24, 2018 at 9:59 pm

      Thanks for your comment Brian! It’s great when two different goals have similar solutions. Yes, it’s a win-win.

  2. Caroline Hajny on September 29, 2018 at 6:38 am

    Great post! Your website is really cool and this is so informative. I think this post is so helpful to us.

  3. joseph nevola on April 19, 2019 at 12:59 am

    Jill I enjoyed this article very much and see the points that you have made throughout the article. I do have a question for you if I may? I am having struggles with my diabetes and keeping my sugar levels low. I take quite a bit of shots daily and was recommended to use the Med diet plan. from my cardiologist. Can you please tell me if these so called” a lot of fruits and veggies” are a good choice to lower sugar levels? I know it is natural sugars, and better then processed sugars, but is it still not going to show sugar spikes in my test results on my meter? I unfortunately am battling a numerous amounts of health issues, mostly heart related with stints and some angioplasty in the past few years. I am allergic to seafood so any seafood I would have to sub maybe chicken breast with vegetables in place of the fish dishes. See what I am getting at and battling between, diabetes, fish allergies, and most important heart issues. So please if you could contact me and please give me your insight on this mess I have gotten into…(LOL) Thank you and again this was a very informative article and I enjoyed it thoroughly. Thanks again Joe

    • Jill Weisenberger on April 22, 2019 at 12:13 pm

      Thanks for reading my post and for leaving your comments. While I cannot answer questions specifically related to you and your health problems without doing a through nutrition and health assessment, I can give you some general thoughts. Non-starchy vegetables are very low in carbohydrate. Typically, only those individuals who take flexible amounts of mealtime insulin based on carbohydrate counting need to concern themselves with the carbohydrates in reasonable amounts of non-starchy vegetables. While fruits have more carbohydrates (roughly 15 grams in a tennis ball sized piece of fruit) and it’s primarily sugar, fruit in general does not raise blood sugar more than other carbohydrate-containing foods when the total amount of carbohydrate is the same. In other words, 15 grams of carbohydrate from an apple is unlikely to have a hugely different effect than 15 grams of carbohydrate from brown rice (about 1/3 cup) or broccoli (about 1.5 cups). The key is to swap on carb-containing food for another at the same meal or snack. It’s also important to remember that fruit is more than carbohydrate. Fruits give us hundreds of phytonutrients important to health and disease prevention. Not all carbohydrate is the same. Certainly, we all recognize the difference between Twizzlers and oranges. Yet somehow, they often get categorized the same. You might find How to Count Carbs for Diabetes Management helpful, myths about fruit, and Learn How Foods Affects Blood Sugar.

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Like most of my patients and clients, I lead a busy life. You probably do too. Fortunately, you don’t need weeks, days or even hours to start living better and healthier. This blog offers timesaving strategies and bite-sized nutrition and health information. Come by often for tips and inspiration to healthy living – no matter how busy you are. I am a registered dietitian nutritionist offering credible, practical nutrition advice to keep busy people healthy. Yes indeed, we can be both busy and healthy.

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