Taking care of your heart and your diabetes with a Mediterranean-style diet
The Mediterranean diet is often talked about as one of the healthiest eating patterns. It is known to help reduce heart disease, and can help with weight loss. More recently, it has been suggested that this diet may help to prevent and manage diabetes.
The Mediterranean diet is more a healthy eating pattern, rather than a strict diet with a set meal plan. It is a style of eating that is named for the traditional diets of people living in the Mediterranean. As such there is no single Mediterranean diet, but many common features that are shared by the different regions of this area.
A Mediterranean-style diet is high in olive oil, vegetables and legumes, whole grains, fruits, and nuts. The eating pattern includes a moderate amount of poultry and fish, and low intake of dairy and red meat. Wine is also consumed in small to moderate amounts (about 100ml per day), always with meals.
Following a Mediterranean-style eating pattern has been shown to reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes in people who are at high risk. More recently, studies have looked at Mediterranean-style eating and people who already have type 2 diabetes. Whilst more research is needed, these initial studies have shown that following a Mediterranean-style eating pattern can have a positive effect on blood glucose levels, and improve how sensitive the body is to insulin.
We do not know exactly how a Mediterranean-style diet may produce these benefits. It is thought that it may be due to the types of fat in the diet (mostly monounsaturated fat from olive oil), the high fibre and high antioxidant intake, and by helping with weight management.
The ten commandments of the Mediterranean diet
- Use olive oil as the main added fat
- Eat vegetables with every meal
- Include at least two legume meals per week e.g. lentil soup or baked beans
- Eat at least two servings of fish per week and include oily fish (such as salmon or sardines)
- Eat meat (beef, lamb, pork and chicken) less often and not more than once per week
- Eat fresh fruit every day and dried fruit and nuts as snacks or dessert
- Eat plain/natural yoghurt every day and cheese in moderation
- Include wholegrain breads and cereals with meals (such as wheat, oats, and barley)
- Consume wine in moderation (about 100ml per day) and always with meals. Include a couple of alcohol-free days each week
- Have sweets or sweet drinks for special occasions only.
If you have any questions, call our Diabetes Infoline on 1300 136 588 to speak to a dietitian.
Article by Kim Duggan-Larkin, Accredited Practising Dietitian.
Ten Commandments by Dr Catherine Itsiopoulos, Accredited Practising Dietitian.