Mediterranean Diet Voted Best for 2022: What Do Diabetes Experts Say?
The Mediterranean Diet has once again been recognized as one of the best overall. What makes it so special? How can you integrate some of its features into what you are currently eating? We spoke with nutritionists to find out more about how you can benefit from this eating plan.
When U.S. News & World Report unveiled its "Best Diets Overall" for 2022, the Mediterranean Diet beat out 39 others to be named number one —the fifth year in a row it's earned top honors.
But what does the science say? Do people with diabetes benefit from Mediterranean-style eating—or is it just hype? We spoke with top diabetes and nutrition experts to see what they thought, and here's what they told us.
"This eating pattern is based on the traditional eating patterns in the regions around the Mediterranean Sea," says Stacey Simon, registered dietitian and owner of the virtual nutrition practice Stacey Simon Nutrition LLC. "It has been shown to reduce inflammation and risk of stroke, heart disease, and type 2 diabetes."
diaTribe dug into the research to learn more about what a Mediterranean Diet is and how it affects people living with diabetes. Then, we analyzed expert opinions in light of the latest studies to get a view on the pros, cons, and nutritional value of sticking with this eating plan.
What is the Mediterranean Diet?
"The Mediterranean diet offers a variety of options making it less restrictive than other diets and more about abundance rather than deprivation," says Lynn Ward, director of preventative focused care at Compwell.
The diet promotes plant-based foods daily, in place of meats or starches. Healthy fats are also encouraged, such as olive oil instead of butter or margarine. "Limiting animal protein to small amounts of fish and seafood is suggested," adds Ward.
The Mediterranean diet seems like an overall healthy pattern to follow. With benefits to the heart and brain, it's easy to see why U.S. News & World Report's experts gave it the top spot for 2022.
What Are the Mediterranean Diet Benefits?
Eating a plant-based diet can lower your risk for chronic conditions, including heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and cancer. It can also help regulate weight and reduce inflammation.
"Inflammation resulting from lifestyle factors can contribute to a range of health issues, including heart disease and diabetes," says Ward. "Sticking to a Mediterranean-type diet will also likely decrease inflammation over time." Common components of the Mediterranean diet such as produce, legumes, and seafood contain less saturated fat and cholesterol, which can limit inflammation.
"The Mediterranean diet has also been associated with being protective against memory decline," says Simon. Many observational studies have found that following a Mediterranean-style diet is associated with a reduced risk of Alzheimer's disease and other forms of dementia.
Mediterranean Diet Foods
"The Mediterranean diet is an eating pattern rich in fresh fruits and vegetables, heart-healthy fats [olive oil, nuts, seeds], and whole grains," explains Simon. "It's low in processed foods, red meat, and dairy products." It also includes moderate amounts of fish, poultry, and eggs.
Approved plant-based foods:
- Whole grains: whole-grain bread and pasta
- Vegetables (fresh)
- Fruits (fresh)
- Legumes: chickpeas, lentils, and beans
- Nuts and seeds
Approved healthy fats:
- Olive oil
- Fish: Salmon, tuna, mackerel, herring, sardines (excluding fried fish)
- Fish oils
- Some nut and seed oils: Flaxseed oil, almond oil, walnut oil, and hazelnut oil
Foods allowed in moderation:
- Poultry (up to 4-ounce servings)
- Low-fat dairy
- Red wine: (4) ounces for women and (8) ounces for men
What Foods Should I Avoid?
While this particular diet includes a colorful variety of healthy cuisine, experts recommend certain key foods you should avoid.
You should avoid eating:
Refined grains: White bread, white pasta, white rice, and processed flours
Processed meats: Sausage, bacon, cold cuts/deli meat, hot dogs/sausages that contain additives or preservatives
Red meat: Beef, pork, venison, and veal
Processed foods: Pies, cakes, cookies, pizza, sweetened yogurt, most frozen meals, processed cheese
Sweets and desserts: Cakes, candies, cookies that contain ingredients that are unnatural or have a long list of ingredients
Soda and other sugar-sweetened beverages
Trans fats: Margarine, solid shortening, pre-packaged baked goods
What Do the Experts Say About the Mediterranean Diet and Diabetes?
"Research says when eating or drinking less sugar, inflammatory markers in the blood decrease, which decreases the risk of chronic disease” explains Ward. "Choosing the Mediterranean diet as a lifelong way of eating, coupled with caloric restriction, may also result in weight loss."
According to Simon, the Mediterranean diet "is an excellent diet choice for people with diabetes." Several factors make this dietary approach attractive for diabetes management. "This diet limits processed foods and sweets, which are often attributed to poor blood sugar control. It's high in nutritionally balanced foods including whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and healthy fats, all of which promote blood glucose stability."
"The Mediterranean diet is anti-inflammatory in nature, which may help in promoting diabetes management. It also plays a role in insulin secretion and gut microbiota, all of which may play roles in improving blood sugar management.”
7-day Mediterranean Meal Plan for Prediabetes, Diabetes, and Obesity
Maddison Saalinger, registered and licensed dietician at the Diabetes Research Institute Foundation gave diaTribe an exclusive look at this Mediterranean-based meal plan for prediabetes, diabetes, and obesity.
"The main thing to remember is to count your carbohydrates," explains Saalinger. "A tip to counting carbohydrates is to use the exchange list (15g carbohydrates per exchange) or food labels. Measuring cups or food scales can help get these measurements more precise."
Breakfast: Whole grain bread with avocado and an egg sunny side up
Lunch: Tuna salad with arugula, apples, and pumpkin seeds
Dinner: Quinoa with roasted veggies and pine nuts
Snack: Cottage cheese with pineapple chunks
Breakfast: Oatmeal with mixed nuts and berries
Lunch: Greek salad and lentils
Dinner: Grilled lamb, roasted vegetables, and whole wheat pita
Snack: Mixed nuts and a small apple
Breakfast: Mediterranean mini frittatas
Lunch: Chickpea salad with spinach and goat cheese
Dinner: Orzo salad (include tomatoes and olives), grilled fish, and roasted vegetables
Snack: Whole-grain crackers and peanut butter
Breakfast: Veggie omelet and a whole wheat toast
Lunch: Ground turkey burger (onions, spinach), sweet potato fries (baked), and spinach salad
Dinner: Salmon with roasted zucchini and mushrooms, and lentils
Snack: Hummus and baby carrots
Breakfast: Greek yogurt, berries, and mixed nuts
Lunch: Chicken salad on whole wheat pita
Dinner: Grilled portobello mushroom with tomatoes and mozzarella
Snack: Apple slices and peanut butter
Breakfast: Peanut butter sandwich
Lunch: Grilled fish and lentils and roasted veggies
Dinner: Spinach salad with grilled chicken and avocado
Snack: Greek yogurt with mixed nuts
Breakfast: Overnight oats (oatmeal, almond milk, peanut butter, chia seeds) and berries to top
Lunch: Turkey sandwich on whole-wheat bread, cucumbers, spinach, alfalfa sprouts, and feta
Dinner: Lentil pasta, grilled shrimp, and spinach
Snack: Pistachios and apple
The Verdict: Mediterranean Diet for Diabetes May Be Effective
Based on the research and expert opinion of Ward, Simon, and Saalinger, it's clear that the benefits of a Mediterranean-based diet extend beyond weight loss and blood sugar management.
"The Mediterranean diet really isn't a diet, per se. Rather, it's a balanced eating pattern that can meet all of our nutrition needs from real, whole foods—rather than relying on supplements," Simon says.
"I consider this to be an extremely healthy style of eating with many benefits. I also feel this diet can be modified and adapted for many dietary needs and is a wonderful starting point for building healthy habits."
Whether you're living with prediabetes, diabetes, or just trying to lose weight and prevent disease, the Mediterranean diet may be worth your attention.