Diabetes is a significant health concern due to its widespread prevalence and serious impact on individuals' well-being and global healthcare systems. Managing and preventing diabetes is crucial to reduce the risk of these complications and improve the quality of life for those affected. The Mediterranean diet offers a powerful and natural approach to support diabetes prevention and management, making it an essential consideration for those at risk or already affected by this chronic condition.
The Mediterranean diet is highly recommended for diabetes prevention due to its balanced macronutrients, high fiber content, and healthy fats from extra virgin olive oil.
This diet offers a well-rounded and sustainable approach to nutrition, making it more appealing and practical than other restrictive diets.
The Mediterranean diet's principles include regularly consuming vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes, nuts, fish, and seafood while moderating red meat and alcohol consumption.
In this article, we will examine why and how this dietary pattern helps fight diabetes. Humans face a vital pandemic, affecting many people's lives and leading to increased health costs for countries. It isn't COVID-19 — surprisingly it is diabetes. Unfortunately, diabetes is a pandemic of unprecedented magnitude now affecting 1 in 10 adults worldwide. According to data from the International Diabetes Federation, 537 million adults are now living with diabetes worldwide, and it cost an estimated $966 billion in global health expenditure in 2021.
A strong weapon against this disease is lifestyle changes, including nutrition, exercise, and other healthy habits like good sleep. This article will be focused on nutrition to help with diabetes.
Dietary pattern for diabetes
As you may already know, diabetes is a type of disease that includes challenges in the regulation of blood sugar levels. This may be because of insulin absence or insufficiency, which refers to diabetes type. The key point of a diabetes diet must be controlling blood sugar levels. For this, you need to reduce the sugar and saturated or trans fat content in your diet. In addition to these, pastries and desserts made of simple carbohydrates can cause your blood sugar to rise uncontrollably, and it is useful to stay away.
However, some foods in the diet also affect carbohydrate absorption, allowing you to control your sugar spikes. For example, fiber in whole grains, vegetables, and fruits slows down the process of carbohydrate digestion and absorption, allowing glucose to be released into the blood slowly. This helps insulin production to be slow and controlled. In addition, balanced meals with healthy protein and fat sources also cause slow and controlled digestion and absorption of carbohydrates in this food matrix.
Therefore, your diet should offer balanced macro and micronutrients with a good amount of fiber. Also, the nutrients you consume provide you with several bioactive compounds for the anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory function of your body. In diabetes, there can be low-grade inflammation in the body due to high blood sugar and insulin dysfunction. One of the best dietary plans that covers all these needs above is the Mediterranean diet.
Why is the Mediterranean diet one of the best?
If we need to describe the Mediterranean diet with one word, this might be "balanced." This diet offers a well-balanced and very nutritious dietary pattern by providing all macros in their best forms, such as complex carbohydrates, high-quality protein, and healthy fat.
There are also several diets, like the ketogenic diet, paleo diet, or low-carb diet that are effective for diabetes treatment, but unlike the Mediterranean diet, they are very restrictive for some nutrients for many people and hard to sustain.
A study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine can be good evidence for the Mediterranean diet's effects on diabetes. According to this study, 3541 participants without diabetes but at high risk of cardiovascular diseases were divided into three groups randomly: the Mediterranean diet plus extra virgin olive oil supplementation, the Mediterranean diet plus nuts, and the control diet.
After a follow-up period, study results showed that the Mediterranean diet consumption with extra olive oil or nuts supplementation significantly decreased diabetes risk cases compared to the control group. Supplementation with extra virgin olive oil was more effective than nuts. The important point is there was no caloric restriction occurred between groups, which shows the effectiveness of this diet comes from its nutrient composition.
Principles of the Mediterranean diet
Now let's dive into the three main principles of the Mediterranean diet.
1. Balanced nutrients
You can be sure you consume all nutrients in balance if you follow a Mediterranean diet. There can be minor differences between daily recommendations for diet pyramids, but in general, this diet includes vegetables and fruits, whole grain bread or cereals, and olive oil in every meal. It recommends legume consumption for approximately 2 servings every week or even every meal for some guides. You can consume nuts in every meal or 1–2 servings daily.
When it comes to protein sources, it recommends fish and seafood very often, more than 2 servings weekly. You can consume eggs and poultry in moderate portions, such as 2–4 servings weekly. It recommends consuming red meat less often, less than 2 servings weekly. Red wine can be consumed in moderation.
2. High fiber
Dietary fiber is one of the most important contents of any kind of healthy diet. It is essential for digestive functions and healthy microbiota. Recent studies revealed that a healthy gut is a healthy body. There are complex relations between microbiota composition and chronic diseases, cancers, and even neurological diseases. In the case of diabetes, fibers help to slow your carbohydrate digestion and absorption, which manages your blood sugar and insulin release.
3. Healthy fat and bioactive compounds
Olive oil is a very special fat and an important player in the Mediterranean diet. Extra virgin olive oil provides a high content of monounsaturated fatty acids and polyphenols, which are effective anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory compounds. It is well established that the consumption of extra virgin olive oil has beneficial effects in preventing, developing, and progressing diabetes.
By adopting this dietary approach, you can empower yourself with nutrients, prevent diabetes and related chronic diseases, promote better health outcomes and contribute to a healthier global community.
- International Diabetes Federation. Diabetes is “a pandemic of unprecedented magnitude” now affecting one in 10 adults worldwide.
- Annals of Internal Medicine. Prevention of Diabetes With Mediterranean Diets.
- Nutrients. Definition of the Mediterranean Diet: A Literature Review.