The Mediterranean diet does just about everything and helping to balance blood sugars and prevent complications from diabetes are just some of its amazing benefits. Read on to learn more about how you can follow the Mediterranean diet for better health.

Vanessa Rissetto M.S., RD, CDN
April 28, 2021
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The Mediterranean diet does just about everything. It can help prevent the development of heart disease, protect against stroke and even certain types of cancers, plus it can make losing weight and keeping it off easier. And it doesn't stop there. Research shows the Mediterranean diet can also help prevent diabetes and decrease complications if you already have diabetes. Not to mention it's a delicious and easy way to eat! Read on to learn how to follow the principles of the Mediterranean for better blood sugars—and better health overall.

1. Load up on fruits and veggies

No-Cook Black Bean Salad

Get the Recipe: No-Cook Black Bean Salad

The Mediterranean diet encourages consumption of 6 to 10 servings of fruits and vegetables daily. Fruits and veggies should make up the majority of each meal. In addition, it is encouraged to consume a variety of different kinds. Among the most popular are tomatoes, spinach, cucumbers, broccoli, cauliflower, kale and carrots. Stabilizing your blood sugar while adhering to these guidelines shouldn't be too taxing at all, especially if we opt for non-starchy veggies more often and enjoy starchy veggies, like potatoes, corn and peas, just some of the time.

And while fruits and veggies on their own are delicious and healthy, paring them with a healthy fat or lean protein source can help give them more satisfying staying power. For example, if I were to have an orange as a snack I would add ¼ cup of pistachios to help slow down digestion and give me better glucose control.

2. Go for plant-based protein

One-Pot Coconut Milk Curry with Chickpeas

The Mediterranean diet emphasizes the use of beans, legumes and tofu for adding protein and fiber to dishes. Since animal products are not the focal point of meals, plant-based proteins are staples, and are consumed often more than animal-based proteins. Options like chickpeas, black beans and lentils are present in many dishes. The way to be sure to keep your blood sugar levels stable here would be to keep to basic portion sizes somewhere between ½-1 cup for beans and legumes. Serve your plant-based protein with some veggies or whole grains boost the fiber content even more which means you'll digest slower. Slower digestion = optimal glycemic (blood sugar) control.

3. Swap in high-fiber whole grains

Baked Blueberry & Banana-Nut Oatmeal Cups
Credit: Jamie Vespa

Whole grains are also a staple and should be enjoyed daily. Minimally processed grains, like oats, barley, farro, brown rice and whole-grain breads and pastas are preferred, because they still have all their valuable vitamins, minerals and fiber that would otherwise be lost during processing (i.e when they turn into things like white bread and white pasta).

Again, the fiber is what will help to slow digestion, but we also want to make sure we are pairing these whole grains with healthy fats, and protein to create even more satisfying, balanced meals. We also want to again be mindful of the portion since whole grains are carbs and too many can raise blood sugar levels too high. Stick to 1/2 to 1 cup per serving and you'll be all set.

4. Healthy fats is where it's at

Roasted Salmon with Smoky Chickpeas & Greens

The Mediterranean diet is certainly not a low-fat diet. However, it is picky about which fats to include. This diet is rich in healthy, unsaturated fats, like olive oil, avocado oil, nuts, seed and fatty fish, like salmon. Saturated fats, which is what you'll find in butter, margarine and animal products are not consumed as often, as they can do damage in large amounts.

While these unsaturated fats are considered healthy, it definitely doesn't mean you can go all out with them all the time. Just stick to one serving, which is 1 tablespoon of oil, 1/4 cup of nuts, 1/3 of an avocado and about 4 ounces of salmon.

5. Don't leave out dairy

Berry-Mint Kefir Smoothies

Dairy is an important part of the Mediterranean diet, in moderation. The diet suggests one to three servings each day. Preferred sources include unprocessed cheeses like feta, brie, Parmesan and ricotta, plus fermented Greek yogurt. On this diet, you don't often find processed dairy like American cheese, yogurt with added sugar and ice cream but it doesn't mean they're totally off limits—just enjoy them sometimes.

These preferred sources of dairy can be paired with fruits and vegetables again to help slow digestion. For example having ½ an apple with 1 ounce of Parmesan cheese is a great snack and wonderful way to slow down digestion and continue to feel full until your next meal.

6. Eat just a little meat

One-Pan Chicken Asparagus Bake

Fish is the main source of protein in the Mediterranean diet, instead of poultry, pork or red meat. Fishes high in omega-3 fatty acids are the most favored—such as salmon, tuna, mackerel and herring. It makes sense that fish is such a staple. The Mediterranean diet originated in the region of—you guessed it—the Mediterranean Sea, where fish options are abundant and extremely varied. This is great because studies have shown that omega-3 fatty acids help improve cholesterol and reduce inflammation.

Fishes such as these are also chock full of protein, contributing to the satiation factor of Mediterranean dishes. Of course you can still enjoy things like chicken, pork and red meat from time to time, but opt for plant-based proteins and fish and seafood more often for better diabetes outcomes.

Bottom line

The basics of the Mediterranean diet allow for your blood sugar to be stabilized relatively easy when you stick to the tips mentioned above. Simply fill up on fruits and veggies, healthy fats and high-fiber whole grains, plus some lean protein and dairy products. Balancing your blood sugar doesn't have to be a chore or even restrictive, as long as we are creative and deliberate with our pairings. The Mediterranean diet proves just how simple—and delicious—it can be.