You’ve probably heard of the Mediterranean Diet, and the incredible impact it can have on health. It started when scientists wanted to find out why death from cardiovascular diseases (the number one cause of death in the U.S.) is significantly lower in countries around the Mediterranean Sea. Their research findings credit the Mediterranean Diet due to its many benefits: reduced inflammation, improved “good” cholesterol and lowered “bad” cholesterol, prevention of blood clots, decreased blood pressure, and improved blood vessel function. In one major study, the Mediterranean Diet reduced occurrence of heart attacks, strokes and death by 30%!
Continuing research into the benefits of the Mediterranean Diet has now found that it also improves gut health. Researchers found greater diversity of gut bacteria in study participants who consumed a Mediterranean diet than in the participant group who followed a traditional Western diet. The “good bacteria” like Lactobacillus, a probiotic, were found to be significantly increased in the Mediterranean Diet group.
While it may not seem like a big deal, this is great news, especially for diabetics. Probiotics help move food through the digestive system. When your gut is working at peak performance, you can expect not only improved digestion, but better odds of fighting off food-borne illness, even helping to heal diseases like IBS and Crohn’s.
Not only will your digestive function benefit, but you will also experience a boost in immunity. An astounding 80% of the body’s immune system is located in the gut! Probiotics can help you fend off all sorts of illnesses, from the common cold to the flu.
Blood sugar will also be lower when the gut is at its healthiest. There is a naturally-occurring compound in the gut called butyrate. Butyrate may positively impact insulin sensitivity. When insulin sensitivity is improved, the body does a better job of regulating blood sugar and is able to keep blood sugar levels lower.
The digestive system is also a huge part of the body’s neurological system. Chronic fatigue, joint pain, thyroid disease, even psoriasis are initiated in the gut. With improved gut health, some symptoms of these illnesses could be alleviated.
Speaking of the neurological system, the reduced levels of insulin in a diabetic’s brain can directly stimulate cognitive decline and the potential development of Alzheimer’s (the most common form of dementia, affecting nearly 5.5 million people in the U.S. alone.)
A diabetic’s insulin resistance prevents effective flow of glucose for brain cells to use as fuel. Damage to blood vessels in the brain, along with the inflammation caused by high blood sugar, can also encourage the development of Alzheimer’s. New research has found that individuals who followed a Mediterranean-inspired diet lowered their risk of Alzheimer’s dementia by one third – just another win for the Mediterranean Diet!
So what does this magical Mediterranean Diet look (and taste) like? Let’s start with the positives – here are the foods that make the diet so amazing:
Plenty of fresh veggies like cucumbers, broccoli, tomatoes, spinach, kale, and cauliflower.
Fresh fruits like apples, berries, pears, grapes, bananas, and citrus. (Diabetics, choose lower glycemic fruits like fresh berries and apples over high glycemic ones like citrus or bananas.)
A handful of nuts like almonds, cashews, and walnuts make for a quick and tasty snack on the Mediterranean Diet. Seeds like pumpkin and sunflower are also great for snacking, or as added crunch to salads.
Lentils are fantastic for reducing blood sugar, and are an excellent way to add some non-meat protein into your diet. Along with lentils, beans and peas are also great addition to Mediterranean dishes.
Speaking of protein, the Mediterranean Diet is focused around seafood – salmon, tuna, sardines, mackerel, shrimp, crab, clams, and mussels. Poultry like chicken and duck (and their eggs) are also allowed on the Mediterranean Diet, but lean red meat should be consumed only occasionally.
Whole grains like oats, brown rice, quinoa, and whole grain breads and pastas are present in the Mediterranean Diet, but diabetics must choose with caution in order to avoid blood sugar spikes.
Dairy like cheese and Greek yogurt are also included in the Mediterranean Diet; always be sure to choose full-fat dairy products in order to avoid added sugars.
Olives, extra virgin olive oil, avocados and avocado oil build the foundation of the Mediterranean Diet. The combination of the monounsaturated fatty oleic acid and protective phytonutrients in olives combine to provide serious anti-inflammatory power, helping to combat chronic health conditions like cancer, heart disease, and osteoporosis. Avocados are a good source of antioxidant carotenoids like beta-carotene, which also help to prevent free radical damage and chronic illness.
Now for the foods to avoid when following the Mediterranean Diet:
This first portion should sound familiar to the diabetics in the audience – no sugar! That means cutting out candy, soda, ice cream, cakes, cookies… anything that contains sugar is a no go in the Mediterranean Diet. (This includes simple carbohydrates like white breads and pastas, chips, crackers, etc. which the body processes in the same way as sugar.) If you’ve been working on keeping your blood sugar low for any period of time, this should not be a huge change to your current diet.
If you are a fan of Diabetic Kitchen, the second half of this list is likely familiar, as well. Cut out the processed foods! Most everything that comes in a plastic container or sits on the shelf in a box – from margarine to canola oil to hot dogs… toss it out. The Mediterranean Diet focuses on fresh, whole nutrition in order to heal and protect the body.
Sounds pretty straightforward right? With a focus on vegetables, healthy fats, and lean protein, eating in the style of the Mediterranean Diet is an excellent option for diabetics. Better blood sugar control, heart health, and now improved gut health… it’s time to take your diet to the Mediterranean!