Diet is a crucial tool for managing your diabetes. The right meal plan can help improve your blood glucose, blood pressure, cholesterol, and even possibly your weight. Picking a new meal plan can be overwhelming with the media throwing a new fad diet at you every other week. But what better time to try or start looking into a life-long diet plan than during National Nutrition Month?
The Mediterranean Diet is one of the highest rated diet plans to both prevent and manage diabetes. It follows the traditional eating patterns by those who live in countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea. Some argue that the Spanish eat far differently from the French, who also eat differently from the Greeks and Italians. But parts of their diets can actually be quite similar. What sets this diet plan apart from others is that these Europeans don’t think of their eating habits as a diet plan; it’s simply their way of life.
Their diets consist of mostly vegetables, legumes (beans and peas), fruits, nuts, and whole grain cereals. They replace highly saturated fats such as butter with olive oil and season with herbs instead of salt. Instead of beef and poultry as the main animal protein, they eat mostly fish with some dairy. Much of their dairy is in the form of cultured products like cheeses and yogurt. And their lower intake of poultry and red meats is typically coupled with a moderate consumption of wine (mostly with meals).
This isn’t a strict diet plan where people have to count and calculate calories all day; it is a new healthy eating habit approach. However, keep in mind that it’s still important to keep track of your carb intake to keep your blood glucose levels in control.
Research from the last 10 years has found that diets lean on meat and high in healthy fats like olive oil were effective at helping weight loss and lowering blood glucose levels in people with diabetes.
Some studies have also linked the Mediterranean Diet to helping reduce the risks of some cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, and death from heart attack.
The Mediterranean lifestyle puts a strong emphasis on sitting down to eat a well-cooked meal. But with everyone’s busy work schedules and jam-packed personal obligations it can be hard to plan around all the hustle and bustle. This month try to slow down the pace and start making small changes to get you and the rest of your family involved in the kitchen. Remember: do not think of the Mediterranean Diet strictly as a diet; it is simply a change in your lifestyle.
Here are five tips that can help get you started:
- Include more seasonal fresh fruits and vegetables in your diet.
- Use herbs and spices when seasoning your food. This will help you cut back on added salt, sugar, and fat when cooking and you will be surprised about how good your food will taste.
- Use olive oil when cooking instead of butter. It’s a good source of monounsaturated fats, which are a type of healthy fat that can help lower cholesterol levels in place of saturated fats like butter.
- Snack on nuts during the day. They are a good source of those healthy unsaturated fats that are an important part of the Mediterranean meal plan.
- Eat a serving of fish at least twice a week. (Remember, fish is the main source of animal protein included in the Mediterranean Diet plan.)
People within the Mediterranean culture also keep very active during the day, walking to and from work, and usually everywhere for that matter. It is important to keep in mind that being active is essential to success on the Mediterranean diet; it’s doubly important as it’s a major part in managing your diabetes. Every type of physical activity counts! Take the stairs instead of the elevator, walk to work instead of driving, or clean the house.
Many researchers believe that the Mediterranean Diet may be more successful than other diets for people with diabetes because it is easier to maintain than restrictive low-carb or high-protein diets.
Although the Mediterranean Diet may be a good choice for people with diabetes, it may not necessarily be the right meal plan for you to improve your health. It is important to talk to your doctor or registered dietitian before embarking on any new meal plan.
If you have any questions about your diet, a registered dietitian can be used as a good source of information. Make an appointment with one of Joslin’s certified diabetes educator dietitians by calling (617) 732-2440, or learn more by visiting us online.