Chances are, you probably know someone who has diabetes. In fact, you may have the disease as well. Nearly 2 million Americans are diagnosed with diabetes every year. The majority of those – type 2 diabetes – have obesity as their main risk factor.
Diet can play a huge role in both the prevention and management of type 2 diabetes. Adequate consumption of fruits and vegetables, complex carbohydrates and plant- and marine-based protein are all essential for the diabetic patient, but putting these dietary ideals into practice can often be challenging. Many of my diabetic patients come to me with the idea that the only way to manage their disease is through counting carbohydrates. While watching carbohydrates, and especially the type consumed, is important, the sole attention to this practice can often times overshadow the role that other diets can play in the management of the disease.
One of the most widely studied is the Mediterranean diet – and adherence to it may not only help in the management of diabetes, but it can also help to prevent diabetes all together.
Let’s first start with the main components of the Mediterranean diet: It’s a way of life that incorporates healthy amounts of whole grains, fruits and vegetables, beans, nuts, seeds and healthy fat, especially olive oil and omega-3 fatty acids. The diet has been linked to reductions in both diabetes and in risk factors associated with the disease such as heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure and peripheral artery disease.
Several studies have linked the healthy fat in the Mediterranean diet to a reduced risk of diabetes as well. A 2014 study found that long chain omega-3 fatty acids helped to reduce the overall risk of diabetes. The study, conducted on over 2,000 men, showed that participants with the highest levels of omega-3 fatty acids had a 33 percent lower risk of developing diabetes than participants with lower concentrations. Another study found that consumption of fatty fish, which is also high in omega-3 fatty acids, was associated with lower glucose concentrations and a reduced risk of diabetes. Finally, a 2012 study found that foods lower on the glycemic index, such as eggs or natural peanut butter, were a better breakfast bet for blood sugar control.
So how can you add healthy fats into your Mediterranean diet plan? Easy! Start with a healthy breakfast by whipping up a delicious one egg omelet prepared with spinach, mushrooms and olive oil. For snacks, think whole grain flaxseed crackers with natural peanut butter or a handful of walnuts and for dinner, focus on consuming fatty fish such as salmon at least two times a week, paired with sautéed garlicky broccoli and brown rice.
If you’re diabetic or want to prevent the onset of the disease, the choice is clear – the Mediterranean diet is the way to go.