The Mediterranean Diet

Take the time to sit, eat at the table and enjoy your meal. Take advantage of every opportunity to be active.

The Mediterranean Diet is the traditional diet of people living in countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea, such as Spain, Italy, Greece and Tunisia. Described in the 1950s by the American scientist Ancel Keys, this way of eating incorporates simplicity and moderation.

Essentially composed of plant-based dishes and unprocessed foods, the Mediterranean Diet contains little added sugar, bad saturated or trans fats, or salt, and provides a great many nutrients: dietary fibre, antioxidants, minerals, and good mono and polyunsaturated fats.

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) recognized the importance and unique character of the Mediterranean Diet by inscribing it in 2013 on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity, alongside Chinese calligraphy, the Argentinian tango and Japanese Kabuki theatre.

Benefits for people with diabetes

For people with diabetes, this diet gives you a “three for one” hit because of its beneficial effect on:

Here is a summary of the proven health benefits from serious studies of people with type 2 diabetes who adopted the Mediterranean Diet:

  • a protective effect against some cardiovascular diseases (heart attack, stroke) and reduction in mortality from a cardiovascular disease
  • lower blood pressure.
  • improved blood glucose (sugar) control
  • reduced risk of developing microvascular complications affecting the eyes
  • improved blood-lipid profile, combined with the action of drugs (statins) to lower bad cholesterol, due to lower triglycerides (bad fats) and higher HDL-C (good cholesterol).

The “modified”1 Mediterranean Diet

This pyramid contains all the necessary information to create Mediterranean-style meals. Foods closer to the top should be eaten less often and in smaller amounts.

***We have modified the contents of the Mediterranean Diet slightly to accommodate the cultural and climatic differences between Québec and the countries in the Mediterranean basin and to encourage the consumption of local products. We have also incorporated certain key behaviours into the pyramid, such as daily physical activity.

Olive oil and canola oil are the primary sources of fat, which must be used in moderation. Abundant use of herbs and spices like garlic and onion should be used to flavour foods.

You don’t need to eat a 100% Mediterranean Diet all the time to see the benefits. Instead, take inspiration from its basic principles:

  • load your plate with plant-based and unprocessed foods;
  • cook more often, to vary the flavours, colours and textures;
  • give each meal the time and attention it deserves.

What about red wine?

The benefits of drinking red wine have been widely publicized. However, the public still has a poor understanding of the link between red wine and the Mediterranean Diet.

Many people started drinking red wine on a regular basis or increased their consumption, without incorporating the other elements of the Mediterranean Diet. This isolated change probably won’t result in the anticipated benefits, for the following reasons:

  • Red wine, like any alcoholic drink, contains calories and stimulates the appetite. That can lead to overeating and weight gain if the normal diet isn’t satisfying enough.
  • Alcohol consumption may be contraindicated for some people with diabetes because of their health or increased risk of hypoglycemia. We suggest you discuss this issue with a health care professional to obtain personal advice.

What should you conclude from this information? Absent contraindications, you may, but are not obliged to, drink a moderate amount of red wine with Mediterranean-style meals.

Mediterranean-style menus

Breakfast:

  • Oatmeal, plain Greek yogurt (with a drop of vanilla or maple syrup), fresh or frozen blueberries and a few nuts, café au lait/latte.

OR

  • Whole-grain toast, peanut or almond butter, orange, café au lait/latte.

Lunch:

  • Whole-grain pasta, homemade tomato sauce with added zucchini, eggplant, a colourful pepper, onions and garlic sautéed in olive oil or canola oil, canned white beans, rinsed and drained, seasoned with fines herbes (thyme, oregano, pepper); a sprinkle of Parmesan cheese. Variation: replace the beans with canned tuna.
  • Steamed broccoli, sprinkled with grilled sesame seeds or a green salad with raw vegetables slices with vinaigrette (olive oil, balsamic or other vinegar, lemon juice).
  • Apple or pear slices, sprinkled with cinnamon, softened in the microwave, and topped with plain yogurt (Greek or regular).

Supper:

  • Baked salmon, barley pilaf, green beans sprinkled with lemon juice, a small red-cabbage-and-carrot salad topped with homemade vinaigrette seasoned with fines herbes.

OR

  • Curried quinoa with sautéed vegetables (mushrooms, onions, peppers), grilled pecans, raisins, cubes of chicken breast and steamed bok-choi.
  • Fresh fruit

Research and text: Diabetes Québec Dietitian Team

June 2014 (updated on June 2018)

©All rights reserved Diabetes Quebec

Source:

Sievenpiper J, Chan C, Dworatzek P et al. Diabetes Canada 2018 Clinical Practice Guidelines for the Prevention and Management of Diabetes in Canada: Nutrition Therapy. Can J Diabetes 2018; 42 (Suppl 1): S64-S79.