Mediterranean Diet for Diabetes

Natalie Stein
February 6, 2019

A Mediterranean diet is known for its heart-healthy effects, but what if you have diabetes? As it turns out, a Mediterranean diet pattern can be a great choice for controlling blood sugar. Here is the scoop on what a Mediterranean diet could do for you and how to follow one.

A Mediterranean Diet Explained

What exactly is the Mediterranean diet? Actually, it is not the Mediterranean diet. It is a Mediterranean-style diet pattern. It’s a type of diet that is characteristic of traditional eating patterns of people around the Mediterranean. If you know your geography, you know that includes a wide range of people from Italians to Greeks to Spaniards to Moroccans. 

If you know your culinary history, you know that these cultures have quite a range of signature dishes. Consider Greek salad, Syrian hummus, Spanish paella, and Moroccan tagine. Still, these traditional diets tend to have some similarities that make them healthy.

  • High intakes of nutritious olive oil, seafood, vegetables, fruit, whole grains, and nuts.

  • Regular intake of seafood, poultry, and low-fat dairy.

  • Low intake of red and processed meats, butter, and sweets.

Mediterranean Diet for Diabetes Prevention and Management

You may think of heart health when you think of a Mediterranean diet, but this eating pattern can help with blood sugar, too. People who follow a Mediterranean diet are less likely to develop type 2 diabetes. People with diabetes who follow this diet pattern can have lower blood sugar and glycated hemoglobin (A1C), and reduced insulin resistance. The diet is even linked to fewer diabetes complications.

The heart-healthy benefits of a Mediterranean diet can be even more important in diabetes because having diabetes puts you at risk for high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease. Not surprisingly, the diet pattern lowers cardiovascular risk in patients with diabetes. People with diabetes who follow a Mediterranean diet pattern may have a lower risk for peripheral arterial disease and other cardiovascular conditions, as well as lower blood pressure and lower mortality rates. It can have anti-inflammatory effects, which means it can lower risk of other chronic conditions. 

Weight Loss and Health on a Mediterranean Diet

Losing weight if you are overweight can lower blood sugar and increase insulin sensitivity. A Mediterranean diet pattern can help you lose weight for a few reasons.

  • It is high in dietary fiber and protein, which are both filling nutrients. They can keep you full for longer after you eat so you do not get as hungry before the next meal.

  • It encourages vegetables, which are low in calories and filling.

  • It discourages certain high-calorie, low-nutrition foods, such as fatty meats and sugary foods and beverages.

  • It recognizes the benefits of enjoying food, which can help you eat slower and prevent feelings of guilt.

Carbohydrates on a Mediterranean Diet

A diabetes diet can include healthy carbohydrates in moderation. Carbohydrates on a Mediterranean diet pattern are consistent with recommendations for healthy carbohydrates for people with diabetes.

These are some basic guidelines when choosing carbohydrates.

  • Look for high-fiber sources. These include vegetables, whole grains such as oatmeal, unsweetened whole-grain cereal, and brown rice, berries and other whole fruits, legumes such as beans, peas, and lentils, and nuts.

  • Look for less-processed instead of more-processed carbohydrate sources. Examples include fresh fruit instead of juice or dried fruit, whole-grain bread and pasta instead of refined white, and raw vegetables instead of packaged veggie chips.

  • Choose foods and beverages without many added sugars. Beware of sweets and sweetened baked goods, and soft drinks, energy drinks, and sweetened coffee beverages. Also watch out for sugar-sweetened flavored foods, such as granola bars, sweetened cereals, and flavored yogurt.

The amount of carbohydrates is as important as the type when it comes to weight loss and blood sugar. A serving size may be smaller than you think. 

Number of Carb Servings Food
2 tangerines, 1 orange, 1 cup strawberries or watermelon

Small taco shell, slice of bread, small granola bar, ¾ cup Cheerios

Cup of milk

Fried chicken
English muffin, medium tortilla, 1 packet oatmeal, hamburger bun

Large apple, banana, or pear, 1 cup fruit juice

½ acorn squash, small order of fries, 1 cup pea soup

Can of soda or flavored coffee beverage

6-oz. container of low-fat flavored yogurt

Slice of pizza
Bagel, ½ cup grape-nuts cereal

Bottle of soda

Cup of ice cream

Peanut butter and jelly sandwich
4 or more
Burrito, pasta, fried rice, or noodles from a restaurant

Bottle of soda

Smoothie or milkshake

Muffin, coffee cake, pie

1 cup granola, 1 cup oatmeal with raisins

½ cup of raisins

A good goal for each meal is 2 to 3 servings of healthy-carb foods. Keeping your carbs consistent throughout the day can help prevent hypoglycemia and hyperglycemia. Try to include a source of protein at each meal to stabilize blood sugar.

What to Eat on a Mediterranean Diet for Diabetes

Aside from choosing higher-fiber, less-processed carbs, how do you follow a Mediterranean-style diet? Following these guidelines can help you get the benefits.

  • Choose olive oil instead of butter, shortening, or lard for cooking and salad dressings. Avocados, nuts, peanuts, and seeds are also healthy sources of fat.

  • Limit processed meat. Try peanut butter, cheese, hummus, tuna or chicken breast for sandwiches, and ground turkey or tofu instead of bacon or sausage for breakfast.

  • Choose lean proteins. Skinless chicken, eggs, beans, and fish are healthier than fatty meat.

  • Enjoy reduced-fat dairy products. Low-fat cheese and plain yogurt are great choices.

  • Use plenty of spices and herbs. They provide antioxidants and let you use less salt in your cooking.

Sample Menu

You can try this menu on your Mediterranean-style, diabetes-friendly eating plan. As always, talk to your doctor before making changes to your lifestyle that could affect your health or blood sugar.

Sample Menu Day 1

Meal Foods
1 toasted whole-grain English muffin (2 halves) spread with ¼ cup pureed avocado and topped with halved grape tomatoes and parmesan cheese.
2 small falafel served with hummus and a side salad with feta, and 1 small pear.
Toss salmon with balsamic vinegar, dill, oregano, garlic, pepper, and olive oil. Bake and serve with ½ cup whole-grain farro or couscous tossed with roasted red peppers, zucchini, and sweet potato.
1 cup raw vegetables plus 2 tablespoons hummus

1 oz. almonds plus 1 cup strawberries

Sample Menu Day 2

Meal Foods
4 egg whites (or 1 egg and 2 whites) scrambled with 1 teaspoon olive oil and 1 tablespoon milk, 1 cup spinach leaves, 1 oz. feta cheese, ½ cup grape tomatoes, halved, plus 1 large banana.
Salad with tuna, white beans, parsley and/or basil, and crushed garlic, served over a bed of greens mixed with ¾ cup raspberries and mixed with dressing with olive oil, lemon juice, and oregano.
Stew chicken breast with onion, artichoke hearts, lemon juice, black pepper, oregano, and thyme. Serve over brown rice cooked in low-sodium broth.
1 small apple and 1 tablespoon peanut butter

1 container plain Greek yogurt plus 1 cup cucumber sticks

Help with a Diabetes Diet

It is easier to form healthier eating habits when you have support. Lark Diabetes helps you choose healthier foods to control blood sugar and lose weight in a personalized program that also includes aspects of diabetes management such as staying active, taking your medications, and checking blood sugar. You can chat with your Lark coach anytime of day or night to make diabetes management easier and is Fully CDC Recognized.

Looking for a guide to plan your diabetes diet?


  1.  Georgoulis M, Kontogianni MD, Yiannakouris N. Mediterranean diet and diabetes: prevention and treatment. Nutrients. 2014;6(4):1406-23. Published 2014 Apr 4. doi:10.3390/nu6041406
  2.  Benson G, Pereira RF, Boucher JL. Ratio nale for the Use of a Mediterranean Diet in Diabetes Management. Diabetes Spectrum 2011 Feb; 24(1): 36-40. https://doi.org/10.2337/diaspect.24.1.36. https://spectrum.diabetesjournals.org/content/24/1/36
Natalie Stein

Exercise, Fitness & Nutrition Expert | Assistant Professor of Public Health