Mediterranean diet for people with diabetes

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The 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans emphasize that a Mediterranean dietary pattern is a healthy way to eat. You can easily follow this eating pattern if you are a person with diabetes using the American Diabetes Association’s Diabetes Plate Method. Below is an overview of a Mediterranean food pattern, how to create a healthy Mediterranean plate using the Diabetes Plate Method, and Mediterranean recipes you can try.

Overview of the Mediterranean diet

The Mediterranean diet earned the top spot in US News & World Report’s 2022 Best Overall Diets. The diet falls within accepted ranges for the amount of macronutrients (carbohydrates, fats, and proteins), as well as most other nutrients. The Mediterranean diet is really a diet, not necessarily a structured diet, so you can adapt it to your lifestyle or health needs, which makes it perfect for someone with diabetes.

The Mediterranean diet emphasizes eating lots of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, nuts, legumes, olive oil, herbs and spices. Fish and seafood should be eaten several times a week, and poultry, eggs, cheese and yogurt should be eaten in moderation. The diet recommends red meat and sweets in small amounts, a small amount of wine, and physical activity.

The Diabetes Plaque Method

You can get all of the foods mentioned above on your plate if you are a person with diabetes. One of the easiest ways to build your plate is to use the diabetes plate method. Here are the five steps of this method listed below using the foods promoted in the Mediterranean diet:

Step 1: Fill half your plate with non-starchy vegetables.
Opt for non-starchy vegetables like artichokes, asparagus, green beans, broccoli, beets, cucumbers and tomatoes. Whether raw or cooked, non-starchy vegetables should fill half your plate.

Step 2: Fill a quarter of your plate with lean protein.
This quarter plate can be filled with animal or vegetable proteins. If you opt for animal protein, opt for fish, seafood or chicken or turkey breast. Lean cuts of beef, pork or lamb can also be found in this portion of the plate. Eggs and cheese also count for protein. You can also opt for vegetable proteins like beans or lentils on this part of the plate.

Step 3: Fill a quarter of your plate with carbohydrate foods.
These options include starches like whole grains, fruits, or dairy products like milk and yogurt. Whole grains include barley, brown rice, buckwheat, bulgur (cracked wheat), farro, millet, oats, quinoa, and sorghum.

Step 4: Choose water or another very low-calorie or no-calorie beverage.
This includes water, seltzer water, and sparkling water. Coffee and tea are also options, but watch out for add-ins like cream and sugar. Drinks made with sugar substitutes can also be enjoyed, but in small quantities.

Step 5: Use healthy fats in small amounts.
This includes using olive oil or extra virgin olive oil in dishes or salad dressings, or tasting olives or avocados on your plate in small amounts.

Alcohol can be tricky when you have diabetes because it can cause blood sugar levels to be too low or too high. Check with your healthcare professional or dietitian nutritionist if you can consume wine.

Mediterranean Diet Recipes

Mediterranean chicken and vegetable gratin

Total duration: 1h10 plus 10 minutes of cooling.
Preparation time: 20 minutes.
Cooking time: 50 minutes.

For 8 people.
Serving Size: 1¼ cups.

  • Non-stick cooking spray.
  • 2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into 1-inch pieces.
  • 1 can (15 ounces) artichoke hearts, drained and rinsed.
  • 2 cups cherry tomatoes, halved.
  • 2 cups of broccoli florets.
  • 2 cups cauliflower florets.
  • 1 yellow bell pepper, cut into 1-inch strips.
  • ¼ cup olive oil.
  • 3 cloves of garlic, minced.
  • 1 tbsp Italian seasoning.
  • 1 teaspoon of onion powder.
  • ½ teaspoon of salt.
  • ¼ teaspoon ground black pepper.
  • 1 cup shredded part skim mozzarella cheese.

  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Coat an 8×11½-inch pan with nonstick cooking spray.
  2. In a medium bowl, combine the chicken breasts, artichoke hearts, tomatoes, broccoli, cauliflower and bell pepper.
  3. In a small bowl, whisk together the olive oil, garlic, Italian seasoning, onion powder, salt and black pepper. Add the olive oil mixture to the bowl with the chicken and vegetables and toss to combine.
  4. Pour the chicken and vegetables into the prepared casserole, spreading the vegetables and chicken so that they are evenly distributed in the dish. Sprinkle mozzarella cheese on top. Cover casserole with foil and bake until cheese is bubbling and thermometer inserted in center of dish reads 165°F, 50 minutes.
  5. Remove the aluminum foil and continue baking for another 15 minutes. Remove the casserole from the oven and let cool for 10 minutes before serving.

Swaps: 2 non-starchy vegetables, 4 lean proteins, 1 fat. Nutritional information per serving: Calories 270; Calories from fat 110; Total fat 12 g; Saturated fatty acids 3.2g; Trans fat 0g; Cholesterol 75mg; Sodium 400mg; Potassium 590mg; Total carbohydrates 10g; Dietary fiber 4g; Sugars 3g; Added sugars 0g; Protein 30g; Phosphorus 305mg.

Tabbouleh with cucumber, strawberries and mint

Total time: 50 minutes plus 10 minutes cool down time.
Preparation time: 20 minutes.
Cooking time: 30 minutes.

For 5 people.
Serving size: 1 cup.

  • 2½ cups of water.
  • 2/3 cup bulgur.
  • Juice of 2 lemons (1/4 cup).
  • The zest of 1 lemon (1 tablespoon).
  • ¼ cup walnuts, chopped (3/4 ounce).
  • 2½ cups strawberries, diced.
  • 1 hothouse cucumber, diced (about 2 cups).
  • ½ cup chopped parsley leaves.
  • ½ cup chopped mint leaves.
  • ½ small red onion, finely chopped.
  • ¼ teaspoon of salt.
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper.

  1. In a medium saucepan, bring 2 cups of water to a boil.
  2. Stir in the bulgur, cover the pan and remove from the heat.
  3. Let bulgur sit until most of the liquid is absorbed, 30 minutes.
  4. Uncover the jar and drain off any excess liquid (if any). Fluff the bulgur with a fork and let cool for 10 minutes.
  5. Add lemon juice and zest, walnuts, strawberries, cucumber, parsley, mint and red onion to a large bowl. Mix gently until homogeneous.
  6. Add the bulgur, salt and black pepper and stir until the bulgur is well incorporated.

Exchanges: 1 starch, ½ fruit, 1 non-starchy vegetable, ½ fat.
Nutritional information per serving: Calories 150; Calories from fat 30; Total fat 3.5g; Saturated fatty acids 0.4g; Trans fat 0g; Cholesterol 0mg; sodium 130mg; Potassium 380mg; Total carbohydrates 28g; Dietary fiber 7g; Sugars 6g; Added sugars 0g; 5g protein; Phosphorus 95mg.

Recipes copyright Toby Amidor, Build Your Plate Diabetes Cookbook, American Diabetes Association, 2020. Photo courtesy of Mittera.

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