Research has shown that a balanced, Mediterranean-style diet can be a healthy eating plan for everyone—and especially people with diabetes. But, until recently, there was no reason to think it could also help prevent the disease.

A study of more than 3,500 older men and women, published in a 2014 issue of the Annals of Internal Medicine, found that the group following a Mediterranean-style diet, even without calorie restriction, had significantly fewer cases of type 2 diabetes than those who followed a typical low-fat diet. Another recent review of scientific research involving the Mediterranean diet and its effect on diabetes had similar findings. Additionally, researchers said study participants were more likely to stick with a Mediterranean-style diet than a conventional low-fat diet plan.

What Makes the Mediterranean Diet So Healthy?

The Mediterranean diet is all about the ingredients. Foods that are featured in a traditional Mediterranean diet—fresh fruits and vegetables, grains, beans, and fish—are considered some of the healthiest foods on the planet. Fat in this diet comes mostly from olive oil, a monounsaturated fat known to reduce the risk of heart disease when used in place of solid fats such as butter or margarine. Because seasonings such as fresh herbs, spices, lemon juice, and other citrus juices give Mediterranean cuisine so much flavor, there is little need for salt, sugar, and fat.

Want to try the Mediterranean Diet?

Here are the basics for following a Mediterranean-style diet:

  • Put whole grains and whole-grain products, vegetables, fruits, and legumes (beans, lentils, split peas) at the center of every (or almost every) meal.
  • Make these same foods the base of every snack.
  • Use olive oil often, in place of other solid and liquid fats.
  • Think of meat, especially red meat, as a condiment rather than as the focus of most meals.
  • Prepare meat less often and serve smaller portions
  • Eat dairy products in moderation.
  • Incorporate nuts and seeds into your meals. For instance, add chopped nuts to breakfast cereals, cut-up fruit and salads. Sprinkle stir-fries, vegetable side dishes, and roast chicken with toasted sesame seeds.
  • If you drink alcoholic beverages, do so in moderation.
  • Drink water often, throughout each day.

The Bottom Line

If you have diabetes or pre-diabetes, or diabetes runs in your family, the American Diabetes Association says a Mediterranean-style diet is a good choice for you. Since following a Mediterranean pattern of eating might also help improve inflammatory conditions and reduce the risk of heart attack, stroke, cancer, and early death from any cause, there's simply no reason not to start right now to protect your health for years to come.

Susan McQuillan, MS, RDN , reviewed this article.


American Diabetes Association. "The Basics of Mediterranean-Style Eating," Web. Accessed February 2014.

Esposito K;  Giugliano D. "Mediterranean Diet and Type 2 diabetes," Diabetes/Metabolism Research and Reviews. 19 December 2013.

MedlinePlus.  "Mediterranean Diet Alone May Lower Diabetes Risk," Web. Accessed February 2014.

Salas-Salvado J, Bullo M, Estruch R, et al. "Prevention of Diabetes with Mediterranean Diets: A Subgroup Analysis of a Randomized Trial," Annals of Internal Medicine. 2014;160(1):1-24-24. doi:10.7326/P14-9001. 7 January 2014.