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Mediterranean-Style Eating: What to Know and Practical How To’s

Mar 08, 2021

By Tami A. Ross, RD, LD, CDCES, MLDE, FADCES

The Mediterranean Diet (or eating pattern) has been making headline news again! A new study found that it may actually prevent memory loss and dementia. U.S. News & World report recently ranked 39 diets based on input from a panel of health experts, including a fellow registered dietitian who is also a certified diabetes care & education specialist. The Mediterranean diet was ranked #1 overall. Furthermore, as summarized in Nutrition Therapy for Adults With Diabetes or Prediabetes: A Consensus Report published in 2019 in Diabetes Care, the science and evidence clearly supports the power of the Mediterranean eating pattern in managing diabetes. So, if you have clients inquiring about Mediterranean-style eating, here’s what you need to know...

What is the Mediterranean eating pattern? 

This eating pattern comprises foods and flavors enjoyed by those in the many countries around the Mediterranean Sea. Key highlights include:

  • Emphasizes plant-based foods (such as vegetables, beans, nuts, seeds, fruit and whole grains).
  • Rich in fish and seafood.
  • Olive oil as the main dietary fat.
  • Dairy products (mainly yogurt and cheese) in low to moderate amounts
  • Fewer than 4 eggs per week.
  • Red meat in small amounts and limited frequency.
  • Fresh herbs and spices for flavor.
  • Wine in low to moderate amounts (if one chooses to drink alcohol; 5 ounces of dry wine is a serving).
  • Water as the go-to beverage.
  • Concentrated sugars or honey are rarely used.

It’s important to note that the Mediterranean eating pattern is not low fat, but rich in heart-healthy monounsaturated fat from plant sources such as olives, avocado and nuts. 


The Mediterranean eating pattern is linked to lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes, along with improved blood glucose and weight, and reduced risk of heart attack and stroke. 


Why embrace a Mediterranean eating pattern?

The Mediterranean eating pattern is linked to lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes, along with improved blood glucose and weight, and reduced risk of heart attack and stroke. So it’s no surprise that the U.S. News & World report panel of health experts also ranked it as: 

  • #1 in Best Diabetes Diets (tie).
  • #1 in Best Heart-Healthy Diets (tie).
  • #1 in Best Diets for Healthy Eating (tie).
  • #1 in Best Plant-Based Diets.
  • #1 in Easiest Diets to Follow.

8 top tips to help your clients make the move to more Mediterranean style eating

There is no one “right” way to follow the Mediterranean style eating pattern. This eating style is diverse in foods and flavors and is easily adaptable to today’s busy lives. Following are 8 practical tips that have resonated with my clients desiring to move to a more Mediterranean style eating. 

  1. Eat fish at least twice each week. Fresh or water-packed tuna, salmon, trout, mackerel and herring are good choices. Try foil pack tuna or salmon on prepackaged salad greens one day for lunch and make grilled fish the “go to” when dining or ordering out.
  2. Replace buttery spreads with oils such as olive or canola oil. Dip bread in flavored olive oil or lightly drizzle olive oil on cooked vegetables with a squeeze of fresh lemon.
  3. Aim for three to five servings of vegetables each day. Try preparing them different ways (such as shredded, roasted, grilled, stir-fried, pureed or raw) which gives different textures and flavors. Then when portioning your plate, fill half of the plate with non-starchy vegetables such as artichokes, arugula, beets, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, carrots, celery, celeriac, chicory, cucumbers, eggplant, fennel, greens, leeks, mushrooms, nettles, okra, onions, peas, peppers, radishes, rutabaga, scallions, shallots, tomatoes, turnip and zucchini.
  4. Go for whole-grains, including whole-grain breads and cereals. Mediterranean-style whole grains include barley, bulgur, couscous and faro.
  5. Switch out salt. Rather than salt, season with herbs (such as basil, parsley, cilantro or rosemary), aromatics such as fresh garlic, vinegar such as balsamic vinegar, fresh lemon juice, or salt-free seasoning blends such as Mrs. Dash or McCormick Perfect Pinch 
  6. Snack on nuts or seeds instead of snack foods. Keep almonds, cashews, pistachios and walnuts on hand for quick snacks. 
  7. Satisfy a sweet craving with a small piece fresh fruit. A piece about the size of a tennis ball is the perfect portion.
  8. Opt for mashed avocado on whole grain toast instead of buttery spread or on a sandwich rather than mayonnaise.

4 Tips how to eat “more Mediterranean-style” when dining out

If dining or ordering out from a Greek or Mediterranean restaurant is not an option, here are 4 tips to make most restaurant meals work:

  1. Choose fish or seafood as your main dish.
  2. Order a side of non-starchy vegetables, beans or lentils.
  3. Ask that olive oil be used for any fat required in the dish
  4. If you choose bread, go for a whole-grain bread from the breadbasket and then dip the bread in olive oil instead of spreading with butter.

I hope you and your clients find these practical, do-able tips helpful to make the move toward more Mediterranean-style eating! You can learn about other self-care behaviors to support your clients at DiabetesEducator.org/ADCES7.

About Tami Ross, RD, LD, CDCES, MLDE, FADCES

Ross is a registered and licensed dietitian, certified and licensed diabetes care and education specialist, and a nationally recognized speaker and health and nutrition writer from Lexington, KY. She has over 25 years experience providing diabetes and nutrition education in a variety of settings. Ross has co-authored 11 books and has written more than 100 articles for professional and lay publications. She has been featured in USA Today and on national television shows. Tami was 2008 Diabetes Educator of the Year of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics' Diabetes Care & Education dietetic practice group. Her passion lies in translating science into practice in ways that are understandable and do-able. 

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The Association of Diabetes Care & Education Specialists Perspectives on Diabetes Care covers diabetes, prediabetes and other cardiometabolic conditions. Not all views expressed reflect the official position of the Association of Diabetes Care & Education Specialists.

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