The Mediterranean diet is rich in olive oil, grains, cereal, fruits, nuts, legumes, vegetables, and fish, but low in meat, dairy products and alcohol. Olive oil is used as the cooking medium of choice in this diet as well. So how does this diet compare to what The American Diabetes Association recommends? Below are the basic guidelines to follow and what you'll notice is that the Mediterranean is strikingly similar. Portion sizes, no matter how healthy the food, can make all the difference. And remember, being overweight or obese is a top risk factor for developing type 2 diabetes.

The American Diabetes Association's Basic Food Principles: 

  • Eat lots of vegetables and fruits. Try picking from the rainbow of colors available to maximize variety. Eat non-starchy vegetables such as spinach, carrots, broccoli or green beans with meals.
  • Choose whole grain foods over processed grain products. Try brown rice with your stir fry or whole wheat spaghetti with your favorite pasta sauce.
  • Include dried beans (like kidney or pinto beans) and lentils into your meals.
  • Include fish in your meals 2-3 times a week.
  • Choose lean meats like cuts of beef and pork that end in "loin" such as pork loin and sirloin. Remove the skin from chicken and turkey.
  • Choose non-fat dairy such as skim milk, non-fat yogurt and non-fat cheese.
  • Choose water and calorie-free "diet" drinks instead of regular soda, fruit punch, sweet tea and other sugar-sweetened drinks.
  • Choose liquid oils for cooking instead of solid fats that can be high in saturated and trans fats. Remember that fats are high in calories. If you're trying to lose weight, watch your portion sizes of added fats.
  • Cut back on high calorie snack foods and desserts like chips, cookies, cakes, and full-fat ice cream.
  • Eating too much of even healthful foods can lead to weight gain. Watch your portion sizes.

But how do we know that the Mediterranean diet really helps? 

A study conducted in Spain suggests that a Mediterranean diet might decrease your risk for diabetes. Over 13,000 people with no history of diabetes were recruited between 1999 and 2007 to participate in the study that tracked their dietary habits and overall health. Participants first filled out a food frequency questionnaire detailing the specifics of their diet with respect to over 100 different food items. Also captured was data regarding the use of fats, oils, cooking methods and dietary supplements. 

At intervals of two years the participants were sent follow up questionnaires and new cases of diabetes were catalogued and confirmed using medical reports. The result of the study showed that strict adherence to the diet meant a significantly lower risk of diabetes. In fact a high level of adherence led to an 83% reduction of risk for diabetes. Amazingly the participants who were most diligent about adherence were also those with the highest prevalence of risk factors for developing diabetes. Risk factors included older age and a family history of diabetes. 

So stock up on olive oil, fruits, vegetables and whole grains and decrease your risk for diabetes.