The Basics of Mediterranean-Style Eating

Enjoy your food, and make healthful eating a family affair

The traditional Mediterranean lifestyle emphasizes the importance of people eating healthfully together among family and friends. The act of cooking, eating, and cleaning up a meal is something that is done with others.

Between demanding jobs and busy personal schedules, many of us have gotten away from sitting down together at the kitchen table.

This month, try to make a conscious effort to slow down your pace and get your family involved in the kitchen:

  • Pick out healthy recipes together to try. For more Mediterranean recipes, you may want to check out The Mediterranean Diabetes Cookbook by Amy Riolo.
  • Buy healthy foods together at your local farmer’s market or grocery store.
  • Cook them together in the kitchen.
  • Sit down as a family to visit and enjoy a meal together.

Not only will this contribute to your physical health, but it can do wonders for your emotional and mental health as well.

Still worried about time? The American Diabetes Association has several cookbooks that focus on making quick and easy meals. Check them out at

Mediterranean cuisine is plant-based

The majority of the foods in a Mediterranean diet come from plants. Think about it: whole grains, fruits, vegetables, herbs and spices, beans, nuts, seeds, and olive oil are all foods that are included every day. 

There is a large focus on including seasonal fresh fruits and vegetables.

Use herbs and spices to season your foods

This type of cuisine uses the powerful flavors of the many herbs and spices to season foods. Using herbs and spices allows you to cut back on added salt, sugar, and fat when cooking. Citrus juice is also a popular option for adding flavor to various dishes.

Olive oil is the staple fat used for cooking

Butter, margarine, and other solid fats are rarely used in cooking. Solid fats are high in saturated and trans fats, which damage your arteries and can increase your cholesterol levels.

Olive oil is a good source of monounsaturated fats, which are a type of healthy fat that can help lower cholesterol levels when you use them instead of saturated fats.

Beans, nuts, legumes, and whole grains are everyday staples

Beans and whole grains are healthy forms of carbohydrate that can be worked into your diabetes meal plan in appropriate portion sizes. Nuts are also a source of healthy unsaturated fats that are an important part of a Mediterranean meal plan.

Focus on lean protein, and eat fish at least twice per week

Fish is the main source of animal protein included in the Mediterranean diet. A serving of fish is included at least 2 times each week. Some fish like salmon, albacore tuna, halibut, herring, sardines, mackerel, and trout contain omega-3 fatty acids, which promote heart and brain health.

Chicken, low-fat dairy, eggs, and cheese are included in smaller portions daily or a few times per week. Consumption of red meat is rare in traditional Mediterranean eating. Portions of red meat and poultry are usually kept to 3 ounces or less (this is about the size of the palm of your hand).

Sweets and high-sugar foods are limited

Often, desserts are fruit-inspired dishes. Sometimes, a piece of fruit is simply the dessert itself. Even if you have diabetes, it is okay to enjoy a rich dessert once in a while. Just remember that desserts and sweets should come in small, manageable portions – usually just enough to satisfy your sweet tooth.

Moderate alcohol intake is optional

In addition to drinking a lot of water, some people also include a moderate amount of wine. If you drink alcohol, it is recommended that women have no more than 1 drink per day and men have no more than 2 drinks per day. One drink or a serving of wine is a 5-ounce portion (just a little more than half of a cup).

For people with diabetes, hypoglycemia or low blood glucose can be a reaction to drinking alcohol on an empty stomach. This is most problematic for people taking medications and/or insulin. To avoid hypoglycemia, eat a healthy meal or snack when you decide to drink wine or other alcohol.

Being active is also essential

People of traditional Mediterranean culture were active in their work and throughout the home. Walking and other types of physical activity were a part of their daily routine.

Find ways to be active throughout your day. Take a quick break once an hour at work to walk and stretch, walk to the grocery store instead of driving, clean the house, or exercise at the gym after work.

Adding activity into your day may be easier than you think, and it is also something that you can do with others!

As you can see, food is not the only element to the Mediterranean diet. Physical activity, as well as the environment in which you eat is also very important. Do you see why we like to refer to it as a lifestyle instead of a diet?

A Good Choice for People With Diabetes

Many American Diabetes Association guidelines reflect the basics of the Mediterranean diet. See for yourself:

  • Focus on filling your plate with fruits and vegetables. At least ½ your plate should be non-starchy vegetables.
  • Choose lean protein options, and include at least 2 servings of fish per week.
  • Include healthy forms of carbohydrate like vegetables, beans, and whole grains.
  • Choose healthy unsaturated fats most of the time.
  • Limit your intake of sweets.
  • Be physically active.

Sound familiar?

The Mediterranean diet is well-balanced and encourages control of portion sizes. It is a good choice if you have diabetes, want to lose weight, or just want to start eating healthier.

Try this month’s recipes and check out our one-day meal plan to see if “going Mediterranean” would work for you! 

Go back to start of article

A Mediterranean Meal Plan

September's meal plan features traditional foods from the Mediterranean region that are heart-healthy and delicious.

See Meal Plan

On-The-Go Tips

A list of tips to help you stick to healthy eating - even when time is short.

Read More

Mediterranean Recipes

Check out this month's featured recipes from The Diabetes Mediterranean Cookbook by Amy Riolo.

See Recipes