Updated: Apr 29, 2021
Type 2 diabetes (previously known as late-onset diabetes) is a chronic disease that is characterised by an inability to effectively regulate the amount of sugar in your blood. Whenever you eat sweet foods (e.g. cake, chocolate, fruit juices etc.) or refined carbohydrates (e.g. white bread, white rice etc.), your body experiences a large influx of sugar that you can use to produce energy to fuel your activities or can be stored as body fat for later use. However, the sugar needs help from a hormone called insulin in order for the cells to recognise that the sugar is there ready to be used. Insulin is secreted from the pancreas and the more sugar there is in the blood, the more insulin is released by the pancreas to meet demands.
When consuming a diet that contains lots of sweet foods or lots of refined carbohydrates, the demand to release more and more insulin can cause a fatiguing of the pancreas until it can no longer secrete enough insulin to keep up with demands. This leads to blood sugar levels remaining high and the cells being starved of needed energy. Increased blood sugar levels can lead to several health complications including cardiovascular diseases such as heart attacks and strokes, kidney damage, nerve damage, sight loss, bone and joint problems, poor blood flow and poor sensation that can lead to amputation and more.
Your risk of developing diabetes is predominately determined by three modifiable lifestyle factors, plus some non-modifiable risk factors such as age and ethnicity. While being older or being from certain ethnic groups increases your risk of developing diabetes, very few people are 100% destined to develop diabetes if they follow a healthy lifestyle. The three most significant modifiable lifestyle factors that increase your risk of developing diabetes are poor quality diet, excess body fat, and low levels of exercise.
Following a nutritious diet that minimises the amount of refined and processed foods you consume can significantly reduce the strain placed upon your pancreas to release insulin and lower your risk of developing diabetes. While any diet that gets you thinking about what you put in your body can potentially have health benefits, there is one diet that has a large amount of research around its multiple health benefits and it’s ability to lower your risk of numerous lifestyle diseases, including diabetes. This diet is known as the Mediterranean Diet. The Mediterranean Diet is based upon the eating and lifestyle habits of some of the healthiest people in world and I have included a full breakdown of the diet below as a guide:
All meals should contain 3 basic elements: cereals (1 - 2 servings per meal from breads, pasta, rice, couscous etc. preferably wholegrain), vegetables (2+ servings per meal), and fruit (1 - 2 servings per meal and the default dessert of choice).
Drink 1.5 – 2 Litres of water/day.
Moderate amounts of dairy (2 servings per day) with a preference for low-fat dairy or traditional healthier forms such as Greek yoghurt or Skyr.
Extra virgin olive oil forms a large part of the Mediterranean diet and should be the primary source of fat and used for both cooking and dressing.
Olives, nuts, and seeds as healthy snack options and another source of good fats.
Spices, herbs, garlic, and onions are great sources of micronutrients and add flavour and palatability to your meals.
Alcohol can be consumed at no more than 1 small glass of wine/day for women and 2 glasses/day for men. Alcohol is not a vital part of the Mediterranean diet and can be completely omitted if desired.
Fish and shellfish (2+ servings/week), white meats (2 servings/week), and eggs (2 - 4 servings/week) are all great sources of protein. A variety of fatty fish is highly recommended including salmon, tuna, mackerel, etc.
Red meat (less than 2 servings/week) preferably from lean cuts of meat and minimally processed.
Legumes and pulses (2+ servings/week) are another great source of fibre and plant proteins.
Potatoes (3 or less servings/week).
Sweet/sugary foods, heavily processed/refined foods, and unhealthy fats should all be consumed as little as possible with a guide of no more than twice/week. These foods are very calorific and heavily contribute toward excess weight gain due to their easy over consumption.
In addition to food recommendations, the Mediterranean diet includes lifestyle recommendations that aid in maintaining a healthy balance in your life and encourage healthier eating behaviours and activity levels. These recommendations include: moderate portion sizes, eating with others, cooking, being physically active, and getting adequate rest.
For a more detailed guide to following a healthy diet, why not buy my book Eat Move Perform: Volume 1 - Nutrition & Supplements which is available from all good book stores and online retailers.