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How a Low-Glycemic Diet and Mediterranean Diet are Nearly the Same

The Mediterranean diet has been studied for more than 60 years with evidence linking it to decreased heart disease, diabetes, and mortality. A recent study published in the journal Diabetologia found that people who followed a traditional Mediterranean diet along with a low-glycemic diet were 20 percent less likely to develop diabetes than those who didn't follow these eating patterns.

The traditional Mediterranean diet is based on a diet of seafood, vegetables, fruits, legumes, lentils, nuts, whole grains, and olive oil. As you begin to follow a low-glycemic diet, you'll notice many similarities between these two diet philosophies.

  • A little pasta al dente: When you think of Mediterranean food no doubt you think of pasta. However, in a traditional Mediterranean diet, pasta is served as a side dish (1/2 to 1 cup serving size) and is cooked al dente, or just tender and still slightly firm. For example, spaghetti cooked for 20 minutes has a glycemic index of 27 while if you cook it for 5 minutes it's only 18. The small portion size and less cooking time means a much lower-glycemic load.

  • A whole lot of vegetables: Vegetables are one of the lowest glycemic food groups, not to mention loaded with other healthy nutrients like vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. In the Mediterranean region they consume ample amounts of vegetables each day, upwards of five to eight vegetables in one day where Americans typically eat two to three. This increase in vegetables is another important key to following a low-glycemic diet.

  • Beans, lentils, and nuts: Sit at a table in Southern Italy or Crete 50 years ago and you're sure to find side dishes made from beans and lentils with plenty of nuts for noshing. And you guessed it . . . these foods are all low-glycemic.

  • Using whole grains: Other than sweets, the food group with the highest glycemic index is grains. While Mediterranean cuisine does include grains, you'll see more whole grains being used in side dishes like bulgur wheat or barley. The serving sizes are small — 1/2 to 1 cup, thus keeping the glycemic load low.

  • A dash of vinegar or lemon juice: Open up any traditional Italian or Greek cookbook and you'll see lots of vinegars and citrus fruits like lemons being used in recipes. Acidic foods like these help to lower the glycemic load. They were definitely onto something with that traditional oil and vinegar dressing!

As you can see the Mediterranean folks have been following a low-glycemic diet for years. They just didn't know it!

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