Benefits of the Mediterranean (Greek) Diet

On the island of Ikaria, the islanders often live to a ripe old age. In fact, men on Ikaria are 4 times more likely to reach 90 years old than their American counterparts. Unfortunately, a move to a modern, city based, European way of life has meant a dietary change for many Greeks that is nutritionally poor and calorie rich. This has led to increases in obesity, cardiac problems, diabetes and cancer.

There does not seem to be a week when we do not read about a new piece of research that extols the benefits of the Mediterranean diet: preventing heart disease and strokes; reducing risk of Alzheimer’s; halving the risk of Parkinson’s; protecting against type 2 diabetes and of course increasing longevity.

There are over 20 countries that border the beautiful, blue Mediterranean Sea. So we should define the Mediterranean diet. The traditional Greek diet (circa the 1960’s) is the epitome of a healthy ‘Mediterranean diet’.

A good ‘Greek diet’ includes:

  • Pulses and legumes – peas, chickpeas, lentils etc.;
  • Fresh local and ‘seasonal’ vegetables – tomatoes, aubergines, courgettes, green beans, amaranth, spinach etc.
  • Fresh fruit – grapes, stone fruit such as plums and peaches, pomegranates etc.
  • Horta – a generic term for foraged wild greens that include dandelions, chicory and nettle;
  • Nuts – almonds, walnuts, chestnuts, hazelnuts etc.
  • Wholegrains – this includes many old varieties of grain such as spelt and triticum dicoccum (farro). Bread was usually a mixture of up to 7 different varieties of whole grain.
  • Some fish and small amounts of game or red meat;
  • Lots of olive oil;
  • A moderate amount of wine and spirit – usually taken with food.
  • Moderation in the amount of food eaten.

It does not include:

  • Sugary foods and drinks;
  • Large amounts of red meat or processed meats;
  • Refined flour products – biscuits, cakes etc.
  • Processed foods and ready meals;
  • Large amounts of alcohol;
  • Huge, gut-busting portions!

It’s amazing that for years, government dieticians and medical experts were telling us to have a low fat diet and recommending low-fat this and low-fat that. The Greek diet is a high fat diet but they use only olive oil.

If you want to move to a ‘Greek diet’ work on including more of the beneficial groups of foods rather than focusing on cutting out the less beneficial. This will happen naturally. As your body starts to thank you for looking after it, you will naturally be moving in the right direction cutting out the less desirable food groups. Oh and by the way, think about being comfortably full not ‘busting at the seams’!

Kalin Orexi, long life and health to you.