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Go Greek to stay fit

health-and-fitness Updated: Sep 10, 2011 19:51 IST
Kavita Devgan
Kavita Devgan
Hindustan Times
Highlight Story

Wondering how to keep yourself hooked to a healthy diet on a permanent basis? You may want to look at other cuisines from time to time. They’re different, so you won’t feel that a healthy diet is essentially a diet of deprivation and they will keep your mind off the junk food you think you’d rather eat!

Modern research now champions traditional Greek cuisine as the heart-healthiest food in the world. In fact what the Greeks have intuitively known for centuries is now been linked to lot of positive scientific data. After all, Greeks are amongst the first foodies of the world – the first ever cookbook was written by the Greek food gourmet, Archestratos way back in 330 BC!

Here’s what makes the Greek diet so special.

What do they eat?
Lots of fruits, vegetables, legumes like beans and peas, a significant amount of nuts, unrefined whole-grain foods and olive oil; moderate amounts of fish; a low to moderate amount of dairy products such as fresh cheeses and yoghurt; and a moderate amount of wine, usually taken with meals. Herbs and spices such as garlic, oregano, bay leaves, cinnamon and cloves are used liberally. And the Greek diet contains very low amounts of meat, poultry and saturated fats.

Together, this means that you get immunity-boosting antioxidants, cancer-fighting compounds, healthful omega-3 fatty acids and colon-cleansing fibre in mega doses. And the key lies in the word together. Individual ingredients are meaningless. There is no one magical component in any meal. It’s the way all the components work together that makes the difference.

Feed Fresh!
At the heart of the Greek diet are fresh fruits and vegetables. Artichokes, asparagus, tomatoes, fennel, mushrooms and spinach are popular and there are lots of dark leafy greens.

Typically, people in Greece eat nearly half a kilo of vegetables a day! Plant foods (including cereals, legumes, nuts and potatoes, as well as veggies and fruit) make up 61 per cent of the total calorific intake. Foods of animal origin (meat, fish, eggs and even dairy products) make up just 7 per cent of the diet.
The Greek diet does include meat, but generally in small quantities and not often. Red meat is eaten sparingly and lamb is for special occasions; instead, the Greeks dine more often on fresh fish.

Olive oil is the principal fat medium. Olive oil is high in monounsaturated fats and raises the levels of HDL (good cholesterol) in our blood while lowering artery-clogging LDL (bad cholesterol). Many studies also indicate a positive link between olive oil consumption and a lower incidence of breast cancer and osteoporosis.

Last, but not least, in Greek cooking, they take a natural, fresh ingredient and do the least they can possibly do to it. Instead of frying, they prefer to lightly sauté foods with a bit of olive oil and fresh herbs. Fish too is almost always cooked simply with fresh ingredients to enhance its natural flavours.

The daily diet
Breakfast typically consists of a piece of bread, goat’s milk and Turkish-style, thick, sweet coffee. A light lunch is usually eaten between 12 and 2 pm. Dinner is served around 8-9 pm and is the largest meal of the day.
Salads are usually eaten with the main course, which may be souvlaki (a sort of kebab with cubes of meat and vegetables) or stuffed brinjals or tomatoes. Pasta is also popular. Fresh fruits conclude the dinner. Greeks drink wine with meals and as an aperitif.

Stock these greek staples
Lemons:
Used in sauces, appetisers, entrées, salad dressings and the popular avgolemono – the classic Greek egg-lemon soup.
Good to know: Lemons are rich in antioxidants (bioflavonoids), which protect against free radicals, act as natural antibiotics and help prevent heart disease and cancer.

Spinach: Who hasn’t heard of spanakopita, the Greek spinach pie? Spinach is also added to casseroles, side dishes, entrées, appetisers, soups and salads.
Good to know: Spinach contains 13 different flavonoid compounds that are potent antioxidants and are known to fight cancer.

Brinjals: Many of Greece’s most famous dishes contain eggplant. It is also often served simply grilled or baked in slices, as well as in ratatouille-like casseroles.
Good to know: Eggplants contain chlorogenic acid, which is known to have anti-cancer, anti-microbial and anti-viral properties, as well as helping to lower LDL (bad cholesterol).

Olives: Olives are used for oil and also as appetisers and in stews, salads, condiments and sauces.
Good to know: Olives contain healthy monounsaturated fatty acids that have been found to increase HDL (good cholesterol) and reduce the risk of heart disease.

(The author is a Delhi-based nutritionist and writer.)
[Sources: European Food Information Council (
http://www.eufic.org ); The Seven Countries Study by Professor Ancel Keys, director of the Laboratory of Physiological Hygiene at the University of Minnesota School of Public Health (American Journal of Clinical Nutrition); The Lyon Diet Heart Study by Dr Michel De Lorgeril of the University of Saint-Etienne in France (The Lancet)]

From HT Brunch, September 11

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