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 – and they will keep your mind off the junk food you think you’d rather eat. Modern research champions traditional Greek cuisine as the heart-healthiest food in the world. Here’s what makes it so special.
What do they eat?
Lots of fruits, vegetables, beans and peas, a significant amounts 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. 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. It’s the way all the components work together that makes the difference.
At the heart of the Greek diet is fresh fruits and vegetables. Artichokes, asparagus, tomatoes, fennel, mushrooms and spinach are popular and there are lots and 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 percent of the total calorific intake. Foods of animal origin (meat, fish, eggs and even dairy products) make up just 7 percent 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.
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.
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.
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: Te green stuff is added to Greek casseroles, side dishes, entrees, appetisers and soups, besides being served as a raw leaf salad.
Good to know: Spinach contains at least 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 nutritionist and writer
[Sources: European Food Information Council (www.eufic.org); The Seven Countries Study (American Journal of Clinical Nutrition); The Lyon Diet Heart Study (The Lancet)]