Voted best diet for 2020 by a panel of 25 health and nutrition professionals, the Mediterranean Diet slowly wins the hearts of people, even those who didn’t grow up eating the foods we did as Greeks.
So, when did it all start?
Let’s start with the basics: There is not one, uniform Mediterranean diet. People around the Med have different eating habits, depending on their own geographical, religious and cultural backgrounds.
The godfather of the term is Ancel Keys, an American physiologist who first pointed out an association between cardio diseases and dietary habits, in the mid-20th c.. On his effort to explain why poor Italians were in better health than wealthy Americans, he conducted the Study of the Seven Countries. Southern Italy and Greece, were among the countries researched*.
Οn Crete specifically, he found out that the population was surprisingly healthy, despite the fact that the Greek island had just come out devastated from WWII.
Coming back to the States, he advised his compatriots to follow the Cretan diet which is widely known as the Mediterranean way of eating.
*Fun fact: Ancel Keys, after his retirement, moved to Southern Italy, where he lived to be more than 100 years old, proving in practice the benefits of the MedDiet!
In the ‘90s, the Med Diet was brought to the spotlight once again when the Mediterranean Diet Pyramid, a nutrition guide was developed with the support of Harvard University and the World Health Organisation.
So, what Greek foods do we eat every day to stay healthy and follow the Mediterranean Diet?
Olive oil and olives
In case you haven’t figured out yet, Greek extra virgin olive oil reigns in our country and on our tables. Locals douse Greek food in olive oil and even substitute butter with it in every occasion. Just try it yourself! Use a splash of top quality olive oil, to create delicious Greek-inspired dishes that do not feel heavy after eating them.
Vegetables and legumes
You might think of Greece as the land of souvlaki and gyros, but it wasn’t always like that. Mediterranean Diet is on Greeks’ history.
Back in ancient Greece, meat was eaten during rituals of animal sacrifice held to appease the Gods. This tradition somehow continued when Greek Orthodox Christianity became the main religion and the believers followed the 180 days of Lent per year abstaining from meat. A more practical reason is that people were poor back then and couldn’t afford to kill their animals for daily consumption. They kept them for their milk to make delightful feta cheese and Greek yogurt, becoming vegetarians out of necessity.
Either way, we inherited a rich culinary legacy of Greek vegetarian recipes based on lentils, chickpeas, beans and vegetables, called “ladera” = no-meat casseroles cooked in olive oil.
Herbs and greens
Like self-taught “druids”, locals know how to “spice things up” in the kitchen with culinary & medicinal Greek herbs found abundant in the countryside.
Edible wild greens, like amaranth, chicory, dandelion, accompany fish or meat as side dishes, or make Greek vegetarian stews and fresh salads, drenched in extra virgin olive oil.
Greek herbs like sage, dittany, pennyroyal, marjoram are just few of Greek nature’s gifts to our plates for a better Mediteranean diet. Knowledge of their healing properties is passed down to us from our grandparents.
Greeks enjoy a glass of wine or two with their meal. They are especially proud of their own homemade wine, which they will serve to you as a welcoming drink – and insist it is the best in the world! We can’t blame them. They know how important it is to connect with nature, enjoy the crops of your labour, and share it with your loved ones.
Yogurt and cheeses
Fermented dairy foods are essential in the Mediterranean Diet, but consumed in low to moderate amounts. Feta is the standard match to every traditional Greek food, while lesser known Greek cheeses are made by artisans all around the country. Needless to mention the extensive use of Greek yoghurt in marinades, dips, sauces and desserts.
Be a Med in the new era
In 2013, Unesco included the Mediterranean diet in its intangible cultural heritage of humanity list – guess its proper to call it now Mediterranean without borders 🙂
Following the motto “Let food be thy medicine”, MD is proved to prevent cardio, cancer, obesity, diabetes, dementia, inflammation, depression, and even aging – yes, olive oil makes your skin look wonderful 🙂 .
But would you like to know a secret? The Mediterranean diet is not just yet another diet of boring meal plans to follow strictly in order to stay fit and healthy. It goes beyond food, it’s a whole lifestyle.
The secrets of the Mediterranean way of living (as recommended by Greeks):
* Stay active. This doesn’t mean sweating at the gym day and night. Walk whenever possible, especially to the farmer’s market.
* Shop fresh, local and seasonal. Buy the food you need and not in bulk, find recipes to deal with any food waste, (the Med is friendly to our planet).
* Be social (and by that, we don’t mean Facebook). Try to be with friends and catch up, don’t postpone meet ups because of work, enjoy your time and have a laugh. Create bonds with your community.
* Work to live (don’t live to work). This is a classic (Med attitude). Take things easy. Find time to relax and switch off.
* Don’t be hard on yourself.
* Find what works best for you. There are no dos and don’ts. Practice moderation – “Miden Agan” as said in ancient Greece = nothing in excess.
Want these holidays to have a meaningful “footprint” in your life? Contact us to learn about Greek food experiences that stay true to our Mediterranean way of living.