The Greek Diet
Modern research champions traditional Greek cuisine as the heart-healthiest food in the world.
At the core of the traditional Greek diet are dark-green leafy vegetables (often wild-gathered), including dandelions, spinach, mustard, fennel, cumin and purslane; fresh fruits such as figs, pears, plums, grapes, melons and oranges; high-fiber whole grains, beans, and lentils; complex carbohydrate-rich pastas and breads; olive oil; nuts; and herbs and spices such as garlic, oregano, bay leaves, cinnamon, and cloves.
Rich in immune-boosting antioxidants, the Greek diet provides cancer-fighting compounds, healthful omega-3 fatty acids, and colon-cleansing fiber, which all help lower the risks of diet-linked diseases, including heart disease, obesity, and diabetes. A 2003 study conducted jointly by researchers at the University of Athens in Greece and Harvard University found that people who consumed a traditional Greek diet experienced a 33% lower risk of death from heart disease and a 24% lower risk of death from cancer.
Greek Olive Oil
The composition of olive oil largely depends on climatic conditions, soil quality, and fruit variety. Because the fatty acids that make up the triglycerides in olive oil vary with region, oils around the Mediterranean Basin can be quite different. 80% of olive oil produced in Greece is extra virgin (i.e., has excellent flavor and odor, and has free fatty acid content of not more than 0.8g per 100g, or 0.8%), compared with Italy’s 45% and Spain’s 30%. Greeks are proud of maintaining the largest consumption of olive oil per capita globally, and the fourth largest production. The cultivation and production of authentic, unadulterated Greek olive oil dates as far back as the 16th century BC, well before its cultivation developed in other today’s major producing regions.
Named after the region they come from in southern Greece, Kalamata olives grow on evergreen trees, from which they are hand-picked. A popular part of the Mediterranean diet, Kalamata olives are rich in vitamin E, polyphenols, and flavonoids, which protect the body against free radicals, reduce inflammation, build the immune system, and improve heart health. Their vitamin A content helps fight cancer and maintain healthy eyesight. Minerals found in Kalamata olives include calcium, copper, iron, and magnesium, which are good for strong bones and clear skin. Furthermore, their high fiber content aids digestion.
One reason olives have fallen under the radar is their high fat content. However, their fats are the monounsaturated variety, which are valuable for the cardiovascular system and for controlling blood sugar. The fat oleic acid lowers bad cholesterol and raises good cholesterol levels, while alpha-linolenic acid also reduces the risk of cancer, hypertension, auto-immune diseases, gallstones, and blood clots.
Greece is where apiculture, the art of beekeeping, started in early prehistoric times. The long sunshine periods and the large variety of landscapes create a biodiversity that renders Greece the country with the richest flora in the Mediterranean Basin, including more than 7,500 different species of plants, 850 of which exclusive to Greece. This rich flora gives birth to multiple types of honey with certain varieties found nowhere else in the world, e.g., vanilla-fir honey, the honey with the least calories; strawberry-tree honey, the variety with the most antioxidants; Ikaria honey, 100% pure, natural, unpasteurized and free of any chemicals or pesticides with anti-cancer, anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties. Greece is especially famous for its wild thyme honey (known historically as Hymettus Honey from the Greek mountain Hymettus), one of the best varieties in the world and a favorite among honey connoisseurs. Since ancient times, Greek honey has been used both as a food and for medicinal therapy. Greek honey varieties are shown to have numerous beneficial health effects, such as anti-cancer, anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties, protection against osteoporosis and cellular damage, treatment of sore throats, coughs, burns, and cuts, prevention of fatigue, and enhancement of athletic performance. Greek honey is also used as a basis for facemasks, excellent for clearing and rejuvenating the skin.
1. Apitherapy News (2011). Strawberry Tree Honey Shows Antioxidant Activity.
2. Apitherapy News (2009). Thyme Honey may Prevent Breast, Prostate, Endometrial Cancer.
3. Bassam Zeina, Omar Othman & Saada Al-Assad (1996). The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine. 2(3): 345-348. doi:10.1089/acm.1996.2.345.
4. Ceyhan Nur & Ugur, Aysel. (2001). Investigation of in vitro Antimicrobial Activity of Honey. Rivista Di Biologia Biology Forum.
5. Yaniv, Z, Rudich, M. (1996) Medicinal herbs as a potential source of high quality honeys. In Bee Products. Ed. Avshalom Mizrahi & Yaacov Lensky. New York: Picaurn.
Greek yogurt is superior to its non-Greek counterparts as a source of protein: most Greek yogurts have almost twice as much protein as standard brands. Moreover, whereas standard yogurts have 15-17% grams of carbs, Greek yogurt averages around 9%, and usually has 50% less sodium, providing a more moderate salt intake. Yogurt is also an excellent source of proteins of high biological value, which are easier to digest than those of milk due to the fermentation process that takes place. It is also a rich source of vitamins and calcium (a 230-250 grams intake corresponds to 50% of a person’s daily needs). Lactic acid found in yogurt has been found responsible for increases in the digestibility of casein and better absorption of calcium. Yogurt bacteria protect intestines from various pathogenic bacteria and reduce blood cholesterol levels.
Greek cheese is made by straining the coagulation of milk. Greek cheese is a full, nutritious, delicious and easy to digest food, containing fat, protein, vitamins, calcium and phosphorus. Cheese fat contains necessary unsaturated fatty acids (vitamin F) and fat soluble vitamins at high concentrations. Cheese protein is of utmost biological value. Besides, due to the maturation that cheese undergoes, protein splits into smaller peptides, thus rendering it easier to digest. Greek cheese also contains satisfactory amounts of phosphorus and iodine, while it is the most important source of calcium for the body, and recommended especially for people with high calcium needs, such as children, pregnant women, etc. Greek cheese also provides lesser amounts of vitamins as thiamin, niacin, vitamin B6, folate and pantothenic acid, and small quantities of vitamin A, vitamin K, selenium, zinc, magnesium and iron.
Halva is produced from tahini and is a paste made from ground, hulled sesame seeds. It is used in North African, Greek, Turkish and Middle Eastern cuisine. Halva comes in different tastes such as vanilla, cocoa, honey, almonds, raisins, etc. It can be introduced in the daily diet combined with yogurt, and fresh or dried fruits. The sesame seed is one of the oldest plants in the human service. Sesame was known as the food of the gods, thanks to its high nutritional values. Sesame seeds are rich in calcium, vitamins B and E, fatty acids from the group of omega 6 and 9, and antioxidants. Its phosphorus helps in reinforcement of memory, while its unsaturated fatty acids contribute in the wellbeing of the cardiovascular system. Its high content in iron and calcium helps in the metabolism and reinforces the bone structure. It also helps in the reduction of LDL cholesterol and in digestion. Lastly, sesame has antioxidants that confront free roots (which are responsible for quicker skin aging) and help in the reduction of blood pressure.
Pasteli is a candy bar made of honey and sesame. Due to honey, which is its main ingredient, pasteli has high concentrations of simple and metabolically degradable sugars (fruit -, grape - and multiple sugar). This makes it an excellent source of energy, thus pasteli can also be thought of as a natural, preservative-free energy bar. Compared to other snacks, like chocolates, donuts or biscuits filled with chocolate, pasteli offers many nutritional advantages: it contains a large percentage of protein and dietary fibers, is cholesterol-free, and has low levels of satiated greasy acids. Pasteli is also rich in calcium, magnesium, iron and phosphorus. Due to its composition of sesame and honey, it helps in reducing the cholesterol and blood pressure levels, boosts the immune system, and contributes in the normal function of liver.