With the cooperation of Georgia Kapoli, Clinical Nutritionist and Dietician
The traditional Greek diet is known for the simple preparation of tasty food made in Greece, which has shaped the dietary habits of Greeks from ancient times up to the present.
Its main advantage is that the Greek diet is based on three principles: Variety – Moderation – Balance.
Balance: refers to the intake of food from all groups (dairy, fruit, vegetables, cereals, pasta, pulses, fish, poultry, red meat, olive oil, nuts), so that all nutrients are taken in quantities that not only allow the body to function well, but also maintain body weight at normal levels.
Moderation: There are no forbidden foods, nor foods that should be consumed in excess. All food contributes to covering nutritional needs, so long as it is eaten in normal quantities and at the correct frequency. All food has something to offer to our body: Well-being, taste, nutrition!!!
Variety: For achieving a good quality diet, WHO officials have formulated recommendations based on separating food into groups and placing them in the Healthy Eating Pyramid. Thus, by consuming food from all food groups with the frequency stipulated in the pyramid, we can receive all nutrients in the correct amounts.
The most frequently encountered food categories in Greek cooking are the following:
- Pulses (lentils, beans, chickpeas): Pulses constitute food of high biological value, as they contain significant amounts of protein and carbohydrates, nutrients which are necessary for the human body. Carbohydrates give us energy, whilst proteins are the main component of structural tissue. We would not be exaggerating by stating that out of all food in the plant kingdom, pulses and cereals have the highest content in protein, even up to 20 - 25%. Of equal importance is the fibre content of pulses, which on the one hand helps the smooth functioning of the small intestine and on the other hand contributes to better cholesterol control. Furthermore, they are a good source of vitamin B complex, iron and potassium. Pulses are packed with nutrients, which makes them a valuable staple in the traditional Greek diet.
- Vegetables cooked in olive oil (ladera) (green beans, peas, aubergines, artichokes, ratatouille): they play a leading role in Greek cuisine and are a good option either as a main meal or instead of a salad. When combined with cheese, wholegrain bread and olives they constitute a complete meal, if we also ingest the primary macronutrients (proteins, carbohydrates, good monounsaturated fatty acids).
- Rice based meals cooked in olive oil (gemista-stuffed vegetables, spinach with rice, dolma yalanci): these foods provide our body with instant -as well as long lasting- energy, as they are rich in both simple and complex carbohydrates that break down into glucose – a necessary fuel for our cells. The importance of these meals stems from their belonging to the group of cereals, which make up the basis of our nutrition. As rice does not contain gluten, these are dishes that can be consumed by persons with gluten intolerance, known as celiac, offering them all the nutritional benefits of cereals. In addition, the combination of rice with vegetables such as onions, dill, spinach, vine leaves, help the intestine function better.
Furthermore, the use of herbs and olive oil features prominently in Greek cooking. The most frequently used herbs are basil, dill, parsley and oregano. These ingredients add more than just flavor; in an analysis performed in the US, these ranked amongst the first 50 out of more than 1,000 foods with the greatest content in antioxidants. By using more herbs and spices in cooking, we can reduce our salt intake, which is an equally important parameter in enhancing health.
Olive oil is one of the main sources of fat in the Greek diet, which is rich in monounsaturated fatty acids and antioxidants, contributing to the prevention of chronic diseases (e.g. cardiovascular, Alzheimer, cancer). At the same time, the addition of olive oil to salads and cooking helps protect from oxidation and stimulates vitamin absorption.
The variety of foods that make up Greek traditional cooking has many benefits for human health:
- reducing the risk of heart disease
- preventing breast cancer
- helping fight against obesity
The 10 “golden” tips of the Greek Mediterranean Diet
1. Consume 5-7 servings of fruit and vegetables daily
2. Cook pulses or vegetables cooked in oil or rice based meals cooked in oil 2 – 3 times a week
3. Eat 2-3 servings of fish and seafood a week
4. Opt for whole grains
5. Limit the intake of red meat and processed meat
6. Alcohol: Limit your alcohol intake to 2 servings for men and 1 for women
7. Season your food and salads liberally with aromatic herbs, lemon, vinegar, herbs and spices
8. Olive oil: Use it as your main source of fat
Avoid food such as: crisps, chocolate, puff pastry, pies and sweets as they contain large amounts of fatty acids, sugar and salt
9. Weight: Maintain your weight at normal levels (Body Mass Index: 18.5-25kg/m2).
10. Exercise: Work out for at least 30 minutes every day