What if I was to tell you that Greek foods are really the poster child of the Mediterranean diet. Or in fact, the REAL Mediterranean diet.
The "Mediterranean Diet" was coined in the 1960s by the researcher Ancel Keys in his famous Seven Countries study which compared rates of cardiovascular disease and diet among seven countries. From the study emerged the Greek diet as the “preferred prototype," in which it was referenced as a "traditional" Mediterranean diet.
This study highlighted how the in particular the Greek diet was correlated to low rates of heart disease and a longer life span. Countless other studies since have used this dietary prototype, to demonstrate a reduced incidence of not just heart disease, but also, cancer, Alzheimers Disease, Parkinson's Disease, and overall mortality.
The Greek diet holds its origins in antiquity, with foods influenced by a vastly mountainous terrain spanning across three seas. In modern day times, it has remained fairly intact, aside from imports of meat like beef since cattle is sparse without many large plains in Greece. The mountains instead provide a natural habitat for animals like goats and sheep, which are resourced more for the milk they sustainably produce rather than their meat. And with a sprawling coastline of over 6000 islands (225 inhabited) immersed between the Ionian, Mediterranean, and Aegean seas, sea food is indeed a treasured part of the Greek diet.
Yet due to the mountainous terrain, and seafood often sold to larger markets, fish and meat is eaten with less frequency. As a result, plant-based dishes more often dominate the Greek table. Of the 22 countries bordering the Mediterranean, the Greek diet is distinctively high in vegetables, whole grains, wild leafy greens, legumes, fruits, herbs, potatoes, and olive oil as its principle components. Through a unique blending of both plant and animal sources, the Greek diet harmonizes ALL foods in a delicate balance. This sweet spot comes in how frequently foods are eaten over a day, a week, or longer.
Have a look at the Greek dietary pattern 👀
Vegetables 🍆🍅🥒 abundant part of most meals
Beans & Nuts 🥜 daily
Olives & Olive oil 🌳😎 all day every day
Fruit 🍉🍇 after meals
Herbs & Spices 🌺🌿 all meals
Grains 🌾 with each meal
Fish 🎣 at least twice per week
Poultry & Eggs 🐓 twice per week
Meat 🥩 up to three times per month
Dairy 🐐 🐑 🧀 intermittently
Red wine 🍷 a glass with a meal
Sweets 🍰 Always on Sunday, at festivals or holidays
From a macro nutrient perspective, carbs are most definitely encouraged with an abundance of vegetables, fruits, legumes, starches, and grains. What makes the Greek diet distinctive among all the other mediterranean cuisines is its larger proportion and variety of non starchy vegetable and leafy green dishes. Daily whole grain breads fresh from the forno is like a religion, and fruit after meals is a must.
Protein collectively trickles in from both plant and animal sources. Plant proteins from beans, grains, and nuts are more consistently sourced in every day meals. Seafood, meat, eggs, goat & sheeps’ milk have their place and time, yet are not reliably on the plate.
Fats are the hallmark of what makes the Greek diet so special. It has higher amounts of monounsaturated fat sourced from olive oil, walnuts, sesame, and almond, all associated with good heart health. It also has a distinct amount of medium chain triglycerides (the MCT oils- caproic, caprylic, and lauric acids) sourced from goat or sheep milk cheese and yogurt, more recently to be associated with cognitive benefits. It is also high in the omega 3 fatty acid, docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) coming from various seafoods like octopus or squid.
From a micronutrient perspective, the Greek diet is truly a nutritionist's dream come true. It carries a spectrum of vibrant colors in everyday. A cascade of phytonutrients from a variety of flavanoids, prebiotic saccharide fibers, and antioxidants. An abundance of mineral sources of potassium, magnesium, calcium, zinc, and iron. Not to mention the characteristic meze meals are like a b vitamin buffet with all the whole grains, leafy greens, and occasional seafood frequenting the table.
Through mostly plant based foods sprinkled with an intermittent blending of animal sources a harmonious blend of macro and micro nutrients mark this dietary pattern as one of the healthiest in the world. Let the the REAL Mediterranean diet, the Greek diet, be your ambassador to nutritional balance and a go-to for delicious healthy foods that always tastes and feels good.