In search of the ideal diet which would improve one’s health, ward off illness and optimize our functioning, the Cretan diet has been pin pointed as being just the right one to follow. The term ‘diet’ of course is used not as a diet to follow in order to lose or gain weight but rather a lifestyle which encapsulates the way in which we achieve well-being. This lifestyle, a deeply cultural act, includes foods, drinks and activities.
Several studies on the traditional Cretan diet have shown that the population of Crete enjoys the longest life span and have the lowest percentage of death caused by heart attacks and of various kinds of cancer.
The Cretan diet is a simple, wholesome diet including cereals, nuts, an abundance of fresh/seasonal fruits and vegetables as well as local extra virgin olive oil. Consumption of dairy products (milk, cheese), eggs, fish, red wine and red meat is limited. A fact not to be underestimated is that this diet consists almost exclusively of products that the locals produce naturally within an ideal climate conditions.
Rich in monounsaturated fatty acids Cretan olive oil (‘liquid gold’ as Homer puts it) plays an imperative role to this diet and to overall well-being. It is these monounsaturated fatty acids which reduce LDL cholesterol and increase HDL cholesterol (which in turn protects against atherosclerosis).
Assessing the diet in a holistic fashion allows us to understand that dietary variables must be considered within the context in which they present themselves. The protective effects of eating organic fruits and vegetables, beef, chicken, lamb, rabbit, fish or eggs from truly free ranging livestock is of prime importance.
Wild greens, herbs, Purslane, mountain teas (such as ‘malotira’) and wild mountain snails (which surface after rain) are elsewhere difficult to procure while here on Crete, we grow these ourselves in our gardens, forage from our natural surroundings and have them readily available at the local store. Farmers’ markets, which take place no less than three times a week, are also an effortless way to obtain the freshest produce.
It is not only the unique taste and quality of Cretan products but also their combination, which gives enormous nutritional value and can be found in every Cretan dish.
Without sacrificing good nutrition and above all taste, the Cretan diet is a heart healthy eating pattern which is about much more than just food. It is a way of living and a philosophy which creates harmony between the mind, body and nature.