Like a trek bird heading home for the summer, I’m once more making my annual summer trip back home, to my mom and her side of the family in Greece.
Other than spending quality time with family, one of the things I look forward to the most is the food. I can never get enough of the vegetables and fruits so full of flavour and strong smell. The fresh grilled fish and the beautiful fresh virgin olive oil from the olive farm my grandfather worked so hard for.
Another famous Greek export
Sadly for the Greek economy, the long list of valuable exports we have created have not benefitted the country financially. Beyond democracy, philosophy, arts, and sciences, the Mediterranean diet has spread to many countries and has regularly recommended by dieticians.
Interest in the Mediterranean diet began in the 1960s when it was observed that coronary heart disease caused fewer deaths in Mediterranean countries than in Northern Europe or the US.
Characteristics of a Mediterranean diet
The Mediterranean diet takes inspiration from the lifestyles in countries such as Greece, Italy, and Spain. There is no single definition of this diet, though it typically includes a high intake of fresh produce, whole grains, nuts, beans, and abundant virgin olive oil. It thus involves eating less dairy and meat than a typical Western diet.
The Mediterranean lifestyle also involves regular physical activity and sharing your meals with others.
Healthy and Heart(y)
After interest was awoken in the health benefits of the Mediterranean diet, several studies found that it was associated with reduced risk factors for cardiovascular disease. In large part, this comes from the fact that it contains almost exclusively healthy fats and minimal red meat.
Other health benefits
This diet tends to have the added benefit of keeping your weight in check if it’s something you’re looking to achieve.
In a longitudinal study that concluded in 20181, it was found that a Mediterranean diet improves sleep quality in older adults.
Could it also help reduce dementia?
The University of Newcastle is currently recruiting for the first study of its kind, aiming to see if a Mediterranean diet could improve brain function and reduce dementia risk.
A beginner’s guide to the Mediterranean diet
If you feel inspired and would like to adopt this diet, it might be encouraging that it is simple to do, yet it remains delicious.
How to eat like a Greek
Instead of counting calories, the number of meals, or periods of fasting; you simply have to follow a general guideline on certain food groups.
- Eat plenty of vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, whole grains, and nuts.
- Have fish or seafood a few times a week.
- Enjoy in moderation, foods like poultry, eggs, cheese, and yogurt.
The absolute YES is virgin olive oil. This is the primary source of added fat in the Mediterranean diet and provides monounsaturated fat, which has been found to lower total cholesterol and low-density lipoprotein (LDL or “bad”) cholesterol levels.
How (and what) not to eat
Here is a quick run-down of what to avoid:
- Red meats and processed meats, like sausages.
- Sugar-sweetened beverages and foods, like sodas and ice-creams.
- Refined oils and grains, like canola oil and white bread.
- The absolute NO is processed foods (i.e. anything labeled “low-fat” or “diet”)
We’re all different and there is no one right way to eat. Still, there are healthy eating messages that should apply to everyone – such as eating more fiber and plant-based foods, and fewer processed foods. This is exactly what following the Mediterranean diet helps with.
Need some inspiration to get started?
While not having year-round access to the goodness from the Greek earth, I most often cook and eat Greek food. While my mom cooks from the heart, I need some instructional help from time to time. For this, I often refer to Akis Petrizakis, a Greek TV and Internet chef.
Many of his recipes show the steps in quick to view videos, and far more of his methods are translated into English. Beware purists; his recipes have a somewhat modern twist to traditional dishes.
Mon Tonton - Preventative wellness for seniors
If you’re a long-distance caregiver, encouraging your loved ones to stay healthy by asking them what they’re cooking and share tips.
One of the bad habits single seniors often fall into is skipping meals. This can happen either from losing the habit of not having someone to share them with or due to forgetfulness. Having and maintaining good nutritional habits is crucial for keeping your independence as you age.
We want to help you start and maintain a healthy lifestyle. Reach out to find out what we can do for you!