Western diets are making us sick, but certain traditional eating patterns can deliver both health and flavour on the one plate.
The Mediterranean benefit
In the 1960s, the Seven Countries study looked at 16 different population groups including several from the Mediterranean. It found that Cretan Greeks had the best health and lowest rates of cancer and heart disease. Their diet was shown to be the main factor influencing this favourable report.
Now research reveals that this so-called Mediterranean diet also protects against metabolic syndrome, controls diabetes better, can reverse fatty liver disease and slash the risk of Alzheimer’s. The more closely you adhere, the stronger your protection.
Ways to imitate the Mediterranean Cretan diet
- Olive oil daily. Ditch the margarine and vegetable oils. Enjoy extra virgin oil on your salad and in cooking. It enhances absorption of antioxidants and makes eating more vegetables possible!
- Legumes at least twice weekly. Get a serve of beans such as chickpeas or broadbeans to supply fibre without fat. Legumes replace meat, which if eaten at all, should be limited to small amounts monthly.
- Vegetables daily. Include a half cup of tomatoes and a half cup of leafy greens, plus at least 2 cups of other coloured vegetables. Try bitter greens such as endive.
- Go wholegrain. Wholegrain and wheat germ breads are traditional with the Cretans.
- No day without fresh fruit. Fruit is the perfect snack. Nuts and dried fruit add variety. Use only very small amounts of other sweets and sugary drinks.
- Cheese in moderation. Yoghurt was the major source of calcium for the Cretans in the study.
Other dietary practices
Cretan meals are also mostly cooked slowly with olive oil, garlic, herbs and tomatoes, so they are low in advanced glycation end products (AGEs), formed in the browning process common to such modern cooking methods as toasting.