Have you ever wondered why Rick Stein looks so healthy and vibrant every time he’s on a Greek Island filming his famous food shows?
Maybe it’s the Mediterranean sun, maybe it’s the weather, or maybe it’s the food.
It's baffling. Don’t you wonder why everyone is telling you how healthy and radiant you look upon your return from a holiday in Greece, despite the fact you've spent the past weeks filling your face with everything from moussaka to baklava on a daily basis?
A major reason why Greece is such a popular tourist destination is its Mediterranean diet based cuisine, which is increasingly associated with significant health benefits that no doubt contribute to that 'just back from Greece glow'.
The Mediterranean diet is based primarily on the eating habits of southern European countries, however it is mainly derived from healthy eating habits and traditions of Greek people and produce, with an emphasis on greens, olive oil, fish, poultry, beans, and grains.
In 2019, CNN HEALTH famously dubbed the Mediterranean Diet the “Worlds Best Diet”.
After reviewing 41 eating plans, the panel gave the Mediterranean diet the top spot across the following four categories: best diet for healthy eating, best plant-based diet and even more importantly, best diet for diabetes and best heart healthy diet.
Let's break down the Mediterranean Diet
The Mediterranean diet is primarily based on seasonal fruits and vegetables, whole grains, beans and seeds, nuts and a whole load of extra virgin olive oil.
Fish plays a big part in the Mediterranean diet while red meat is usually left for special occasions such as Easter. Most Greek families will only consume red meat once or twice a week.
Eggs, poultry and dairy (such as Greek yoghurt) are incorporated but in much smaller portions than traditional western diets.
The traditional Mediterranean diet also features red wine, herbal tea, small amounts of caffeine and lots of ‘horta’ or traditional Greek greens.
Health benefits of the Mediterranean Diet
This way of eating was followed by our Greek ancestors for thousands of years and is scientifically proven to lower inflammation, which is the lead cause of many diseases and most famously, to increase life expectancy.
Vegetables and greens, aka minimally processed plant-based foods, are known to reduce inflammation and balance gut bacteria. A healthy gut is a secret to overall good health and glowing skin.
Traditional Greek yoghurt is famously associated with many health benefits. Containing calcium, probiotics, protein, iodine and vitamin B-12, Greek yoghurt has a tart, slightly tangy taste which is the result of the whey being removed. Thicker and creamier, it is much lower in sugar than regular yogurt. Daily consumption provides benefits for your bones, a healthy dose of probiotics and suppresses appetite. Note that “Greek-style” yogurt and ‘low-fat Greek yoghurt’ are not the same as traditional strained Greek yogurt, and are not as beneficial for your health.
Fresh fish is another focal element of the Mediterranean diet providing many health benefits. It is the best ‘heart healthy’ food on the planet. Fish contains omega-3 fatty acids, calcium, phosphorus and a load of fantastic minerals such as iron, zinc, I iodine, magnesium and potassium. It is considered a ‘brain healthy’ food and is great for improving eye health. Consuming fish regularly is known to contribute to a healthier mind and body, lowering the risk of heart attacks and strokes.
The Mediterranean diet provides all the evidence you need to justify that glass of red wine with every meal! Evidence indicates that moderate consumption of red wine may help you to live longer, improve mental health and even enhance heart health. So a glass of red wine a day, may indeed keep the doctor away!
Lastly, but not least what would the Mediterranean diet be without olive oil?! A fantastic antioxidant and source of healthy fats, olive oil is anti-inflammatory, helps prevent heart attacks and strokes, and reduces the risk of Type 2 diabetes.
Olive oil also has known cancer-fighting properties and is anti-bacterial. It can also be applied topically to moisturise skin and condition hair. When shopping for olive oil, look for the label “extra virgin”.
Extra virgin olive oil provides the most health benefits out of any oil on the market.
So should we all pack up and move to a tiny island in Greece?
Well packing up and moving to Greece may be ideal, however, a more realistic option would be to combine all these different foods into your daily diet, whilst reducing red meat and sugar consumption.
This should significantly contribute to better health.
Read more about the Mediterranean diet in Greek City Times: