With the new year comes a raft of new opportunities and good intentions, not least cleaning up our diet. Discover the benefits of the traditional Cretan diet, and enjoy a healthy way of eating that allows plenty of room for bread, olive oil and cheese!
For centuries, Cretans have eaten only what their land could produce (fruits, vegetables, olives, grains and pulses) and only what was in season. The traditional Cretan diet involves the consumption of a high amount of olive oil, fruits, nuts and vegetables, a moderate amount of fish, cheese and red wine, and very small amounts of eggs, meat and milk. Maintaining a programme like this results in an abundance of antioxidants, omega-3 fatty acids, vitamins, minerals and fibre, and is a great way of promoting a healthier lifestyle.
The olive oil miracle
Surprisingly, the Cretan diet is a very high-fat diet — something Western cultures have come to see as detrimental to good health. The key is to source this fat content from olive oil and olives, rather than meat, butter and vegetable oils. To get an idea of the importance of olive oil in the Cretan diet, consider that the average American consumes 0.5 litres per year, the average Italian 11 litres per year and the average Cretan 25 litres per year! Most olive oil is consumed “fresh” (ie. not fried or boiled) and the oil is rich in monounsaturated fatty acids and anti-oxidative agents, all of which help boost and protect the immune system.
Discover the Cretan wild greens
Another collection of key ingredients in the traditional Cretan diet are wild greens — the island is home to a number of varieties that grow nowhere else in the world. When boiled and laced with peppery olive oil and lemon, these greens have a pleasant taste and can be found served at most Cretan tavernas under the name ‘horta’.
Furthermore, one of the healthiest aspects of the Cretan diet is the limited consumption of meat — traditionally snails were the most frequently served meat, with chicken consumed perhaps once a week and red meat limited to holidays and festive occasions. Meat is never the central ingredient of an authentic Cretan meal, and acts only as a complimentary flavour to the pulses, vegetables and herbs that dominate every plate. On the other hand, fish was a common addition to the diet in coastal regions, providing an excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids.
Finally, perhaps the most fun aspect of implementing a Cretan diet is allowance for a moderate consumption of wine — so enjoy your daily (small) glass of red wine without the guilt!