by Stevi Moshogianni
Imagine a place where the stark sunlight turns fruits and vegetables into honey. Where you crush olives for their oil and that oil goes to your salad. This place is Crete, an island in the southern Aegean Sea in Greece. It is not a coincidence that Cretans have one of the highest life expectancies in the Western world.
Would the lucky inhabitants of this island happen to have a complicated diet? No! In fact Cretan food is simple, based on olive oil - most Cretans make their own olive oil - vegetables, pulses, herbs, fruit, cheese and fish. Red meat plays a minimal role.
- Use only extra virgin olive oil as your main and only source of fat. When in the late 1950's American scientists came to Crete to study the secret of Cretan longevity and the virtual absence of cardiovascular disease, they only had to look as far as the bottles of olive oil the Cretans used daily. Olive oil is rich in monounsaturated fat that has tremendous health benefits. It also contains vitamin E, an antioxidant that protects against free radical damage. Olive oil protects against heart disease, atherosclerosis, diabetes, colon cancer, and even asthma.
- Drink a glass of red wine per day with your main meal. Red wine can raise HDL cholesterol (the good cholesterol) and prevent LDL cholesterol (the bad cholesterol) from forming. Red wine may help prevent blood clots and reduce blood vessel damage caused by fat deposits. Note that Cretans do not drink alone. Wine is drunk in the company of friends and family and it is seen as a social practice.
- Limit sugar and replace it with honey (not for infants under 12 months though). Honey is rich in vitamins and anti-oxidants. Since honey is sweeter than sugar, you must use less: one-half to three-quarters of a cup for each cup of sugar in your recipes. For dessert eat fresh fruit. Choose from what is in season and eat your “dessert” daily.
- Eat red meat only a few times a month. Replace red meat with fish. Use pulses as an added source of protein. Cretans eat lots and lots of snails as a source of protein too!
- Eat fresh cheese. Most of the time, Cretans eat “myzithra” (a fresh cheese made of ewe's milk or sometimes goat’s milk) and “anthotiros” (a mild, soft cheese that tastes like something between cottage cheese and mozzarella). Choose to eat unprocessed yoghurt, without added sugar, as natural yogurt contains live bacteria that fortifies the immune system.
- Eat vegetables that are in season, organic and locally produced. Eat lots of greens. Cretans eat three times more vegetables than the average Westerner. This results in a lower risk of cancer of the large intestine and a stronger heart and circulatory system.
- Eat wholemeal bread and pasta. Cretans love to eat “paximadi”, a type of rusk that they soften with olive oil and water. When they add olives, tomato, myzithra cheese and oregano, it’s called “dakos” - and is a super meal on its own!- Use herbs to make teas, do not just use them in cooking. Τhyme, oregano, marjoram, mint, rosemary, camomile, sage, and diktamos (also known as Cretan dittany- which is analgesic, anti-inflammatory and antiseptic) are hugely available.