Much ado has been made about the Mediterranean Diet, but is the hype all that true?
It is generally accepted that folks that live around the Mediterranean Sea live longer. They suffer less than most Northern Europeans and Americans from Cardiovascular diseases which seems to account for about 53% of the worlds deaths. The populations of the Greece, Italy, France and Spain traditionally follow a balanced and nutritious diet based on fruits, veggies, whole grains, beans, nuts, legumes, olive oil, and flavorsome herbs and spices; also eating fish and seafood at least a couple of times a week; enjoying poultry, eggs, cheese, and yogurt in moderation; and saving sweets and red meat for special occasions. Top it off with loads of flavorsome olive oil and splashes of the occasional glass of red wine while remaining physically active, and you’re on your way.
The Mediterranean Diet Pyramid, introduced in 1993 by the Harvard School of Public Health, visually portrays the daily food intake to implement healthier eating habits. It was based on the dietary habits of the island of Crete, Greece and southern Italy circa 1960. Which at the time chronic diseases in their populations were among the lowest in the world while their adult life expectancy was one of the highest in the world even though they had limited medical services. This Mediterranean Diet is not a diet as ‘to go on a diet’ but a way of life. Even though it improves your health and it helps you lose weight, it’s more a style of living which includes foods, activities, dining with family and friends, and drinking wine in moderation. It does not mean that the different cultures around the Mediterranean Sea all eat the same foods but share a common philosophy.
At the Hotel Nafsika we have always tried to follow the Mediterranean diet principles, although I have to admit with some reservations. This is mainly due to our clients being foreign and not Greek. Obviously we cannot serve meat dishes only once a month as the diet suggests, people would think we are trying to diddle them. I could remember my grandfather eating a stewed pork dish during a lunch meal. Normally my grandparents had their main meal in the afternoon while eating a light meal at night. Once seeing that the pork still had a couple of inches of fat on it, I foolishly told him off saying that it was unhealthy for him, he just laughed at me and continued on eating. Only now, do I realize that he only ate meat occasionally and to top it off most of the meat he ate was locally and organically raised and freshly consumed.
We do try to keep the menu as Greek as possible but again I have to confess we tone down the ‘Greekness’ somewhat as some of my clients, as Jack Nicholson said, “can’t handle the truth!” The truth of the matter is that Greeks when cooking traditional peasant-style home cooked meals principally use a lot of olive oil. As most people produce their own supply of it, the cost is not an issue but more importantly Greeks have always known of the goodness of olive oil!–well before, the Harvard report. My Grandmother, for example, would pour enough olive oil in her wild greens so that they would be swimming in it. This much oil would be unacceptable even for me! Olive oil was their sole source of dietary fat in their diet. In fact, there are some dishes that we Greeks ourselves call them the ‘Lathera’, the oily ones. Moussaka, Pastitsio, Greek broad beans, Stuffed Tomatoes and Peppers would fall under this category. Although, olive oil is high in calories, the health benefits due to the high monounsaturated fatty acids and polyunsaturated fats found in olive oil make it one of natures natural medicines! In addition to bolstering the immune system and helping to protect against viruses; ailments such as heart disease, cancer, blood pressure, diabetics and many others can be averted with only just 2 teaspoons of olive oil per day!
As we have been in business for well over 35 years and we have come to the realization that we cannot serve the “lathera” dishes as we would serve them to the locals or as we ourselves would eat them so we have modified them to a point of less olive oil while they are still considered Greek dishes! As I myself do not want my food to be too oily, I would say that we cook our dishes with moderate amounts of olive oil in them. Thus recalling one of the sayings of the Ancients Greeks: “metron ariston”, or “moderation is best”. It is interesting to note that not all the people who come to stay in the hotel share with this diet and some find my mother’s food greasy, due, of course, to the olive oil. As we produce our own olive oil from our own olive trees, we use it bountifully in all our dishes. A recent guest of the hotel, wrote in one of the reviews boards, “this was by far the greasiest food we have ever been served, nearly all meals had oil slopping around the plate.” As I don’t want to disappoint anyone, next time someone who is not used to the olive oil can inform me so I can steer him away from the more Greek dishes! All I can say to any of my guests is that in Greek food we use olive oil and to have it without it, would not be Greek food! Extra virgin olive oil is highest in health-promoting fats, phytonutrients and other important micronutrients which is what makes Greek food healthy. * Photo by www.kalofagas.ca