Mediterranean Diet

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.

Mediterranean diet pyramid

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.

Olive oil and Olives

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!

Greek Roast Pork *

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

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14 thoughts on “Mediterranean Diet

  1. I am in total agreement with you. To me there is nothing better than the Mediterranen diet, and luckily for me, living in The Basque Country, it is not just a “diet” but in fact a way of life I follow and applaud. Combined with daily exercise, it is the perfect way to keep fit and healthy, both in body and mind. I think people should have a good size breakfast, a normal size lunch and a small dinner. If you feel hungry have some fruit between meals and make sure you drink enough water. It is also very import to have a few glasses of wine! I actually think kids ought to be taught nutrition at school; so that they grow up understanding what foods are good for them, how to prepare them and how to avoid becoming overweight or ill due to a bat diet. It is as important as doing sport and physical exercise for their well being.
    It is total rubbish that the food at the Nafsika is too greasy. I know that because excessively greasy food and I do not get on, it really upsets my stomach. Precisely, the reason why I like the food at the Nafsika soooo much is that it is what I call “real food” as apposed to processed food and mass-manufactured food and although it is cooked with olive oil (naturally!), it is not at all greasy. You can tell that it is home produced and made with loving care! The recipe for the Greek Roast Pork looks divine – fit for the Gods! Can I have the recipe?

  2. Very interesting article.
    I’ve rarely enjoyed food so much or felt better nourished than when enjoying the delicious dishes at the Nafsika……it’s been too long!
    Sadly, it’s difficult to follow a Mediterranean diet in England. The ingredients, even if one can get them, are just not the same and in any case my own culinary skills fall far short of Theodora’s!
    Processed food abounds in the UK. I try to minimise my own intake, (not difficult as I find much of it is horrid!) However I believe that there is generally a different mindset in the UK – many people find it just too difficult to prepare fresh, healthy ingredients and “eat well” on an everyday basis.
    I agree with Judy that nutrition should be taught in schools and I believe that this is now being done in the UK. In addition, in recent years Jamie Oliver tried his best with his “Healthier School Meals” project but in many places this was resented as “interference” in the right of parents to decide what their children eat. The project was further undermined by poor funding from Central Government. In any case, good nutrition taught and practised in schools can only go so far. It is at home that the habit of healthy eating is formed.

    • Sadly, the modern world has even come to Greece as young kids are lured by the TV ads to have more and more processed foods. The key is education on every level…yes, starting at school but parents should also want and give the very best to their kids, people should be more discerning with what they eat and also, where they go to eat. Sometimes it is hard work intruducing a new dish to my guest at the Nafsika— something like artichokes — but most people that try them like them which shows me that there are loads of open minded people out there!

    • You are right Vivian it is not half so easy to eat Mediterranean food in England, although the choice of food there is truly unbeatable, when you need a certain ingredient it always seems to be missing. Sometimes I have tried to do Basque and Spanish specialities for my English friends and family, but they never turn out the same as they do here. The produce does not seem to have the same taste. I actually miss the food here when I’m in England, but that does not happen when I am at the Nafsika, I’m always waiting to see what’s on the menu for the evening meal! Having said that, I still have my list of things I always have to eat when I hit England, Kent Korker sausages, pork pies and of course Jam Doughnuts! It is very sad but I actually think that some of today’s parents are not prepared to give the time or the effort needed to provide their own kids with decent nourishing meals and that I think is primarily a question of education and culture

  3. I would prefer the food at the Nafsika to be more Greek rather than toned down. Love the simplicity of the food served, good home cooked food which I haven’t had to cook myself! x:)

  4. Just to say, although we don’t stay at the Nafsica, we eat there every evening when we are on holiday. I (Karen) am a fussy eater and only eat small portions. I have never found the food greasy at the Nafsica and I wouldn’t be able to eat it if it was. John will try and eat everything however!!

  5. Jo Hart and I aggree, dont tone down the ‘Greekness’ dear Nafsika you may be surprised how many of us appreciate the real thing and dont come to you for English gravy dinners. There is no compromise in art.

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