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I’m a huge fan of Greek food, having been introduced to it properly during my time at Reading University. I never expected the town to be such a haven for the Greek community, but I experienced lots of wonderful Mediterranean food at lots of the parties held there.
The Greek diet is regarded as one of the healthiest in the world because it’s based largely around fruit and vegetables, wholegrains, fish, and a small amount of cheese and yoghurt. Non-meat protein sources in the form of beans and legumes such as fava, split peas, and lentils are also a popular staple, usually used in soups, stews and salads. This array of foods looks a lot like what I regard as a healthy, balanced diet.
The Greeks are also famous for their love of olive oil, which is lower in saturated fat than butter, and therefore a good choice for cooking. If you’ll forgive some geeky science, recent evidence published by the PNAS (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences) journal shows that the combination of olive oil and leafy salad or vegetables is what gives the Mediterranean diet its healthy edge, because the formation of nitro fatty acids between the two food groups lowers blood pressure. So I recommend that as a side, whatever you’re eating!
Of course, Greece’s diet isn’t perfect – according to the World Health Organisation, 33% of 11-year-old boys and girls in Greece are overweight, which is actually the highest prevalence in Europe. It’s likely down to the rise of fast food outlets in the major cities and increased access to processed food that’s high in fat, sugar and salt. Their traditional cuisine isn’t faultless, though – if you’ve ever tried saganaki, a fried hard cheese, then you’ll know it’s a wildly indulgent (but delicious) dish. A nod should also be given to tiropita, otherwise known as cheese pie.
Generally, however, there’s a lot to be said for Greek cuisine, so here are a few delicious Greek-inspired recipes. My favourite is Jamie’s twist on Greek chicken with couscous, which everyone can tuck in to and help themselves.
To accompany this, there’s a great recipe on JO.com for a very simple Greek salad, although the key to getting this right is to use the best olive oil you can afford for the dressing and use the ripest tomatoes you can get your hands, so to maximise the flavour!
Alternatively, try something new with this beautiful Cypriot-style potato salad!
These colourful vegetable kebabs are a fun dish for the whole family, perfect in the summer and for getting kids exciting about cooking.
And lastly, this simple fish stew is actually a total showstopper – big on flavour, and big on nutrition, full of lovely fish and healthy herbs. Get stuck in!
Why the Mediterranean Diet Is So Healthy
Learn more about the world's healthiest diet and how it can help you look and feel better.
Amid all the superfoods and fad diets, one style of eating consistently comes out on top as the best: the Mediterranean diet. In 2019, it was ranked as the best diet to try by U.S. News & World Report. It earns first-place rights for its impressive roster of health rewards, including heart protection, weight regulation and cancer reduction.
The foods in a typical Mediterranean diet-fish, nuts, plant oils, fruits and vegetables-help lower inflammation in your body, improve blood vessel function and reduce the risk of metabolic syndrome and diabetes. All of these benefits serve to keep your ticker ticking and your mind sharp. Decades of research bears this out, too.
What Is the Mediterranean Diet?
This way of eating focuses on foods like olive oil, nuts, fruits and vegetables, legumes, whole grains and fish. Wine is part of the typical Mediterranean diet, too, but you should drink it in moderation. This style of diet can also include some dairy and poultry ingredients-but, like wine, these are usually limited.
The Mediterranean diet places an emphasis on fresh, colorful eating and shuns heavily processed ingredients. Trust us, your plate will never be boring. Even better news: though "diet" is in the name, this plan is more of a holistic approach to eating that relies on real foods. You won&apost be counting calories or macronutrients like you would with a typical "diet."
Here are 3 reasons it&aposs so healthy to eat Mediterranean.
In a 2013 study in the New England Journal of Medicine, researchers found that people on a Mediterranean diet were far less likely to have a heart attack, stroke or other cardiovascular event than people who ate a low-fat diet. The study participants who ate a Mediterranean diet supplemented with olive oil or nuts saw their risk of cardiovascular disease drop by 30 percent.
In a study on younger women, those who most closely followed a Mediterranean diet had a lower body mass index (BMI) and smaller waist and thighs than those who adhered to the diet&aposs style the least. This is likely because the diet is high in antioxidants and provides rich anti-inflammatory properties. It&aposs also packed with fiber, a nutrient known for keeping you full.
A 2016 review of 18 studies in Frontiers in Nutrition found that eating Mediterranean was associated with less cognitive decline, reduced risk of Alzheimer&aposs disease, and better memory and executive function. Additional research in the journal Neurology likened the diet&aposs effects to reducing the brain&aposs age by five years.
With all of these accolades, it makes sense that you may want to start a Mediterranean diet. Here are 8 ways to follow the Mediterranean Diet to help you get started and a week of Mediterranean lunches you can meal-prep in under an hour.
Whether you decide to fully adopt the philosophies of the Mediterranean diet, or you think small, incremental steps are more your speed, every little bit can help you eat-and feel-healthier. The great thing about eating this way is that you&aposre sure to find many of your favorite foods are still available to you. Even better, you&aposre bound to find many new ones you love.
The Cretan DietTasty and Nutritious, ensuring good health and long life!
The Cretan Diet is famous, - and some say miraculous! It is the original Mediterranean diet ulture, history and geography have helped create a combination of foods and lifestyle which provides a unique diet that is highly nutritious, prolonging life and helping to prevent many of the modern diseases that shorten the lives of millions of people every year in the West.
Western eating habits are the source of much debate at the moment, with concerns over the growing obesity levels in Europe, North America, and all the so called affluent western nations.
Finding the ideal diet is becoming increasingly important for people who want to improve health and reduce weight. Fortunately, there is a diet that is healthy, natural, tasty – and proven to prolong life!
The Traditional Cretan Diet
We have collected all the information you will need to enjoy the Cretan Diet, including details of the simple ingredients and easy to do cretan cooking and Cretan Diet Recipes , to help you benefit from this wonderful food.
The Cretan Diet is both simple and wholesome.
It features plenty of fruits and vegetables, beans, pulses and grains in abundance, olive oil as the principal fat, moderate drinking of wine and raki, herbal teas like Greek Mountain Tea said to be a "cure all" or Dittany of Crete said to be an aphrodisiac! Honey and yoghurt, occasional use of lean red meat, and low to moderate consumption of dairy foods, fish and poultry.
A study of the eating habits of 7 developed countries closely monitored the health of a group of 700 men of the island of Crete over a period of 30 years, ending in 1991. The study showed that, compared to the other countries in the study, the Cretan men had the lowest percentage of deaths caused by heart disease and various forms of cancer. The study also showed that the Cretan population lived the longest.
What's the Secret of the Cretan Diet?
Natural, traditional and local produce are features of the Cretan Diet, but some other features might surprise you. For example, in the traditional Crete Mediterranean Diet almost three times more fat is consumed than what the average American eats! The difference is that the Cretan consumes only olive oil , a substantial amount of which is neither boiled nor fried.
Crete olive trees are said to outnumber the Cretan population by 500 to one! It is believed that the qualities of olive oil are key in maintaining good health and preventing illness. Unlike other oils, olive oil is rich in monounsaturated fatty acids which are resistant to oxidation.
Olive oil is unique in that it is packed with anti-oxidative agents, which bond with toxic free radicals creating a natural defence against many different kinds of cancer. It’s time to throw away all other types of cooking oils! Another surprise is bread. Three times more bread is eaten in the traditional Crete diet than the diet eaten by the Americans, for example. However, this is still less than other Mediterranean areas.
The famed Mediterranean Diet varies in this way to its Cretan cousin. The type of bread eaten by the Cretans is mainly wholemeal, except on some special feast days connected to the Greek Orthodox Religion. Christmas in Crete, Easter and Saints' Name Days all produce their own special breads.
Imagine a diet where you can eat plenty of oil and bread!
Meat and fish play only a small part in the traditional Cretan diet and Cretan cooking, and are usually cooked over a grill rather than fried. The main staples of the diet are fruit, beans, pulses and vegetables.
Fruit is abundant on the ancient island of Crete, and literally falls from the trees! In many parts of the island you can pick fruits from the trees all year round. From November to April the oranges trees and other citrus trees like tangerines, grapefruits and lemons are laden with fruits. A sweet small orange coloured fruit named Mousmoula, similar to a nectarine, are abundant from March to May.
From June, apricots are plentiful and the shops and markets also have piles of huge water melons packed in cages shaded by the sun with beach umbrellas. The vines are full of fat black and green grapes for wines and deserts in August, and you can often find wild vines with delicious sweet fruits while out walking. In September through to October figs and pomegranates are everywhere and given free with drinks like Tsikoudia Raki at the local Kafeneon. Apples, peaches, nectarines, plums and many other fruits are plentiful during the long hot Cretan summer.
All sorts of dried and fresh beans with vegetables and greens (horta) are a main staple for the traditional Cretan family and almost all meals are accompanied by fresh cooked or raw vegetable and pulses. In the Cretan homes in the villages slow food is prepared with only the freshest of ingredients. Recipes are kept simple with wild herbs added for flavour.
Last but not least is the liquid accompaniment – wine. The benefits of red wine in moderation is well documented, and the Cretan diet embraces the benefits wholeheartedly! At least one, (but more often two!), glasses of wine will accompany the meal. Even quite young children with partake of a small glass.
All in all it sounds like a wonderful diet – plenty of bread, olive oil with everything – and a glass of wine or two with every meal!
How to Follow the Cretan Diet
We are going to help you eat like they do in Crete. This will open up for you a whole new world of tasty, healthy eating and Cretan cooking that will improve your well-being and even prolong your life. (Be sure to drive carefully and stop smoking to reap the benefits of a longer lifespan!)
These are the basic rules for the Cretan Diet:
- Use olive oil as the principal fat, replacing all other fats and oils for frying and dressings
- Drink a moderate amount of wine, normally with an evening meal about one to two glasses per day for men and one glass per day for women
- Eat plenty of fresh fruit as a typical daily dessert limit sweets with a significant amount of sugar and saturated fat
- Include in your diet lots of food from plant sources, including fruits and vegetables, breads and grains, beans, nuts, and seeds
- Eat low to moderate amounts of cheese and yoghurt daily
- Consume low to moderate amounts of fish and poultry weekly and limit eggs to a maximum of four per week
- Include red meat rarely perhaps just once per week
Simple fresh food locally produced
A major feature of the Cretan Diet is its simplicity. There are no fancy sauces or tricky soufflés. There’s no difficult combinations or strange exotic ingredients. All you will need is a basic store cupboard of ingredients and then simply get in what you need for each individual recipe.
Another feature of the Cretan Diet is the freshness and quality of the ingredients.
For example, Artichokes grow wild here and are picked, prepared and eaten the same day.
Always try to get local produce, in season. This is the tastiest and the healthiest of foods. Produce that has travelled round the world in refrigerated containers always loses some of its nutrition and taste. It’s not natural to eat non-local food, and it’s so important to consider the environmental impact of continuing to develop a taste for foods that have to travel round the world before they finally find there way onto someone’s dining table.
We have created some authentic Cretan Diet Recipes for you to try and to incorporate into, or even replace, your current eating habits. All the recipes will draw on your store cupboard ingredients, plus one or two other ingredients – it really will astonish you how simple and tasty the food is.
Our Best Traditional Greek Recipes
Greek cuisine, it's the original Mediterranean Diet. These days, when health experts talk about the benefits of eating lots of fresh vegetables and using olive oil as your primary fat, they're talking about the Greek diet, of course. A handful of simple ingredients typify the fresh, vibrant flavors of Greek cooking: olive oil, lemon, feta cheese, oregano and thyme. They give a burst of bright flavor to seafood, salads, and vegetable dishes -- like a taste of the sun. Bordered by beautiful blue seas, Greece is a country of steep, rocky terrain and relatively unfertile soils, which explains a cuisine of fresh, delicious simplicity. But enough, let's get to some of our favorite Greek recipes.
Air Fryer Falafel
Carlene Thomas/Eat This, Not That!
If you already love falafel (and come on, who doesn't?) then you're in luck. This staple of Middle Eastern culture is a popular dish on the Mediterranean diet thanks to ingredients like chickpeas, fresh spices, and fresh herbs. Our recipe goes one step further and uses an air fryer instead of deep frying in oil. Try it out for yourself.
Get our recipe for Air Fryer Falafel.
Stella &ndash September 28, 2020
Are the recipes that you have on your website the same as in this book, Foods of Crete: Traditional Recipes from the Healthiest People in the World?
Heather R &ndash April 28, 2015
Foods of Crete is a must-have cookbook for every kitchen.
Suzanne L &ndash April 28, 2015
The introductory guidelines to the Cretan way of eating promise a healthier life. But so often that promise, in cookbooks, comes void of flavor, or recipes with so many ingredients that a working person can only consider making them on a weekend devoted to cooking experiments. Not so with this book. I was pleasantly surprised to see that the recipes not only sounded delicious in title, but the list of ingredients, and the preparation instructions, are manageable.
Mary K. &ndash April 28, 2015
The scientifically acclaimed “Mediterranean Diet” is presented at its best here, with the liberal use of olive oil and plenty of vegetable and fish dishes in addition to mezedes (appetizers), meat dishes, desserts, and pretty much every Cretan dish you can think of. It’s conveniently broken down into categories so it’s easy to find a vegetarian dish if that’s what you want, or a meat dish, etc. For anyone interested in Mediterranean cooking, this is a must-have for your kitchen library
Valerie Horowitz &ndash November 14, 2014
The image on the front cover of this book is inviting—a spread of colorful food laid out on a picnic table in the countryside—a bottle of wine, a spray of purple flowers, and the trademark Greek sea blue and white table linens with bits of yellow—water, air, sunshine. Ah. Crete. The title, “Foods of Crete” is interesting, but it is the subtitle that caused me to open the book: “Traditional Recipes from the Healthiest People in the World.” Indeed, the introductory guidelines to the Cretan way of eating promise a healthier life. But so often that promise, in cookbooks, comes void of flavor, or recipes with so many ingredients that a working person can only consider making them on a weekend devoted to shopping for special ingredients and cooking experiments. Not so with this book. I was pleasantly surprised to see that the recipes not only sounded delicious in title, but the list of ingredients, and the prep instructions, are manageable.
Therefore I, a working Mom, have so far made three of the recipes to the delight of my family. The Potatoes with Lemon and Garlic in the Oven (p. 66) was our hands-down favorite. It took about ten minutes to freshly squeeze the lemon juice and peel and quarter the potatoes, but then, as the recipe said, I easily put them and the other ingredients (fresh garlic, extra virgin olive oil, water and spices) in a casserole dish and baked for an hour. What came out was the most wonderful smelling platter of potatoes. The lemon flavor infused the potatoes in just the right amount. They were delicious, and will be added to our rotation.
I also made the Meatballs with Egg and Lemon Sauce (p. 98). I made this dish twice because the first time the ½ cup dry rice asked for in the recipe did not cook inside the meatballs, the rice remained hard and crunchy. Maybe the rice I used (Trader Joe’s jasmine rice) needed more cooking time, I don’t know. But the flavors in the meat were so good, and the sauce was thick and luscious, so my family asked me to try it again with pre-cooked rice. I did, with pre-cooked brown rice, and the dish was terrific. We loved the parsley coating.
We are not huge artichoke lovers in my family, for us they fall into the take it or leave it category. Since we rarely have them, I thought it would be fun to make Artichokes with Yogurt (p. 59) and used two cans on organic artichoke hearts. This was a very good dish, and very filling.
Next on my list to make is the Beet Salad with Walnuts (p. 58) and Spinach with Garlic and Herbs (p. 49) which adds a few spices and tomatoes to a dish I often make plain, garlic spinach. I’m sure there will be more.
Wonderful photographs of food and places in Crete are sprinkled throughout the book, along with some delightful travel tales. Although this book made me want to go to Crete, it offered me healthy, delicious, easy-to-make food with ingredients that I keep on hand, that my family loved.
A History of Culinary Influences
While Greek cooking has influenced and been influenced by other cultures, as have the cuisines of most countries, of all of those countries, Greece must be foremost in the ranks of having a "fusion" cuisine which is easily traced back to 350 B.C.
- In 350 B.C., when Alexander the Great extended the Greek Empire's reach from Europe to India, certain northern and eastern influences were absorbed into the Greek cuisine.
- In 146 B.C., Greece fell to the Romans which resulted in a blending of a Roman influence into Greek cooking.
- In 330 A.D., Emperor Constantine moved the capital of the Roman Empire to Constantinople, founding the Byzantine Empire which, in turn, fell to the Turks in 1453 and remained part of the Ottoman Empire for nearly 400 years. During that time, dishes had to be known by Turkish names, names that remain today for many Greek classics.
With each successive invasion and settlement came culinary influences - from the Romans, Venetians, Balkans, Turks, Slavs, and even the English - and many Greek foods have names with origins in those cultures, most notably the Ottoman Empire.
Dishes with names like tzatziki (from the Turkish "cacik"), hummus (the Arabic word for chickpea) and dolmades (from the Turkish "dolma"), that can be found in kitchens from Armenia to Egypt, have also found a home in Greek cooking, and been adapted over hundreds of years to local tastes and traditions just like makaronia me kima (which is Greek-style meat sauces for pasta).
And during those times, the classic elements of Greek cuisine traveled across borders as well, adopted and adapted in Europe, North Africa, the Middle East, and . with Alexander the Great, farther east.
Note about hummus: Hummus is a Middle Eastern dish with an association to Greek food only because it appears on the menu in many Greek restaurants around the world. brought there by restaurateurs catering to local tastes.
The Greek island diet you can eat forever
We've previously extolled the pleasures of Cretan cuisine at Athens venues like Kriti and noted that Crete has one of the highest life expectancies in Greece, thanks in part to its healthy food. So we were particularly intrigued by The Island Where People Forget to Die, a recent New York Times Magazine article on Ikaria, a Greek island in the Aegean that's home to some of the world's longest-living people.
The piece looks at a variety of reasons for Ikarians' longevity, including their sleeping habits, regular exercise, close-knit community and relaxed lifestyle. But it's the food part of the equation that really got us going. The New York Times describes the islanders' traditional diet:
Breakfast [was] goat's milk, wine, sage tea or coffee, honey and bread. Lunch was almost always beans (lentils, garbanzos), potatoes, greens (fennel, dandelion or a spinach-like green called horta) and whatever seasonal vegetables their garden produced dinner was bread and goat's milk. At Christmas and Easter, they would slaughter the family pig and enjoy small portions of larded pork for the next several months.
Wild herbs have traditionally been used by the islanders to make tea:
Leriadis also talked about local "mountain tea", made from dried herbs endemic to the island, which is enjoyed as an end-of-the-day cocktail. He mentioned wild marjoram, sage (flaskomilia), a type of mint tea (fliskouni), rosemary and a drink made from boiling dandelion leaves and adding a little lemon.
Culinary Backstreets' Athens correspondent, Despina Trivolis, can attest to the Ikarians' partiality to greens, as well as their laid-back sense of timing. "Friends once told me a story of how they were in a taxi speeding to get to the port. They were already late, so you can imagine their surprise when the taxi driver pulled over and started collecting wild herbs," she recalls.
"They kept shouting at him that they would miss their boat but the driver just told them to chill out, and got on with his herb collecting. They got to their boat just in time." (she also reveals that some residents of Ikaria are fond of another type of wild herb, one that is illegal in most countries …)
But the biggest reason for the Ikarians' healthy lifestyle may be the island's relative isolation, notes Trivolis. "Unlike other Greek islands, Ikaria does not have a lot of tourism: it is a 10-hour boat ride from Piraeus, the port of Athens. This is probably why it has been spared western fast food, values and a faster pace of life usually associated with the sort of consumerism that goes hand-in-hand with western influence. Ikaria remains largely agricultural and undisturbed by the outside world."
This is an article from our Guardian Travel Network. To find out more about it, click here
Why the Mediterranean Diet Is Still the Best Diet of Them All
It's claimed the top spot for the third year in a row.
Photo by: Enrique Díaz / 7cero/Getty Images
Enrique Díaz / 7cero/Getty Images
For the third consecutive year, U.S. News & World Report named the Mediterranean Diet the Best Overall Diet. The diet also come in at the top spot on four other lists including Best Diets for Healthy Eating, Easiest Diets to Follow, Best Diets for Diabetes, and Best Plant-Based Diets. Why is the Mediterranean Diet reining supreme? Here is insight into the U.S. News diet rankings, what the Mediterranean Diet is all about and a few recipes to get you started.
How the Rankings Work
Each year, U.S. News has an expert panel of the country’s top nutritionists, dietary consultants, and physicians specializing in diabetes, heart health, and weight loss. Twenty five panelists are given an in-depth survey, which scores 35 diets in seven areas including ease of compliance, likelihood of losing a significant amount of weight in the short and long term, and effectiveness against heart disease and diabetes. Although there is no “one size fits all” when it comes to diets, these rankings together with recommendations from your doctor or registered dietitian nutritionist (RDN) can help you adopt a healthy lifestyle.
Why the Mediterranean Diet?
Compared to diets like keto and Whole30, the Mediterranean Diet isn’t very restrictive. In addition, it is more like a lifestyle as opposed to a strict daily regimen. The diet is based on research that has found that folks living in countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea live longer and suffer less from diseases like cancer and heart disease. Potential benefits of following the Mediterranean Diet include weight loss and brain and heart health, cancer prevention and control and prevention of diabetes.
Because the Mediterranean Diet is more of an eating pattern as opposed to a hard core structured diet, it may take some time to figure out how you should eat and the activities you will do to stay active. Basic food guidelines include lots of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, nuts, legumes, and flavorful herbs and vegetables. Healthy fat like olive oil is commonly used, and fish and seafood is enjoyed at least a few times a week. Poultry, eggs, cheese and yogurt are consumed in moderation and sweets and red meat are eaten on occasion. Wine is encouraged (though not required) — one glass a day maximum for women and two a day maximum for men.
Mediterranean Diet Pros and Cons
The Mediterranean Diet can be convenient as you can find many recipes that fit the lifestyle and when dining out, you can also find restaurants that serve grilled chicken breast or baked fish on the menu. The Mediterranean Diet also does not eliminate any food groups and is a well-balanced plan. Because it consists of lots of fruits, vegetables and legumes you will get plenty of fiber to help you feel full. Plus, those healthy fats like olive oil, olives and avocados have healthy fats that are satisfying.
A few setbacks of the diet are figuring out the meal plan that works best for you. In addition, the diet only promotes two servings of milk and dairy (compared to three listed in the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans), but you can easily add an extra serving in at any meal or snack. If you love red meat, you can choose lean and very lean cuts of beef, pork and lamb. Because of increased trimming practices over the past several decades, there are many more lean cuts of meat available at grocery stores. Also, although the diet may seem to encourage fresh produce – you will get the same benefits by choosing canned or frozen produce. Just make sure the canned vegetables are low in salt (or rinse before using), and the canned fruit are packed in their own juices or extra-light syrup. Frozen fruit should be without any added sugar and frozen vegetables should not contain buttery or other high-fat sauces.
Recipes for Getting Started
To get started on this plan, start by gathering your favorite Mediterranean-style recipes for breakfast, lunch, dinner and a few snacks. You can even start with a few Mediterranean style meals a week and work your way up. Over time, you can slowly add in a few recipes each week, until you build up an individualized Mediterranean recipe repertoire. Here are a few recipes to get you started:
The term is self-explanatory right? Wrong. While it may be defined as simply the diet of the Mediterranean region, the initial scientific definition is this: The Mediterranean Diet reflects the food patterns typical of Crete, much of the rest of Greece, and southern Italy in the early 1960s. Dietary data from Greece and Italy show that in the recent past the inhabitants of these countries enjoyed the lowest recorded rates of chronic diseases and the highest adult life expectancy following an eating pattern like the one discussed below. The healthfulness of this pattern is corroborated by epidemiological and experimental nutrition research.
There are over 20 countries border the Mediterranean Sea with very different cultures and several differences in their diets. Many of the diets across the Mediterranean are not consistent with the Mediterranean Diet pattern even within the same country as has been noted by researchers. Scientific evidence exists mainly for the diets of of Greece, Italy and Spain, this tighter definition helps us provide more specific guidelines and thus making the diet easier to follow.
What The World’s Healthiest Diets Have In Common
To research his 2010 book The 5 Factor World Diet, celebrity trainer and nutritionist Harley Pasternak traveled to the healthiest countries around the world to learn more about what made their meals extra nourishing.
He noted that Japanese people eat a wonderful variety of seaweeds, and that Chinese people tried to incorporate at least five different colors in every meal. But Pasternak also came away with some valuable observations about how different the North American way of life was compared to many other countries.
For starters, we eat much bigger portions than people in other countries. We don’t prioritize eating seasonally or locally, and we also add lots of salt, sugar and thickening agents to our foods, explained Pasternak in a phone interview with HuffPost. Contrast that to the healthy Mediterranean, Nordic and Okinawan diets listed below. They all seem to hew closely to an ethos of regional, seasonal produce.
Most other healthy eating cultures also make meals an event — say, multiple courses around the family table, or a glass or two of red wine at a long lunch — as opposed to hastily scarfing fistfuls of cereal above the kitchen sink and calling it dinner (you know, just for example).
Each one has its own unique quirks (reindeer meat! green tea!), and it’s good to remember that because of the incredible diversity of lifestyles around the world, it’s clear there isn’t one single path to weight loss or health. But Pasternak did take note of one unifying factor in all of the healthy societies he observed.
“The only overlapping feature in most of these healthy countries around the world is that they all walk way more than the average American,” said Pasternak. “So really, regardless of what you’re eating, if someone’s walking four miles more than you each day, they’re going to be a lot thinner and live a lot longer than you.”
What it is: A traditional Mediterranean diet, eaten by people in Greece, Italy and Spain, emphasizes seasonality, local produce and traditional preparations. Meals are often community or family events.
Signature foods: Fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts and olive oil are the stars of the show. Fish, poultry and red wine make moderate appearances, while red meat, salt and sugar are bit players.
What the research says: Where to start with this one. The benefits of a Mediterranean diet have been studied since the ’70s, and researchers have found that olive oil can help people lose weight, lower their cardiovascular disease risk and reverse diabetes. As for ease of adherence, U.S. News & World Report ranked it third (out of 35 considered diets) and called it “eminently sensible.”
New Nordic Diet
What it is: Scientists designed this diet to contain 35 percent less meat than the average Danish diet, more whole grains and locally sourced produce, and more than 75 percent organic produce.
Called the New Nordic diet, it’s similar to the Mediterranean diet in that there is a big emphasis on whole grains, fruits, vegetables, eggs, oil and seafood, while foods like meat, dairy, dessert and alcohol are eaten sparingly. It’s different from the Mediterranean diet in that the Nordic diet uses rapeseed oil instead of olive oil, and the produce is native to the Nordic countries Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden.
Signature foods: Whole grain cereals like oats and rye local fruits and berries like rose hip, lingonberries and bilberries cruciferous and root vegetables like Brussels sprouts, broccoli, turnips, parsnips and beets rapeseed oil, vegetable-oil-based margarine and low-fat dairy like milk, fermented milk and cheese. Meats include beef, pork, lamb and reindeer, while seafood includes herring, mackerel and salmon. The few desserts in the diet include baked goods made with oat bran, or jam for putting on top of cereal. Herbs include parsley, dill, mustard, horseradish and chives.
What the research says: A recent study published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that a healthy Nordic diet seemed to have an impact on genes in abdominal fat, turning off genes related to inflammation. It’s also helped study participants lose weight (while still providing “higher satisfaction” than the average Danish diet), and cut down on type 2 diabetes risk. Scientists are also praising it for its ecological and socioeconomic benefits, as it cuts down on meat production and long-distance imported foods.
Traditional Okinawa Diet
What it is: This low-calorie yet nutrition-dense diet is big on fruits and vegetables but sparse when it comes to meat, refined grains, sugar, salt and full-fat dairy. This diet came about in a very specific historical context: Its practitioners lived on Okinawa Island in Japan, which was one of the poorest regions in the country before World War II. Consequently, Confucian ideals like eating only enough food to feel 80 percent full played a big role in the island’s eating culture, as did sharing as much as one could with one’s neighbor.
Signature foods: Sweet potatoes, rice (although not as much as mainland Japanese people ate), green leafy vegetables, green and yellow vegetables like bitter melon, soybean-based foods like tofu and soy sauce. Okinawa residents only ate modest amounts of seafood, lean meat, fruit and tea.
What the research says: Modern-day Okinawans are catching up economically with their mainland cousins, which means rates of obesity, metabolic syndrome and cardiovascular disease are rising as well. But the people who grew up eating traditionally are still alive and clinging to their culinary traditions. In fact, the island is home to one of the largest populations of centenarians in the world. These super-seniors are living active lives largely free of disease and disability, and are said to age slowly. Some researchers believe that the practice of long-term calorie restriction may play a large role in their longevity.
Traditional Asian Diet
Description: There isn’t really one traditional Asian diet, but a group of international nutritionists collaborated together in the ’90s to come up with an Asian Food Pyramid. It prioritizes rice, noodles and whole grains, as well as fruits, vegetables, legumes, seeds and nuts as the most-eaten food groups. Fish and shellfish are optional daily choices, while eggs and poultry should be eaten weekly. Note that recommended servings of red meat are smaller and less frequent (monthly) than even sweets (weekly)!
Signature foods: There are many different countries whose traditional ways of eating follow this model, but they all seem to have white rice as a staple.
What the research says: Asian countries have less incidences of obesity, cardiovascular disease and metabolic diseases like diabetes than Western countries, although that seems to be slowly changing thanks to rising economies and urbanization. One Harvard nutrition researcher notes that high-carb, high-glycemic aspects of a traditional Chinese diet are colliding with an increasingly urbanized, inactive lifestyle to create an “emerging public health dilemma.”
‘French Paradox’ Diet
Description: Scientists are kind of scratching their heads at this one. The French have some of the lowest obesity rates in the developed world and highest life expectancies, despite the rich food they eat. What gives?
Signature foods: Full-fat cheese and yogurt, butter, bread, and small but regular amounts of cheese and chocolate are some of the hallmarks of this rich diet.
What the research says: Some researchers think that the so-called “French Paradox” has more to do with lifestyle than anything French people eat. For instance, their portions are small, they don’t snack, they walk everywhere and they eat very, very slowly. Yet other scientists believe that the role of moderate red wine consumption and the positive effects of moldy cheese may account for France’s health stats. If you want to play it safe, maybe try adopting how French people eat, instead of what they eat, if you want to get healthier in the new year.