The Greek diet is one of the healthiest and most natural ways of eating. Because of the minimal use of meats, dairy, and processed foods and the high reliance on fresh seasonal vegetables, olive oil, and beans, the Greek population has shown some of the lowest rates of heart disease in the world. Following a diet similar to the Greeks can improve your heart health and overall well-being as well as give you a delicious array of Mediterranean-inspired meals to enjoy.
Greek Diet Tips
1. Use Good Olive Oil
Olive oil is one of the best fats you can consume. It has the highest amount of monosaturated fats as compared to other oils and has been associated with lowering LDL or bad cholesterol.
Replace butter with olive oil when sauteing vegetables, chicken, fish or other lean proteins. Use as the base for salad dressings along with vinegar and fresh herbs and seasonings. You can even drizzle olive oil on popcorn. And don’t forget, you can always munch on olives for similar health benefits. But, as with all things, moderation is key, particularly since olives and olive oil are high in calories.
2. Eat Whole Grains and Barley
Whole grains and barley products have been shown to reduce the risk of coronary heart disease (the FDA has approved this statement). Replace all white breads with whole grain or cracked grain breads. Replace white rice with barley and make a fiber-rich salad with fresh vegetables and barley, drizzled with olive oil.
3. Consume Leafy Greens
Rich, dark colored greens like spinach, kale, or escarole are not only delicious but also nutritious. These leafy greens contain lutein, which can help prevent clogged arteries and protect your eyes and skin. Substitute leafy greens in all salads and as garnishes on sandwiches. You can also saute leafy greens with olive oil for an antioxidant-rich side dish.
4. Consume Legumes
Beans, peas, and lentils are packed with protein. They are also high in fiber and can help protect your heart and reduce your risk of colon cancer. Use beans instead of rice as a side dish or instead of pasta in salads. Not only will you be more satisfied with your meals, you will be improving your diet.
5. Fresh, Seasonal, and All-Natural Foods Rule
Loading up on fresh fruits and vegetables and staying away from canned or processed foods is the way of the Greek diet. Typically, the center of the meal is made of vegetables with just a little meat. Try placing the main focus of the meal on vegetables and use meat as a side dish. This will increase your intake of antioxidants and fiber and lower your intake of calories and saturated fat.
Greek Bean and Tomato Casserole
Makes 6 to 8 servings
2 onions, finely chopped
1 cup olive oil
2 to 3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 green pepper, thinly sliced
2 pounds of fresh green beans, washed, ends trimmed
2 cups of tomatoes, peeled, finely chopped
1 small bunch fresh parsley, finely chopped
1/4 cup of water
Saute the onions in oil in a large pot until translucent. Mix in garlic and cook for a few seconds. Mix in the rest of the ingredients. Lower heat to medium, place lid on pot, and simmer 50 minutes or until beans are tender. If needed, add more water while cooking. Serve warm.
Sauteed Leafy Greens
Makes 4 servings
1 1/2 pounds of spinach or other leafy greens*, washed, stems trimmed
Freshly ground pepper
Extra virgin olive oil
2 lemons, juiced
1. Cook greens in 1 to 2 inches of salted boiling water. Boil for 10 to 15 minutes or until greens are tender.
2. Using tongs, move greens to a colander, squeezing out as much liquid as possible. Toss greens with salt, pepper, oil, and lemon juice to taste. Serve warm or at room temperature.
*Leafy greens to consider are dandelion greens, mustard greens, beet greens, endive, nettles, chicory, wild spinach, or broccoli rabe.
Honeyed Cheese and Fruit
Makes 2 servings
3 tablespoons of walnut halves
3 ounces manouri cheese*
1/8 cup of honey
1 fresh apple, sliced
1 fresh pear, sliced
1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. To toast nuts, place walnuts on a cookie sheet and bake for 6 minutes, shaking the cookie sheet after 3 minutes to flip nuts.
2. Arrange cheese on a serving platter. Drizzle with honey, scatter with nuts, and place fruit around cheese. Serve with a white or red wine.
*Manouri is a Greek cheese that can be found in specialty markets. Goat cheese, Brie, cream cheese, or farmer’s cheese can be substituted.