Heart-Healthy Eating With Delicious Mediterranean Dishes

Experience the joy of heart-healthy eating with delicious Mediterranean dishes. Includes the Mediterranean diet pyramid and Greek recipes for salad, baked fish, egg and lemon chicken soup and honey oranges.

| February/March 2004

Heart-Healthy Eating With Delicious Mediterranean Dishes

Greeks love to celebrate life with an abundance of food, dance, music and song, and will seize any occasion to host a feast. Fortunately, all this partying may be good for us. Modern research champions traditional Greek cuisine as the heart-healthiest food in the world. Landmark studies indicate the rural people of Crete and Greece have some of the world's lowest rates of diet-linked disease and obesity, and are among ethnic groups with the longest life expectancies.

I grew up in a household where my grandfather and father were Greek Orthodox priests, and it seemed as if every weekend was an occasion for a glendi (party). I was constantly attending a birthday, wedding, bridal shower, baptism or celebration for someone's name day (their Saint's feast day). Then there were our yearly celebrations, including the Greek parade, the annual glendi of our patriotis (fellow countrymen) from Arcadia and Laconia (my family's home regions in Greece), and such religious holidays as Christmas and Easter. With all our aunts, uncles, cousins, nieces, nephews, koumbados (godparents), sembetheros (relatives by marriage) and patriotis, my family barely had time to digest before the next gathering was upon us!

Greek Ingredients

As proudly explained by Gus, father of the bride in the hit movie My Big Fat Greek Wedding, Greece has given the world many gifts, from architecture to philosophy. Certainly one of Greece's most valuable contributions is its cuisine.

At the core of the traditional Greek diet are dark-green leafy vegetables (often wild-gathered), including dandelions, spinach, mustard, fennel, cumin and purslane; fresh fruits such as figs, pears, plums, grapes, melons and oranges; high-fiber whole grains, beans and lentils; complex carbohydrate-rich pastas and breads; olive oil; nuts; and such herbs and spices as garlic, oregano, bay leaves, cinnamon and cloves.

Rich in immune-boosting antioxidants, the Greek diet provides cancer-fighting compounds, healthful omega-3 fatty acids and colon-cleansing fiber, which all help lower the risks of diet linked diseases, including heart disease, obesity and diabetes. A 2003 study conducted jointly by researchers at the University of Athens in Greece and Harvard University found that people who consumed a traditional Greek diet experienced a 33 percent lower risk of death from heart disease and a 24 percent lower risk of death from cancer.

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