The cretan diet

The first study of the Cretan lifestyle dates back to 1948. At the time, nutritionists thought that a diet rich in animal produce was better for you. But to the researchers’ surprise, people in Crete lived healthy lives on a predominantly vegetarian diet based on local produce and high in fruit, vegetables and grain. The many health benefits of the Cretan diet were established in 1952 by the famous Seven Countries Study, led by American researcher Ancel Keys. This research is still used as a reference by cardiologists today. 

A longer, healthier life

Back in the 1950s, Ancel Keys had long suspected a link between the consumption of saturated fat, high cholesterol levels and heart disease. He decided to compare the diets and general cardiovascular health of people in the United States, Finland, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, Yugoslavia and Greece (Crete in particular). The study was carried out on 13,000 volunteers and spanned 25 years. The results were conclusive: Cretans were the least likely to die from heart disease and six times less likely than the Finns! On top of this, Cretans also had a lower cancer rate and longer life expectancy.

So what was the Cretans’ secret? Genes, climate and lifestyle differed from country to country, and it was diet (as other studies have since confirmed) that had the most impact on cardiovascular health. In Northern countries (Finland, the Netherlands and the US), diets were higher in animal fat like meat and dairy products and lower in fresh fruit and vegetables. In Southern countries, especially Crete, diets were based almost entirely on vegetable fat, olive oil, nuts and a large quantity of vegetables.

What is the Cretan diet?

The Cretan diet consists of fresh fruit, vegetables, pulses and whole grains (especially bread) at every meal. You should eat around 450g of fruit (equivalent to three apples a day), 200g of vegetables (a plateful) and 400g of bread (one small loaf) a day. Everything is cooked in olive oil with the staple Mediterranean flavours of garlic, onion and fresh herbs (mint, rosemary, parsley, dill and basil).

The cretan diet

The first study of the Cretan lifestyle dates back to 1948. At the time, nutritionists thought that a diet rich in animal produce was better for you. But to the researchers’ surprise, people in Crete lived healthy lives on a predominantly vegetarian diet based on local produce and high in fruit, vegetables and grain. The many health benefits of the Cretan diet were established in 1952 by the famous Seven Countries Study, led by American researcher Ancel Keys. This research is still used as a reference by cardiologists today. 

A longer, healthier life

Back in the 1950s, Ancel Keys had long suspected a link between the consumption of saturated fat, high cholesterol levels and heart disease. He decided to compare the diets and general cardiovascular health of people in the United States, Finland, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, Yugoslavia and Greece (Crete in particular). The study was carried out on 13,000 volunteers and spanned 25 years. The results were conclusive: Cretans were the least likely to die from heart disease and six times less likely than the Finns! On top of this, Cretans also had a lower cancer rate and longer life expectancy.

So what was the Cretans’ secret? Genes, climate and lifestyle differed from country to country, and it was diet (as other studies have since confirmed) that had the most impact on cardiovascular health. In Northern countries (Finland, the Netherlands and the US), diets were higher in animal fat like meat and dairy products and lower in fresh fruit and vegetables. In Southern countries, especially Crete, diets were based almost entirely on vegetable fat, olive oil, nuts and a large quantity of vegetables.

What is the Cretan diet?

The Cretan diet consists of fresh fruit, vegetables, pulses and whole grains (especially bread) at every meal. You should eat around 450g of fruit (equivalent to three apples a day), 200g of vegetables (a plateful) and 400g of bread (one small loaf) a day. Everything is cooked in olive oil with the staple Mediterranean flavours of garlic, onion and fresh herbs (mint, rosemary, parsley, dill and basil).

Why is it so healthy?

Recent scientific research has identified the key to why the Cretan diet is so healthy. Fruit, vegetables and herbs all contain loads of antioxidants: vitamins C and E, pro-vitamin A (or beta-carotene), and polyphenols. These neutralise an excess of free radicals in the body, limiting oxidative stress that can lead to heart disease (damage to the arteries) as well as cancer (cellular degeneration).

A large-scale study in Europe called EPIC carried out on 522,000 volunteers and a report by the World Cancer Research Fund both concluded that eating more fruit and vegetables protected you against cancers of the upper airways and digestive tract (mouth, larynx, pharynx, oesophagus and even the stomach).

Finally, snails and oily fish like sardines and anchovies contain omega 3 fatty acids, which protect the arteries and prevent venous problems like thrombosis thanks to their anti-inflammatory effect.

Adopting the Cretan diet

Whether or not you have high cholesterol, the Cretan diet is a good option for protecting your general health. Eating traditional Mediterranean food automatically means you’ll be following official guidelines on nutrition. In a nutshell, these are:

· More fruit, vegetables and wholegrain (every meal)

· More dried fruit and pulses (at least twice a week)

· More fish (twice a week minimum)

· Less meat (two or three times a week alternating with fish and eggs)

· Less saturated fat (in animal products) and a variety of oils (olive, rapeseed and nut oils).

The Cretan diet and cholesterol

Young Cretans who have adopted more modern diets than their parents and grandparents aren’t as healthy, proving that the 

traditional diet is better for you! Cretans’ weight and cholesterol levels have increased, especially among young people and in higher socio-economic groups.The Cretans are gradually moving away from small villages to the cities and are leaving the traditional diet behind in favour of a more westernised diet. Between the end of the 1960s and the beginning of this century, Cretans increased their consumption of meat by 150% and of fat from sources other than olive oil by 100%. They’re eating more fast food and have gradually reduced their consumption of fruit and vegetables, limiting their fibre intake. So prosperity and urbanisation hasn’t necessarily led to better health. 

The Cretan diet and cholesterol

Young Cretans who have adopted more modern diets than their parents and grandparents aren’t as healthy, proving that the 

traditional diet is better for you! Cretans’ weight and cholesterol levels have increased, especially among young people and in higher socio-economic groups.The Cretans are gradually moving away from small villages to the cities and are leaving the traditional diet behind in favour of a more westernised diet. Between the end of the 1960s and the beginning of this century, Cretans increased their consumption of meat by 150% and of fat from sources other than olive oil by 100%. They’re eating more fast food and have gradually reduced their consumption of fruit and vegetables, limiting their fibre intake. So prosperity and urbanisation hasn’t necessarily led to better health. 

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