A recent study published in The New England Journal of Medicine confirmed what Greeks seemed to know all along — eating a Mediterranean diet rich in nuts, olive oil, vegetables, fresh fruit, legumes, fish, poultry and red wine has proven health benefits, especially for those at risk for heart disease. Contrary to the popular belief that a low-fat diet was best for cardiovascular health, the results of the new Mediterranean diet study were so clearly evident that the researchers ended the trial early.
A Mediterranean diet supplemented with a daily handful of raw almonds or walnuts may be better for you than cholesterol-lowering statins. Researchers found that regular consumption nuts and olive oil was key to preventing heart disease. Enjoy a glass of red wine daily — in fact, a small carafe of red wine is part of the usual breakfast for centenarian residents of Ikaria, a Greek island where many of the residents reach the age of 90. Many of the Ikarian residents actually consume up to four glasses of wine a day.
Participants in the study ate fresh vegetables, legumes, fresh fruit, with servings of fish or poultry at least three times a week. Red meat intake was eliminated. Hard sheep milk or goat milk cheeses in moderation were preferable to creamy cheeses. In addition to red wine with dinner, participants drank a gazpacho-like tomato juice every day.
“You can eat a nicely balanced diet with fruits and vegetables and olive oil and lower heart disease by 30 percent,” said Dr. Steven E. Nissen, chairman of the cardiovascular medicine department at the Cleveland Clinic Foundation. “And you can actually enjoy life.”
Furthermore, another study published April 30, 2013 in the journal Neurology, indicates that the Mediterranean diet is also good for brain health. The lead author, Dr. Georgios Tsivgoulis, an assistant professor of neurology at the University of Athens, said that this is the largest study of its kind. The Mediterranean diet, he added, “has many benefits — cardiovascular, cancer risk, anti-inflammatory, central nervous system. We’re on the tip of the iceberg, and trying to understand what is below.”
How About a Cup of Greek Coffee?
Another recent study published in Vascular Medicine journal studied the coffee consumption of a group of 66-91 year old people in Ikiria. The study concluded that a higher consumption of coffee was associated with better endothelial function due to the high antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties of Greek coffee. The individuals who consumed primarily boiled Greek coffee had better endothelial function than those who consumed other types of coffee.
What makes Greek coffee better for you than other types of coffee is its concentration and method of preparation, both of which deliver more of the protective compounds per cup.
What Do California and Greece Have in Common?
California and Greece enjoy a very similar climate and grow many of the same fruits, nuts and vegetables. Olive groves planted with Mediterranean varieties of olives are becoming a more common part of our California landscape. Herbs like rosemary, oregano, lavender and basil flourish here as well as in Greece. Fresh produce abounds in the village markets of Greece, not unlike our own farmers market. Many plants common to both California and Greece attract beneficial insects, bees, butterflies and hummingbirds, such as buddleja, lupine, penstemmon, yarrow, rosemary, lavender, citrus and the natives madrone, manzanita and ceanothus. Due to a healthy bee population, honey is the most common sweetener used in Greece.
The hallmark of Greek cooking is simple preparation, using wholesome, seasonal fresh produce to make delicious, flavorful food — a familiar mindset here! This month, we are celebrating Eat Like A Greek with lots of Greek recipes featuring many of the vegetables and fruits coming to market this month.
RECIPES: Horiati Patates (Greek Village Potatoes), Moussaka, Fakes (Greek Lentil Soup), Skordalia (Greek Potato Garlic Dip), Marinated Greek Olives, Greek Marinade, Potato and Feta Cheese Souffle, Feta Cheese Spread, How to Make Greek Coffee, Taramosalata, Alevropita (Feta Tart), Tzatziki, Papoutsakia (Stuffed Zucchini), Arakas me Patates (Fresh Green Peas with Potatoes) For more Greek recipes, visit Cook Like A Greek.
EAT LIKE A GREEK FOOD FAIRE — May 19, 20, and 21, 2017
The 9th annual Eat Like A Greek Greek Food Faire starts Friday, May 19 at 5 pm. This three-day event features a huge array of authentic Greek food, including crowd pleasers like moussaka, spanakopita, roasted lamb shanks, many vegetarian selections, and a huge assortment of handmade Greek pastries.
At the Kafeneio, authentic hand-whipped Greek frappes will be available — you won’t find this delicious drink stateside! Or, quench your thirst at the Taverna (bar), featuring Greek and American beer, wine and traditional Greek spirits. Entertainment includes live Greek music by The Spartan Band and dancing. All ages welcome, FREE admission! For more details about the event, please visit www.livelikeagreek.com.
Dates: May 19 (5-10 pm); May 20 (11-10 pm); May 21 (12-7 pm)
Location: 223 Church Street, Downtown Santa Cruz