These are major points of the diet followed by the people of rural Crete who scored the highest of all in heart health in several international studies. Incorporating these elements of the Greek diet into everyday menus, combined with increased physical activity, can have a positive effect on heart health.
Use Olive Oil
Olive oil is one of the "healthy" fats, meaning it's a monounsaturated fat. This type of fat can actually lower the LDL ("bad") cholesterol, and in 2004, the FDA recognized claims that replacing other fats with olive oil can help reduce heart disease risk.
Increase Barley Products (and Other Whole Grains)
It's long been known that whole grains can help reduce the risk of heart disease, but just recently, the FDA chimed in once again to recognize claims that barley and barley products do indeed reduce the risk of coronary disease. Barley and other whole grains are an important part of the Cretan diet, used in cracked grain breads and our famous barley rusks.
Eat Those Leafy Greens
Our Cretan diet is based largely on vegetables, with no shortage of dark leafy greens, both those we pick in the wild and those we buy. Leafy greens contain lutein, known to prevent clogged arteries (atherosclerosis).
Don't Forget the Legumes (Pulses)
Legumes are that group of beans, peas, and lentils that are high in fiber and combat heart disease. The Cretan (and Greek) diet is filled with fabulous dishes using many varieties of legumes.
Keep It Natural
Aglaia Kremezi, a well-known Greek food expert and author, says that the art of traditional Greek cooking is taking a natural, fresh ingredient and doing the least possible to it. Refined and processed foods don't help a healthy heart. Keeping the basic structure of food is important, and sticking with foods that are recognizable in their original form is the key. Shop healthy to stay healthy.
Of course, the Greek diet also includes meat and fish, but generally in smaller quantities, and less frequently. We also incorporate garlic and onions everywhere possible (we like them), and they are heart healthy additions as well.
Over recent years, the Greek diet, even in rural areas, has been modified by the availability of fast foods, processed foods, and junk foods, so we, too, need to take a lesson from the traditional ways of our parents and grandparents.