Of all the places on my list to travel, Greece has always been at the top. I recently had the pleasure of checking this one off the list. The most common post trip question has been, what was your favorite part? The answer is obvious – the food! No longer a well-kept secret, the Mediterranean way of eating is one of the healthiest in the world, and there’s years of research to support that claim. I was eager to experience the food culture first hand.
The Mediterranean diet is not one that comes with a lot of rules, regulations or eliminations. There are no specific calorie recommendations, points or suggested serving sizes. Yes, there are resources available online that can provide this type of structure, if needed (there’s even a Mediterranean Diet food pyramid).
At its core, the Mediterranean diet is a lifestyle. The best way to shift to this lifestyle is to focus attention on foods to eat more of (instead of worrying about what not to eat) and your food-related habits. There is no “one size fits all” Mediterranean diet. Greeks eat differently than Italians, but there are common food threads tying together the food cultures of the countries that border the Mediterranean Sea, like Greece, Italy, Crete, and Spain.
Eat More Colorful Vegetables. The more colors you can put on your plate, the more healthful that plate will be. When we build a meal, often the protein is the first thing we think of. Start with the vegetables first and then move onto the protein. The salad pictured below was one of my favorite dishes from a hidden gem called Sainis Taverna on the island of Ios.
Grab fresh fruits and veggies from a local farmer’s market. In Greece, I had fresh and delicious tomatoes at just about every meal. They were typically mixed with cucumbers, onions, and kalamata olives with a block feta cheese and olive oil on top. I bought beautiful cherries from a few different markets. Some of the best I’ve ever had. Buy locally grown food as much as possible. If it doesn’t take long to travel to you, it will taste better and be better for you.
Eat fish twice a week. Fresh or frozen, consuming wild caught fish, such as salmon, tuna, sardines, or trout, a few times a week provides a variety of health benefits. According to a review of 20 research studies, consuming 3 oz servings of fish twice a week can reduce the risk of dying from heart disease by 36%. Try the Superior Culinary Center’s Seafood 101 or Seafood on the Grill to learn cooking techniques and recipes.
Use quality healthy fat. A drizzle here, a drizzle there…. I love a little EVOO to top off a dish! Spend a little extra to get a better-quality oil and taste. Olives and nuts are staple healthy fats. I had the chance to visit a gorgeous winery while in Santorini and they provided each guest with their own bowl of olives and I was in heaven!
Take time to find a recipe that excites you and cook it. I’ve started the tradition of collecting cookbooks when I travel. Not just any cookbook, but one that inspires me and motivates me to try to dishes or cooking styles. On this trip, I found “The best Greek cookbook of all time” so I had to buy it. This is my way of learning about different food cultures and sharing my Greece experience with others at home – by cooking recipes from the book! Cooking leads to better diet quality, which leads to improved health.
Relax! Take a moment out of your day to sit down and enjoy a meal. With family, friends or even alone. Don’t be in a rush to eat, instead take your time to taste all the flavors of a dish and experience the space and the company around you.
If you can’t travel to Greece yourself, you can still eat like a local. Learn how to make Spanakopita, the traditional spinach and feta filled phyllo pastries of Greece in our Dumplings Around the World hands-on cooking class.