Ikaria, Greece is one of the healthiest places in the world. It’s residents not only tend to live past 100, but they remain active well into their 90s. Their low rates of obesity, diabetes, dementia, and other non-communicable diseases makes you wonder: what’s going on over there? Naturally, the Ikarian diet plays a major role.
The Ikarian diet is similar to many traditional rural greek diets. First off, rural Greek cuisine is veggie-heavy. Much of their traditional dishes derive from what was grown locally in each region or island. And the moderate, sun-bathed temperatures of the Mediterranean led to an array of easily grown, healthy vegetables.
Its no wonder, then, why Greek salads are so famous. By accentuation fresh vegetables and using local classics like feta cheese, these salads are simple, healthy, and delicious.
Fruits grow wildly on the Grecian islands too. One great way to turn this fruit into a healthy snack is to make jam. A fig and peach jam that comes from Ikaria makes excellent use of local fruits, and adds to the fruit and veggie combo so vital to good nutrition. It’s rich in sugar, so don’t go crazy. But this delicious treat on toast is pack-full of healthy vitamins and minerals.
Chief among them, are olive trees. Olives appear frequency in salads and other dishes in Greece. But importantly, olives are used for olive oil. And olive oil, especially in Ikaria, coats everything.
Olive oil is a staple to many Mediterranean countries; Greece is no different. It is used as a dressing on salads, to cook vegetables, added to baked goods - you name it.
Olive oil is also rich in healthy, unsaturated fats. So not only is it delicious, it also adds healthy fats and a convenient vehicle for aiding the absorption of many of the fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E, & K) present in all of the vegetables underneath it.
In a common dish in the Ikarian diet, known as soufico, seasonal vegetables are drowned in extra virgin olive oil. The result? A healthy and absolutely delicious meal! In my case, I used zucchini, eggplant, bell peppers, tomatoes, onions, and garlic from a California farmer’s market. Like all vegetable concoctions, freshness is important both for taste and the retention of nutrients.
Nuts are also a staple. Almonds grow on many Greek islands, and like all legumes show incredible health properties. A Harvard study of healthy dieting showed that replacing a serving of red or processed meats with nuts or legumes like almonds reduced the risk of a premature death by 8-17%! In that case, I’ll recommend some amygdaloto for dessert!
In addition to the naturally healthy and nutritious Ikarian diet, their long health and longevity also stems in part from a happy lifestyle low in stress and rich in family and friends.
One way they achieve this love-filled lifestyle is through the cooking process. Instead of fast, 10-minute meals that need to annoying sneak into your busy day, cooking is an essential and integral part of their lives. Each of the meals I’ve mentioned (and you should click on to see the recipes!) take time.
This is no place for quick meal recipes. In fact, I’ll argue quite the opposite.
Taking a long time to cook relaxes the mind, allows wonderful time with your friends or spouse, and helps you eat more healthily by making your mindful of your meal ingredients.
Slowing down to cook for a long time also creeps over into other aspects of your life unknowingly. For example, when you actually sit down to eat. Greeks eat less at a time. Eating more slowly and mindfully helps you take stock of the delicious creations you’ve made and to stop eating when you are full. This keeps total caloric content in check without thinking about it.
So the best way to pass the time spent cooking? Sipping wine and laughing: both good for soul!
The Ikarian diet, like most of the healthiest diets in the world, have a heavy bent towards vegetables over any other major food sources.
And although most Mediterranean diets include a healthy dose of olive oil, the Ikarian diet has extra-large helpings of extra-virgin olive oil.
But Ikarians, like much of traditional Greece, integrates food and cooking into their social lives. Make room for long, slow cooking into your diet. It may sound impossible, but chopping fresh vegetables, sipping wine with your spouse, and eating delicious, healthy meals will reap benefits far beyond a slim waistline.
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