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Healthy Greek Food

by
author image August McLaughlin
August McLaughlin is a certified nutritionist and health writer with more than nine years of professional experience. Her work has been featured in various magazines such as "Healthy Aging," "CitySmart," "IAmThatGirl" and "ULM." She holds specializations in eating disorders, healthy weight management and sports nutrition. She is currently completing her second cookbook and Weight Limit—a series of body image/nutrition-related PSAs.
Healthy Greek Food
Healthy Greek foods provide numerous nutritional benefits. Photo Credit Purestock/Purestock/Getty Images

A healthy Greek diet, also known as a Mediterranean diet, involves a variety of nutrient-rich foods and dietary principles. Greek populations are known to consume healthy foods such as fruits, vegetables, fish, olive oil and nuts. Greek foods are generally low in saturated fats and seldom based on red meat. Incorporating healthy Greek foods into an American's diet may provide nutritional and physical wellness benefits, such as improved heart health, healthy weight management and improved immune function.

Diet Basics

Though specific characteristics of a Mediterranean diet vary among individuals and populations, certain principles are common. In general, Greek culture is known to consume large amounts of fruits, vegetables, bread and cereals, legumes, nuts, seeds and olive oil. Dairy products, poultry, fish and wine are consumed in moderate amounts, while little red meat is consumed. Meals are generally enjoyed with loved ones, and physical activity is encouraged.

Healthiest Foods

A Greek/Mediterranean-style diet encompasses numerous nutrient-rich foods. Fresh, colorful fruits and vegetables provide rich amounts of vitamins, minerals and dietary fiber. According to Aphrodite Polemis, author of "From a Traditional Greek Kitchen," fruits such as apples, lemons and apricots, and vegetables such as artichokes, leeks, cabbage, zucchini, tomatoes and leafy greens add color and nutrients to Greek dishes. Whole grain bread and cereals and potatoes are optimum carbohydrate choices within the diet. Other popular carbohydrate sources include orzo (tiny pasta) and phyllo dough (flaky pastry dough). The healthiest preparation of these foods include al dente orzo (slightly firm), and baked, rather than fried, phyllo pastries. Fish, legumes and white meat poultry provide protein and serve as healthy, filling options for phyllo pastries. Healthy fats, such as those found in olive oil, olives, nuts, tahini (puree of sesame seeds) and fatty fish are optimum fat sources, known to support heart health and nutrient absorption. Garlic and mahlepi, a Turkish spice, are commonly used to season foods, in place of table salt. Cinnamon and cloves also add flavor to dishes, without adding fat or sodium.

Benefits

Healthy Greek foods provide numerous benefits. According to the Mayo Clinic, the healthy fats of the Mediterranean dietary lifestyle are known to help reduce "bad" cholesterol (LDL) levels and promote "good" cholesterol (HDL). High consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables is known to support digestive health, strengthen the immune system and reduce a person's risk for cardiovascular conditions and disease. Whole grains provide fiber and numerous nutrients that support digestive regularity and increase satiety (fullness) after eating. Nutrient-rich, high-fiber foods and lean-protein sources, such as legumes and fish, can also help overweight individuals lose weight and help people within a healthy weight range to maintain their weight.

Potential Risks

While healthy Greek foods provide various nutritional benefits, consuming excessive amounts of healthy fats, such as olive oil or feta cheese, can increase a person's caloric intake substantially and thus dampen weight management efforts and arterial health. According to the American Heart Association (AHA), more than half of the calories in a typical Mediterranean diet stem from fat, which may increase the risk of obesity and obesity-related conditions, such as high cholesterol, heart attack and stroke. The Mayo Clinic suggests that though incorporating wine into the diet regularly may provide modest health benefits for some, it may pose problems for others, particularly those who have difficulty practicing moderation.

Suggestions

Healthy Greek foods and dietary principles can improve a person's nutritional intake and overall wellness when consumed in appropriate amounts. The Mayo Clinic suggests consuming 7 to 10 servings of vegetables and fruits daily. Greek-style leafy greens, cabbage, tomatoes and apples provide nutrient-rich options. Seasoning food with natural herbs and lemon juice, limiting red meat and replacing butter with extra-virgin olive oil are Greek food principles that can improve a person's dietary lifestyle. The American Heart Association recommends fatty fish, such as salmon or tuna, at least twice weekly for optimum health. A variety of healthy Greek foods is suggested to reap broadest nutritional benefits. For best results, a doctor's guidance is recommended before making significant dietary lifestyle changes.

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