"Don’t look for a pill that can substitute for the Cretan diet. There is no such thing".
Serge Renaud 1998, "Lyon Diet Heart Study"
The Cretan Diet is the base of the Mediterranean Diet, as proven by scientific studies and documented by international literature.
Research results on the relation between nutrition and health confirm the superiority of the Cretan Diet in comparison to other dietary schemes of the Mediterranean and the rest of the world, in terms of its beneficial effects on longevity and chronic disease treatment (heart disease, cancer, obesity, diabetes etc.).
The "Seven Countries Study" has triumphantly proven the value of the Cretan nutrition and the importance of the foods of the Cretan dietary scheme (such as olive oil, plant fibers, fresh seasonal foods and vegetables, pulses) in the adherence to a healthy diet model, shielding the Cretans from the serious diseases of Western Civilization.
Today the Cretan Diet and the local products claim the position and the recognition they deserve. In view of continuous food scandals and the threatening dimensions of the harmful effects of the modern demanding way of life on human health, the adoption of the principles of the Cretan dietary pattern is deemed to be necessary, both for young ages and adults.
The Cretan Nutrition involves a general way of life and we should not ignore the factors that have probably contributed to its beneficial effects:
- Physical activity,
- Fixed meal times and
- The fact that meals used to be a pleasant social experience, in contrast to the large number of people who consume food in front of the TV, which is a habit associated with overconsumption of food.
Today, promoting the superiority of “the Cretan dietary pattern” is a strong competitive advantage for Crete. As societies and economies develop, it is more important than ever that people inside and outside the island return to a healthy dietary pattern based on local, quality products, which constitute the healthiest nutrition worldwide.
The characteristics of the Cretan Diet
If we wanted to sketch a rough pattern of the Cretan Diet in the 1960s, we could say that the core of this diet consisted of food derived from natural sources, whereas food of animal origin was more peripheral in nature. In general, people consumed seasonal products, available in the wider local area, which underwent minimal processing or none at all.
Fresh and dried fruits, pulses, endemic wild herbs and aromatic plants, and rough cereals, whose cultivation was favored by the regional climate, were consumed in great amounts and constituted the base of the Cretan diet during that period. Dairy products were consumed on a daily basis in low to moderate quantities. Poultry and fish were consumed on a weekly basis in moderate quantities, whereas red meat was consumed only a few times a month. The main supply of fat was effectuated by olive oil, which was used not only in salads but also in cooking, unlike the northern European countries which primarily used animal fat. Another essential feature of the Cretan diet in 1960s was the moderate use of alcohol, mainly red wine which accompanied meals.
Finally, the most common dessert was fresh fruits, while traditional pastry based on honey had been consumed a few times a week (Willett et al. 1995;Kromhout et al. 1989;Simopoulos 2001).
Differences compared to other Mediterranean Diets
The Cretan Diet of the 1960s has quite a few differences compared to other Mediterranean diets of the same period. More specifically, the study of Seven Countries has demonstrated that in Crete the consumption of olive oil, pulses, fruits and potatoes has been higher compared to the consumption of the same type of food in South Italy. On the other hand, red meat, fish and cereals were consumed in smaller quantities (Kromhout et al. 1989).
Initially, the protective effect of the Cretan Diet for human health was attributed to its high monounsaturated fat content, due to the daily use of olive oil, as well as to low saturated fat, due to the low consumption of red meat. At present, we are well aware that this particular nutritional scheme possesses important additional features, since it is a diet that, when applied in sufficient quantities, provides all the necessary micro-constituents (i.e. vitamins and minerals), and is rich in ω-3 fatty acids, vegetable fibers, antioxidants and various phytochemicals, which have significant influence on several body functions, and a beneficial effect on our health.