A longer, healthier life
Back in the 1950s, Ancel Keys had long suspected a link between the consumption of saturated fat, high cholesterol levels and heart disease. He decided to compare the diets and general cardiovascular health of people in the United States, Finland, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, Yugoslavia and Greece (Crete in particular). The study was carried out on 13,000 volunteers and spanned 25 years. The results were conclusive: Cretans were the least likely to die from heart disease and six times less likely than the Finns! On top of this, Cretans also had a lower cancer rate and longer life expectancy.
So what was the Cretans’ secret? Genes, climate and lifestyle differed from country to country, and it was diet (as other studies have since confirmed) that had the most impact on cardiovascular health. In Northern countries (Finland, the Netherlands and the US), diets were higher in animal fat like meat and dairy products and lower in fresh fruit and vegetables. In Southern countries, especially Crete, diets were based almost entirely on vegetable fat, olive oil, nuts and a large quantity of vegetables.
What is the Cretan diet?
The Cretan diet consists of fresh fruit, vegetables, pulses and whole grains (especially bread) at every meal. You should eat around 450g of fruit (equivalent to three apples a day), 200g of vegetables (a plateful) and 400g of bread (one small loaf) a day. Everything is cooked in olive oil with the staple Mediterranean flavours of garlic, onion and fresh herbs (mint, rosemary, parsley, dill and basil).