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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).

Nutritional balance

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 fibres, antioxidants and various phytochemicals, which have significant influence on several body functions, and a beneficial effect on our health (Willett et al. 1995;Kafatos et al. 2000;Simopoulos 2001).


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