We will start the discussion about the Cretan Diet with the words of Serge Renaud, a great Mediterranean diet researcher and author of the French Paradox: ‘’ Do not look for a pill that substitutes the Cretan diet. There is none’’. The Cretan diet takes its name from the island of Crete, the largest Greek island located in the Mediterranean Sea, and it refers to the diet of the Cretan people.
Origins of the Cretan Diet
The diet of the Cretan people, later known as the Cretan diet, became well known and gained worldwide reputation around the year 1960 when the great scientist Ancel Keys has published his study, The Seven Countries study, in which he revealed the beneficial effects and influences of the Cretan diet. The Seven countries study was an epidemiological study, in which Dr Keys has studied the effects and correlation of the lifestyle and diet with two diseases, stroke and coronary heart disease. The seven countries in which the study was performed were: USA, Finland, Holland, Italy, Yugoslavia, Greece and Japan.
The Cretan Diet can reduce cardiovascular problems and other diseases
The Seven Countries study has showed beyond reasonable doubt that the death ratios in Crete due to heart diseases and stroke were the lowest among the 7 countries studied. The same study has shown that people who adopted the Cretan, Mediterranean diet have exhibited lower deaths than the rest of the people who continued their normal diet. According to the World Health Organization, WHO, 60% of the worldwide deaths are due to chronic diseases and that the adoption of healthy lifestyles and diets can reduce the appearance of these chronic diseases to a great extend. Some indicative figures show that a healthy diet reduces by 83% the appearance of cardiac diseases, by 91% the frequency of diabetes and by 71% the appearance of colon cancer. These results show that it is even more imperative to return to the traditional healthy diet.
Characteristics of the Cretan Diet
The Cretan or in more general terms, the Mediterranean diet, is a way of living. It is a healthy way of living with the following basic values/components and rules:
- Direct relation of human with nature
- Regular and systematic physical exercise and movement
- Simple abstemious diet which is governed by the measure
- Simple, pure natural products of high nutritional value
- Culinary foods from simple culinary recipes
- A specific diet structure with the predominance of vegetables and fruits
If one wanted to depict roughly the Cretan diet at the 1960 decade, when the study was performed, we would say that the diet consisted mostly of foods made up of vegetables and fruits, while meaty foods found their way on the Cretan table on rarely and on special occasions. In general the Cretan diet was a seasonal diet; the Cretans used whatever food was in season.
Components of the Cretan Diet
Cretan diet consists of:
- Fresh and dried fruits, legumes, vegetables, seasonal wild vegetables, cereal and dry nuts.
- Dairy products are consumed daily in small quantities.
- Poultry and fish are consumed weekly, a few times a week, while red meat is consumed a few times a month.
- The basic source of fat is the olive oil which is used in salads and for the preparation of most of the foods. This is in contrast with the northern European countries which use animal fat in their foods.
- The daily dessert of the Cretan diet is usually fresh fruits and/or traditional honey-and-nuts based sweets.
In what way is the Cretan Diet different than the traditional Mediterranean diet?
During the 1960 study it was identified that the Cretan Diet had several small differences from the diet followed by other Mediterranean countries. Cretans consumed more olive oil, legumes, fruits and potatoes than Italians. Also red meat, fish and cereal were consumed less frequently and in smaller quantities.
The Cretan Dietary Balance: Initially it was thought that the protective effect the Cretan diet had on health was just due to the monounsaturated fats due to the daily consumption of olive oil and the very low consumption of red meat. However we are now in position to know that the Cretan diet is a well balanced diet and that when followed properly and all the foods are consumed accordingly, the result is the supply of all the necessary for the body nutritional elements such as vitamins, omega-3 fatty acids, fiber, antioxidants and many others.
In conclusion we must state that the Cretan diet contains all the basic components of the Mediterranean diet. It may be considered as the one and the same or one variation of the Mediterranean diet that has resulted due to the fact that Crete is an island and its people were ‘’forced’’ to consume what they produced.