The Cretan diet in 21 steps

The Cretan diet in 21 steps
By Georgia Petraki, dietician-nutritionist (

Step 1

Choose simple and pure ingredients that have been produced in your area.

Step 2
Follow the guidelines of the food guide pyramid, which reflects the Cretan diet in terms of quality, quantity and frequency. In a nutshell:

  • Satisfy most of your energy needs with starchy foods, such as whole wheat bread and traditional barley rusks.
  • Choose a variety of seasonal fruit and vegetables.
  • Eat fish more often and cut down on red meat.
  • Include chicken, rabbit and snails in you dietary menu.
  • Cook exclusively with virgin olive oil and consume nuts and olives as an additional source of fat.
  • Make dairy products a part of your everyday diet, while limiting eggs and potatoes to a few times per week.
  • Eat grain legumes several times during the week, as the main dish, in salads, or even in sandwiches.

Step 3
Embrace cooking with a passion and use ingredients which do not overpower each other. Every ingredient should have an equal opportunity to add to the final result.

Step 4
Opt for low cooking temperatures to avoid ruining valuable nutrients. Besides, you will be surprised at how much better the food will taste if you cook it at a low temperature and for longer.

Step 5
Add aromatic herbs every chance you get: a touch of parsley on grilled fish, a pinch of thyme on baked meat and lots of fennel in stuffed vegetables. What made traditional food stand out were the fresh aromatic herbs people used to grow in their gardens or pick from the fields nearby. Spices were added to Cretan cooking only much later.

Step 6

Sit at the table with company. Cretans love to share their food with their family or guests. Guests are always offered the best there is on the table. Even unexpected guests would find a place at the table and eat the simple food of the day.

Step 7
Taking on the Cretan habit of never eating alone will help you pass on healthy dietary habits to your children. You will also enjoy your food more, relax and take advantage of the opportunity to share all the good and bad news of the day with your loved ones.

Step 8
Eat assorted greens every chance you get. The locals have a thing for assorted greens, as it is a tasty and nutritious alternative that is abundant in nature. And with plenty of olive oil they are even tastier. Put them in pies, boil or sauté them; there are countless recipes for Crete’s many edible greens.

Step 9
Enjoy sweetness without the sugar. In ancient times, people loved fruit, especially the sweeter ones, such as figs and grapes. Furthermore, you would find grape molasses and honey in every Cretan household.

Step 10
Add only a bit of salt, or fleur de sel (flower of salt) to be exact, which sets off the taste of food. Besides, the food is delicious due to the fresh aromatic herbs and ingredients it contains, so less salt means lower blood pressure.

Step 11
Even the seemingly least complementary ingredients can produce an exquisite dish. Do not be afraid to try new things in the kitchen, as the results will astound you. The island has gone through some very harsh times, which made the inhabitants less picky and urged them to try different food pairings.

Step 12
If you are a fan of sweet-and-sour add oxymelo (balsamic vinegar with thyme honey) to your cooking! This flavour has been known in Greece since antiquity.

Step 13
Onions and garlic are reputed to have medicinal properties. Eat them either raw or cooked and reap the benefits of their unique nutritional value.

Step 14
Practice economy. In the past nothing would go to waste. When tomatoes are too ripe they can be turned into puree for cooking, okras can be dried and stored for wintertime, milk can be turned into cheese and the left-over tomato salad can be turned into pasta sauce.

Step 15
Opt for healthy snacks, including fresh fruit and nuts, such as almonds or walnuts.

Step 16
Cretans were well aware of the value of breakfast even during the poorest of times and they would not leave their house without having eaten. Their breakfast could have been a rusk with olives or even leftovers from the day before; whatever was available. A modern version could be rusks with graviera or whey cheese and honey, pies with cream cheese and greens, or even sfougato (thick-backed omelette) with fresh vegetables.

Step 17
All in good measure! From environmentally-friendly cultivation practices to the size of the portions, the ingredients and so on. There must be a natural balance in every recipe.

Step 18
A herbal tea a day keeps the doctor away! Herbal teas were very common and differed depending on the herbs used each time, as the pharmaceutical properties of each herb applied to a different ailment or condition.

Step 19
Knowledge is a powerful tool in the hands of consumers. There is an old saying that food can cure you or kill you. It is up to you to discover the foods matching your lifestyle, habits and condition and incorporate them into your diet.

Step 20
The Cretan diet is timeless. It is what doctors, dieticians, researchers and gastronomers alike have been recommending for the last few decades and you may fall in love with it from the very first bite. However, if you want to reap its benefits, you need to develop a long-term relationship with it.

Step 21
Cretans drink wine with company. They raise their glass and literally drink “in good health”. Cretan winemaking goes way back in time and it has been proven that wine improves your health and general wellbeing. So start your meal by filling your glass with one of the many exceptional local wines, raise it in good health, and enjoy the renowned excellent health of Cretans through your dietary choices.

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