Monday, July 26, 2010

Summer Time's Greek to Me

Even if you’re enjoying a “stay-cation” at home, summer’s blue skies, sunny days and star lit nights offer the perfect settings to enjoy a taste trip to Greece. Many of the ingredients in Greek cuisine can literally be described as food of the Gods when you dip into the stories of ancient mythology. Milk from the goat, Amaltheia, was said to have nourished the great god Zeus who was born in a cave on the island of Crete. According to myth, a bee nestled in that same sacred cave was the original source of Crete’s delicious velvety honey. Citrus fruit was created by Gaea, the goddess of the earth, as a wedding gift to Zeus and Hera and then closely guarded in the Garden of Hesperides, far from the inquisitive eyes of Minoan mortals. Sliced oranges topped with a sprinkling of goat cheese and a drizzle of honey sounds heavenly and fits in with down to earth modern medicine’s advice for a healthy diet.
Greek Food and Good Nutrition
Today, nutrition researchers who work to separate food fact from fiction when studying the benefits of dietary habits through time point to the Greek way of eating as one of the best in the world. Healthy highlights include daily consumption of fruit, vegetables, legumes, grains, nuts, seafood and olive oil. In the 1960’s and ‘70s, Greece topped the charts with the highest life expectancy and one of the lowest rates of heart disease in the world attributed to the doubly beneficial effect of the Greek diet and the culture’s emphasis on physical activity. Artemis Simopoulos, MD, author of The Omega Diet and one of the world’s leading experts on the traditional Greek diet points to the positive nutrition power and disease fighting properties which come from “bioprotective nutrients” such as vitamins C and E in fruits and vegetables and the fatty acids in fish, nuts, olive oil and greens.
Greek Menus
The menu at Kyma, a Greek restaurant in Atlanta, features dishes that would please both ancient Greeks and modern nutritionists with its emphasis on wood grilled whole fish and a multitude of tasty vegetable side dishes.

Kyma’s executive chef Pano Karatassos, lavishes as much attention on a simple stew of plump giant white kastorian beans with tomatoes, onion and dill as he does on his show-stopping slow braised lamb shank entrée with Greek couscous. A side of wilted wild greens tossed in extra virgin olive oil and lemon juice is right in line with Dr. Simopoulos’ research suggesting that regular consumption of dark green leafy vegetables is one of the specific reasons the Greek diet is rich in disease fighting phytonutrients. For dessert, a traditional Greek yogurt topped with nuts and honey is food for the gods and guests at Kyma.

But, since humans do have a weakness to drift off course toward temptation (as detailed in just about every story of Greek mythology) Greece has lost some ground in the super-healthy category as modern day Greeks succumb to the gradual addition of more processed foods higher in sugar and saturated fats and have become more sedentary due to a contemporary lifestyle dependent on cars and computers.

So, before you sit down to a huge plate of hearty Moussaka (ground lamb and eggplant casserole) or platter of flaky spanakopita (phyllo pastry filled with spinach and feta cheese) remember that portion sizes still count when enjoying nutritious Greek foods. And note that too much sitting down can be part of the problem too. Healthy Cretans studied in Greece paired their goat cheese consumption with chasing goats up and down rocky hillsides.

Modern Ways to Reap Ancient Dietary Rewards

• Alpha to Omega- Eat foods rich in Omega 3 fatty acids such as fish, walnuts, olive oil, canola oil and dark green leafy vegetables

• It’s no myth - Eating seven or more servings of fruits and vegetables every day is the foundation of a healthy diet.

• Earthly advice - Eat more vegetable protein, including peas, beans and nuts.

• Go for Greek Dairy- Feta cheese has one-third less fat and 30 percent fewer calories than cheddar cheese. Greek yogurts contain nearly twice as much protein as other yogurts.

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