The people of Greece have been staying healthy and slim since the days of Aristotle and Plato eating a traditional or ancient diet made up of mainly three foods: bread, olive oil, and wine, otherwise known as the Mediterranean Triad.
Here’s what you need to know about the Greek Diet and how it might work for you.
Are the Greek Diet and the Mediterranean Diet the same thing?
Actually, the traditional Greek Diet is the basis of what we now know as the Mediterranean Diet — the nutritional approach that reams of research show can effectively reduce the risk of obesity, heart disease, and cancer, among other major illnesses. Here’s how it happened:
In the 1940s, a nutritional scientist named Ancel Keys began a massive epidemiological research project called the Seven Countries Study. His aim was to determine how the diet and lifestyle habits of culturally disparate countries, including the US, Japan, Netherlands, Italy, and Greece, influenced the overall health of the world’s people. After years of analysis, the results were shocking: Keys and his team concluded that the people on the small, isolated Greek island of Crete — who had been eating a traditional Greek diet since ancient times — were healthier and slimmer than those living in any other study country, even though the island had higher rates of cigarette smokers and lower-quality healthcare than in nations like the US and Japan. Researchers described the Crete Diet as the Mediterranean Diet, and the designation has stuck since.
Wait, you can lose weight on bread, olive oil, and wine?
Yep. The nutritional approach is devoid of packaged, processed foods, but rich in the whole foods and natural drinks that most other modern-day diets rule as taboo, including whole grains (bread), fat (olive oil), coffee, and alcohol (wine).
What’s so great about a traditional Greek diet (or authentic Mediterranean diet) for health and weight loss?
All studies conducted since the landmark Seven Countries Study have found that consuming an authentic Mediterranean diet, based on the eating style of the people of Crete — with meals rich in olive oil, wild greens, low-fat dairy, fresh fruits, nuts, seafood, beans, whole grains, herbs and spices, coffee, and wine—is one of the most effective and sustainable ways to lose weight. In fact, one of the most important studies ever conducted on weight loss — a study that changed the national conversation on the best way to burn fat — surprised many low-carb fanatics when it recently concluded that a true Mediterranean Diet, based on a traditional Greek Diet, was the best way to drop fat, superior even to an Atkins-style approach.
How do you follow a Greek Diet?
The first and foremost tenet of The Greek Diet is to stop eating packaged, processed, refined junk and start eating real food that tastes like real food and can give you nutrients you need to lose weight and function at your best. There are 12 Pillar Foods that are essential to the authentic Mediterranean Diet and that will give you the ideal mixture of fats, proteins, fibers, and micronutrients you need to burn fat and keep it off for good. Here’s why:
Olive oil: Our bodies need dietary fat to burn fat. Research also shows a diet rich in monounsaturated fat — the heart-healthy kind found in olive oil — boosts metabolism, blunts fat-storing hormones, and increases satiety.
Greek yogurt: This creamy superfood is high in protein, with significantly more than regular yogurt, to help stabilize blood sugar levels and keep us feeling full. More importantly, yogurt is one of the few dietary sources of the good-for-you bacteria probiotics, which a growing body of research shows is absolutely imperative to create a healthy microbiome necessary to lose weight.
Vegetables: Plants are the best sources of the antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, and other micronutrients our bodies need to function optimally, control disease, and lose weight.
Beans: Beans and legumes are one of the best natural sources (read: not the food lab-created stuff found in packaged foods) of the two types of fiber—insoluble and soluble—we need to keep our stomach full and our bodies’ bacterial levels well-balanced.
Seafood: Fish and shellfish are one of the only sources of marine omega-3 fatty acids, the only type of essential fatty acids that science has shown help boost metabolism, control blood sugar, and regulate our bodies’ fat-burning hormones.
Whole grains: The complex carbs in whole grains (not the refined, processed grains most Americans eat) provide our bodies with the crucial energy source we need to work out and function properly, while increasing our levels of the “feel-good hormone” serotonin, which can help control cravings and thwart overeating.
Wine: Wine contains the antioxidant resveratrol, which actually boosts caloric burn and lowers blood sugar levels. Studies also show people who drink alcohol in moderation weigh less than those who abstain.
Herbs and spices: These flavorful additives contain natural chemicals that help rev metabolism, slow gastric emptying, reduce blood sugar, and decrease cravings for sugary, fatty foods, among other attributes.
Fruit: This naturally sweet treat helps satisfy our bodies’ need for sugar while curbing hunger with its double whammy of stomach-filling fiber and water.
Coffee and tea: Naturally caffeinated drinks like coffee and tea increase metabolism, help regulate our bodies’ fat-storing hormone insulin, and can increase exercise motivation and performance.
Nuts: Nature’s own crunchy, salty, and satisfying snack, nuts contain high amounts of nearly every nutrient shown to boost metabolism, lower blood sugar, and burn fat.
Chicken and eggs: A traditional Greek Diet doesn’t include much animal meat, but meals that occasionally include lean protein from chicken and eggs can help control blood sugar and reduce appetite and cravings without increasing overall caloric intake.
Sarah Toland is a veteran health journalist and former Olympic-level athlete.