Living depends first and foremost on food. All aspects of human life, such as physical and mental health, duration and quality of life as well as happiness and well-being, are intrinsically connected to our diet. Adopting a healthy diet is a the cornerstone for a healthy, long and happy life. Cretan diet is probably the most representative of all Mediterranean diets and it is shown that adopting it can improve your health, sense of well-being and life span .
The present guide presents all elements of Cretan diet and focuses on the health benefits of each dietary component. We begin with the basic elements of Cretan cooking and nutrition, such as olive oil, tomatoes, vegetables and fruits. This basis together with other important dietary elements happen to be vegan, so there is a special focus on vegan diet. The guide also contains all other dietary elements that complete the picture, such as seafood, dairy products, meat, snails, eggs and pies.
It should be stressed that the present diet guide reflects the centuries-long traditional Cretan diet. It is not representative of the food that is found in touristic areas of modern Crete. However, Crete has the advantage over other destinations that authentic healthy food is not just a museum exhibit but is widely available. For this we refer you to our Cretan restaurant guide section.
Basis of Cretan Diet
The discussion about the elements of Cretan diet should start with the basis. The staples, i.e., the basic elements, of the authentic Cretan diet are the following six: (1) olive oil, (2) tomatoes, (3) bitter greens, (4) other vegetables, (5) legumes and (6) fruits (when it comes to desserts and snacks). Not surprisingly, these staples are all grown and produced on this blessed self-sufficient island. These elements happen to be whole foods, i.e., unprocessed foods, and plant-based (vegan diet). Each of these elements is shown to contribute to a strong immune system and a good general health. This is achieved through the high antioxidant content of these foods which fights against the detrimental oxidative stress which causes cell ageing and death [2, 3]. Furthermore, these foods are generally low in calories and high in dietary fiber and therefore contribute to healthy digestive and circulatory systems .
Cretan diet is rich and contains all sorts of nutrition is the right dosage. It is to a large extent a whole food plant-based diet.
Cretan food culture
It really cannot be stressed enough that all aspects of life on the island of Crete revolve around food. It could be a welcoming or a farewell event, a happy or sorrowful moment or just the end of a tiresome day; Cretans gather around a table to enjoy a hearty meal and socialize with friends and relatives. The most common conversation topic is about what was their previous meal or what will be the next. Cretan dishes have all sorts of preparation complexities. However, the rule is that food, whether simpler or more complex, should be delicious and portions must be hefty and fulfilling!
Cretan diet is healthy!
Since long time it has been observed that Crete is an island whose residents enjoy one of the longest lifespans in Europe. It is common place in this island of longevity to meet people over 90 or even centenarians in good physical and mental health while still enjoying their life. A great part of the secret of this achievement has been proven to be the celebrated Cretan diet [5, 6, 7]
What is Cretan diet and why is it so beneficial compared to other diets? The authentic Cretan diet is probably so successful in bringing good health and wellness because it is to a great extent a whole food plant-based diet (Vegans, this is your place!). However, it also contains all other sorts of nutrition in the right dosage (do not expect junk food there!). Furthermore, food that is grown on the island is most of the times of exceptional quality, whether it concerns fruits, vegetables, seafood or meat. It is a perfect nutritional balance of ingredients of extremely high nutritional value. At the same time Cretan food just tastes great! As said above, people on Crete crave for their meals and all their lives revolve around their tasteful food that happens to be a health booster.
Diversity and local produce
Crete is a blessed island enjoying a fantastic climate and also several micro-climates within. In terms of flora, almost every plant grows, from alpine to tropical ones [8, 9]. This justifies to a large extent that Crete has around 160 endemic plant species; plants that do not grow anywhere else. Imagine that the whole of the British isles (Britain, Ireland and surrounding islands) are reported to have only 47 endemic plant species . This diversity of wild plants is also reflected in the diversity and quality of edible and fruit plants that are cultivated on the island, such as the greatly celebrated olive and citrus trees as well as various vegetable bushes.
The terrain of Crete is also very particular; Crete is a very mountainous island while it enjoys a very long coastline. Thus plant cultivation and animal herds are usually located on relatively high altitudes while being in relatively close proximity to the sea; this is very beneficial to the local produce as plants grazed by the animal herds are in closer contact with sun and clean air, while they benefit from the iodine and the sea minerals existing in the environment. Same applies to the free grazing herds of sheep and goats that feed on wild greens and herbs near the sea .
Last but not least, the long Cretan coastline and the surrounding open seas are sources of top quality fish and seafood. Especially the Libyan sea to the south, with its high iodine content, is source to particularly tasteful red porgy and red mullet fish. In addition to fish, great cuttlefish, squid and octopus is fished from Cretan seas, ideal for the relaxing evening meals of Cretan summer. It should be noted that fish in Crete is mainly consumed fresh, within two days of the catch, which results in better tastes.
Climate conditions in Crete favour the cultivation of best quality fruits and vegetables. This also results in production of top quality meat and dairy products.
As nutrition is Crete is so diverse, we have categorized Cretan diet into 10 principal categories, most of which contain a few subcategories. Use the following links to be view to the respective diet categories: