In the 1960s, American universities began to study the phenomenon of high life expectancy in Crete. The result was that certain civilization diseases were much rarer at that time than in other countries. This is especially true for cardiovascular diseases and certain types of cancer such as colon cancer.
At this point, it was concluded that heart attacks in Crete are 20 to 40 times less common per inhabitant than in the United States. According to the United Nations, mortality in Crete was not so low in any other Mediterranean region before and after World War II. The study included a total of around 13,000 men who were selected from 16 different regions in seven countries (Finland, Netherlands, Japan, USA, Italy, Yugoslavia, and Greece) to investigate the relationship between diet and nutrition, cardiovascular disease, which was unclear at the time. Comparisons between different population groups showed that the population of Crete had better health and lower mortality rates from coronary artery disease and cancer compared to all other population groups examined.
In Crete, researchers have identified a healthy way of eating that is now known as the Mediterranean diet.
They attributed this surprising result to the Cretan diet, which includes a philosophy of life in which food spans the entire culture. But what is the secret of the Cretan diet?
Crete has one of the oldest and most delicious kitchens in the world. It is this long tradition of aromas, scents, materials and styles that has its origins in the Minoan era and is still preserved today. According to the finds from the archaeological excavations, the ancient Cretans 4000 years ago seemed to consume almost the same products as the Cretans of the 1960s. Several large jars for oil, wine, cereals, legumes, and honey were excavated in Minoan palaces.
A closer look at the Cretan diet reveals a combination that contains little meat, no sugar, but lots of vegetables, nuts, goat or sheep cheese, olive oil, and honey, and a moderate amount of wine and raki.
Freshness and simplicity are the main factors for this healthy lifestyle, where the Cretan cuisine depends on the diversity of this fertile island. Crete produces more olive oil than any other Greek region, with more edible plants in the mountains than anywhere else in Europe.
Many dishes that are offered today in restaurants worldwide are inspired by the traditional cuisine of Crete.
Yotam Ottolenghi (cook and cookbook author) also interpreted the local specialties in his own way on his trip across the island and they were very well received by the locals.
Cretan cuisine is a way of life: simple, unadorned, without unnecessary spices and flavor enhancers. It is based on the pure, unprocessed goods that the Cretan country offers and on a heartfelt devotion to traditional ways of cooking.
The core element of the traditional Cretan diet is food from plant sources, while occasionally food of animal origin is consumed.
In short, Cretans consume seasonal products from local products that have been processed little, if at all. Fresh and dried fruits, honey, legumes, vegetables, endemic wild greens and herbs, unprocessed grains and nuts abound. Dairy products were consumed daily in small to moderate amounts, poultry and fish were eaten weekly in moderate frequency, while red meat was consumed only a few times a month.
Olive oil dominates the Cretan diet, which, in contrast to the northern European countries, where animal fats or other oils are predominantly used, is used as the main source of fat in salads and in the preparation of dishes. In the Cretan diet, olive oil is the strongest natural antioxidant and of high nutritional value.