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The ten secrets of the diet of Ikaria’s long-livers

06 April 2013 / 20:04:25  GRReporter
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Before becoming known as one of the "blue zones" - a place where people live an unusually long and healthy life, Ikaria was unknown to most foreigners. But in recent years Ikaria has been attracting the interest of researchers and journalists who want to solve the mystery of the longevity of the locals - many of whom are centenarians.

A real Mediterranean diet

Naturally, nutrition plays an important role in the longevity of the inhabitants of the island. The Mediterranean diet is associated with lower levels of heart diseases, obesity, cancer and Alzheimer's disease. And although we cannot live exactly like the local people, we can follow some of their eating habits that contribute to their long life.

Eat unprocessed foods

The cornerstone of Mediterranean cuisine is the use of fresh fruits and vegetables. For example, residents of Ikaria regularly eat potatoes, various leafy greens, olives and seasonal vegetables grown in their gardens. Vegetables should be an important part of every meal and used in a healthy way - raw in salads or cooked with olive oil.

Yogurt: five "pros"

Greek yogurt is another secret of the diet of long-livers. It contains large amounts of protein and calcium, which helps bone formation as well as probiotics, which help the functioning of the stomach.

Choose low-fat Greek yogurt instead of whole milk yogurt and yogurt with preservatives and add honey, maple syrup, fresh fruit or nuts, oatmeal and cereals to it.

Combine creatively

In order to be successful, a diet should be easy to follow - and that means that you have to enjoy what you eat. An example is the Mediterranean-style pizza. Omit sausages and try to add vegetables or fruits (spinach, olives, pineapple, etc.) to your pizza in order to increase nutrients and fibre. Remember, fresh tomato sauce is also considered a serving of vegetables.

Try various grains

Experts in nutrition recommend that at least half of the grains we eat should be whole - something that residents of Ikaria have respected for many years, since, besides white bread and pasta, they also eat grains rich in fibre such as bulgur.

Enjoy legumes

Legumes are super foods in terms of proteins and plant fibres with which they supply our body. Moreover, they contribute to our sense of satiety, and, as a result, we eat less. With specific regard to beans, choices are endless - red beans, black-eyed peas, string beans can all be combined in a delicious salad.

Add flavour to your food with cheese

Feta cheese is among the hallmarks of Greek cuisine. Semi-solid and white, it is ideal for salads and garnish. It has less fat than other cheeses. Generally, it is better to choose low-fat dairy products and eat cheese in moderation, as a side dish rather than a main dish.

Try a sandwich with salmon

Instead of the traditional sandwich with sausage or meat, try one with vegetables and salmon, which is good for the heart. The Mediterranean diet includes the consumption of fish and seafood, which are rich in heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids, instead of red meat. A little grated cheese and cucumber will add flavour to your sandwich without burdening you with a lot of calories.

Make your own salad dressing

Greek salads are light, refreshing and healthy - in part, thanks to their simple and easy dressing. In order to make your own dressing (and avoid added sugar and preservatives), just mix extra virgin olive oil with vinegar or lemon juice and a little honey. Add it to a mixture of lettuce, fresh mint, olives, tomatoes, cucumber, onion, cheese and chicken breasts, cut into strips, in order to prepare an authentic Mediterranean lunch or dinner.

Eat more olives

Greek cuisine would not be what it is without olives. These small fruits add taste to many dishes, and are themselves great food. Besides heart-healthy fats, olives (and olive oil, the main cooking fat in Mediterranean countries) are a good source of iron and vitamin E. Also, an Italian study has found that the risk of ovarian cancer is 30% less in women whose diet includes lots of olive oil.

Herbs and spices

Greek dishes are rich in flavour thanks to herbs such as basil, parsley and oregano. These plants, however, add more than flavour: an American study including more than 1,000 foods has ranked these three herbs among the top 50 antioxidants. Using more herbs and spices in the kitchen, you can reduce salt, which is especially important for a healthy diet.

Tags: Ikaria Mediterranean diet longevity olives yogurt cheese legumes
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