A Guide to the Mediterranean Diet from Chef Maria Loi of Loi Estiatorio.
By now, most people know that the Mediterranean Diet is one of the healthiest lifestyles in the world – but not everyone realizes that what people know as the Mediterranean diet is based on the Greek Diet! The basic guidelines are quite simple and intuitive, as are the essential ingredients!
The Greek Diet simplifies the complicated approach of most diets, and instead relies on twelve main “Pillar Foods”:
- Olive oil
- Whole grains
- Herbs and spices
- Coffee and tea
- Nuts and seeds
- Chicken and eggs
What matters more than how often you eat them is that you do eat them, enjoying most Pillar Foods on a daily basis; people not only have to enjoy the foods they eat to lose weight, but they also have to savor them in order to keep the weight off for good.
The Greek Diet is made up of many of the same staples the ancient Greeks enjoyed: Fresh vegetables, fruits, beans, whole grains, herbs, nuts, wine, and seafood; what you won’t find in the Greek Diet are packaged and processed foods – the ancient Greeks didn’t eat them, and neither should you!
What makes this diet unique—and very Greek? The primary macronutrient in the Greek Diet is fat, specifically olive oil. In case you may not know the specifics, olive oil is composed of monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFAs), which have been shown to increase our body’s ability to use fat as a fuel source, curb hunger, and increase feelings of fullness and satisfaction.
The Greek Diet is also high in protein, but not the kind of protein that many Westerners eat: industrially raised red meat rich in waist-thickening saturated fats; processed chicken that’s fried or prepared in high-sugar, high-carbohydrate sauces; or synthetic proteins.
Instead, the Greek Diet is rich in lean protein from seafood, beans, nuts, and yogurt – it contains little to no red meat, and every type of protein the Greek Diet includes has a powerful advantage:
- Yogurt contains healthy bacteria known as probiotics shown to fuel metabolism and accelerate fat burning.
- Seafood contains marine omega-3 fatty acids shown to accelerate fat-burning and prevent disease.
- Beans contain natural soluble and insoluble fiber shown to increase satiety and balance blood sugar.
- Nuts contain a variety of micronutrients shown to lower blood sugar while increasing metabolism and satiety.
The Greek Diet emphasizes what we call the “pleasure factor”—how much you enjoy foods: you should eat a large amount of healthy fat, along with creamy yogurt, fresh vegetables, sweet whole fruit, crunchy nuts, and filling breads, pasta, and other whole-grain foods. Enjoy a cup of coffee with breakfast and a glass of wine with dinner, and please, eat dessert!
Additional Benefits of The Greek Diet:
There are many health benefits related to following The Greek Diet, including the reduced risk of many conditions/diseases like cancer, high cholesterol, depression, diabetes, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, arthritis, and heart disease.
There are also an overwhelming number of positive effects, including improved overall brain health, increased focus, increased fertility, lower risk of birth defects, improved breathing function, better eye health, and reduced dental problems!
The Greek Diet Shopping List
- High-quality extra-virgin olive oil (the investment is worth it!)
- Greek yogurt, preferably plain with 2% or full fat
- Any fresh and frozen vegetables (broccoli, spinach, kale, cauliflower, tomatoes, eggplant, carrots, lettuce, sweet potatoes, etc.)
- Canned and/or dried beans (chickpeas, lentils, white beans, black beans, kidney beans, etc.)
- Any fresh whole fruit (apples, pears, strawberries, raspberries, bananas, grapes, oranges, grapefruit, peaches, plums, etc.)
- Dried herbs and spices (oregano, thyme, basil, cumin, rosemary, cayenne, ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, sea salt, etc.)
- Fresh or frozen seafood (salmon, sardines, cod, striped bass, trout, tuna (fresh or canned), shrimp, scallops, etc.)
- Lemons (to flavor plain water and for preparing salads and seafood)
- High-quality balsamic vinegar (for salads and cooking)
- Onions, shallots, or leeks (imperative for cooking anything!)
- Whole grains for cooking (oatmeal, wheat berries, barley, quinoa, farro, brown rice, etc.)
- Whole-grain pasta
- Whole-grain bread (100 percent whole wheat, whole oat, whole rye, whole pumpernickel)
- Roasted or raw nuts (almonds, cashews, peanuts, walnuts, pecans)
- 100 percent nut butters, without added sugar
- Whole-grain flour (whole wheat, spelt, cornmeal, oat, etc.)
- Eggs, preferably organic and free-range (the more orange the yolk, the better!)
- Chicken, preferably organic
- Coffee, preferably caffeinated
- Black or herbal tea
- Wine (red or white)
- Organic milk (for coffee, tea, and yogurt making)
- Feta and ricotta cheeses (for cooking)
The Greek Diet at Loi Estiatorio:
Loi Estiatorio, my restaurant located in the heart of Manhattan, subscribes very closely to the tenets of the Mediterranean Diet, by way of The Greek Diet. At Loi Estiatorio, we use only the freshest ingredients, sourced both locally and sustainably when appropriate, and imported from Greece to uphold the tradition and authenticity of my homeland’s cuisine. We don’t use butter, nor do we have any butter in the restaurant at all, and we don’t fry anything! Our desserts are made with olive oil, and we make our own yogurt in-house. We feature a great variety of seafood items, and offer Chef Specials to showcase whatever is seasonal and fresh, or one of my new culinary creations! Many recipes from my book, The Greek Diet, are on my menu, and we take great pride in serving our customers the best authentic Greek food!