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Cretan Diet and Longevity

Updated on November 9, 2017
stelaligizaki profile image

Stella works on Greek Secondary Education. She is a teacher in Greek Language and Sociology. She holds a master's degree in literature.

The Cretan cuisine uses pure olive oil, legumes, vegetables, and fruits.These may be the base of longevity. This traditional diet seems to gather features which make it excellent. Several studies prove it.

Fishing is a traditional occupation in Crete
Fishing is a traditional occupation in Crete | Source

Studies prove the Cretan Longevity

The study of Dr. Ancel proves this diet miracle. He was a cardiologist from Minnesota. He conducted his study in seven different countries (the Netherlands, Finland, Japan, U.S.A, Italy, Yugoslavia, and Greece) in 1960. Crete, the biggest Greek island, had the lowest death rate, regardless the cause. Another American study lasted 10 years (from 1995-2005). It investigated the beneficial health effects of the Cretan diet. It demonstrated that the particular model of food reduces the chances of mortality. This diet presents differences in relation to Mediterranean region. The consumption of olive oil, fruits, and potatoes was higher than in Southern Italy. But Cretans consume red meat, fish, and cereals in smaller quantities.

Use olive spread on your bread
Use olive spread on your bread | Source

But what do Cretans Eat?

Their diet is simple and involves olive oil. This gives about a third of the daily energy in each person. Most of the calories come from cereals, bread, legumes, vegetables, fruits. More rarely they eat in small quantities eggs, cheese, milk, meat, fish. Cretans love wild greens, olives, baked brown bread, and honey. They drink red wine and "raki", a local beverage. For dessert, they prefer seasonal fruits. Fat derives only from olive oil. The Cretan habit requires olive oil in cooking, in salads or even on bread for breakfast.

Olive Oil: Health Benefits

Olive oil is the best source of monounsaturated fatty acids and is rich in antioxidants. It contributes to the increase of HDL ("good") cholesterol. Moreover, extra virgin olive oil exhibits a protective effect against breast cancer. It also displays the highest thermal resistance during cooking. That is why doctors recommend it as the basic source of fat in a healthy diet.

Extra virgin olive oil is the base of Cretan diet
Extra virgin olive oil is the base of Cretan diet | Source

Whole Grain Foods

Olive oil benefits health. The low consumption of red meat in Cretan cuisine also promotes longevity. The quality of fats in this diet is very important. Foods are low in saturated fat. Furthermore, about half of the calories consumed per day should come from carbohydrates. Legumes, bread, the whole wheat pasta, paddy rice, and potatoes are always on the Cretan table. The people prefer whole grains because they are not refined. That is why they keep their nutritional value. Whole grains have protective effects against cancer, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease. They also supply the body with fiber for the smooth functioning of the digestive system.


Besides, Cretans eat a lot of vegetables. Greens are rich in water and hydrate the body. They are also a source of vitamins and minerals. They protect the organism from health problems. For example, carrots are rich in vitamin A for the protection of eyes and skin. Tomatoes are rich in lycopene. This reduces the risk of certain cancers and chronic diseases. Potatoes are a potassium-rich food. This regulates pressure. Î’roccoli is a source of calcium for strong bones. Vegetables have also a protective effect on the occurrence of cardiovascular problems. They produce a mechanism of homocysteine reduction in the blood. The Cretan diet is rich in wild vegetables and herbs that grow in various areas and contain flavonoids, the most important antioxidants. These flavonoid contents are higher than those in red wine and green tea.

Roasted eggplant
Roasted eggplant | Source

Other Foods

Moreover, in Crete, people love eating almonds and walnuts as a snack. These are rich in Gamma-tocopherol and vitamin E. They also help to a better control of lipid profile. They reduce levels of LDL cholesterol and prevent atherosclerotic plaque. At the same time, Crete is a big island and the inhabitants eat enough fish (sardines and anchovy). Sardines are an excellent source of Omega-3 fatty acids. These are cardioprotective. They lower triglyceride levels in the blood and safeguard the nervous system. Finally, Cretans use plenty garlic in cooking. This is good for brain cells, is detoxifying and strengthens the immune system. After regular use, it has the ability to reduce cholesterol and blood pressure.

 Raw honey is a true superfood
Raw honey is a true superfood | Source


The nutritional value of honey was already known to the ancient Greeks. Honey is a natural tonic because of its antioxidants. It is rich in vitamin E and relieves insomnia. It also soothes a sore throat and has antimicrobial activity. Furthermore, it is an important source of energy. In this Greek island, people love "xerotigana", a simple sweet made with flour and thyme honey.

Cretan Xerotigana

They use honey to make a lot of traditional sweets. One of them is "Xerotigana".They offer it at weddings.


  • 1 kg flour
  • 1/2 tablespoon sugar
  • 4 cups of oil
  • 3 glasses of water
  • 3 cups of honey
  • 1/2 tablespoon cinnamon powder
  • 1/3 cup cup of lemon juice
  • 2 cinnamon quills
  • sesame seeds, toasted and crushed


  1. Knead together the flour, (3 cups of) water, lemon juice, sugar, and oil. Leave it for a while until they "rest". Then open foil. Cut the leaves in stripes (2-4 cm). Put lots of olive oil in a deep fryer. Take the leaves and twist with the help of two forks to create a funnel. Place the fried xerotigana on a kitchen paper to remove excess oil.
  2. Then you can pour the syrup. Boil one cup of water with the honey. Add the 2 cinnamon quills.The syrup should not be too thick. Mix the sesame seeds with cinnamon and sugar. Pour into warm syrup some xerotigana. With a spoon press to absorb the syrup. Then take them out of the pan and strain them. Finally, place them on one disc and sprinkle them with sesame seeds, cinnamon, and sugar.

Cretan diet: The General Principles

  • Variety of foods
  • Eating plenty of vegetables, grains, and legumes. These foods promote health, prevent disease and prolong life
  • Using herbs in cooking and drinking. The mountain tea (from "Psiloritis" mountain) is particularly rich in antioxidants. Cretans also eat "stamnagathi" (spiny chicory), a local vegetable.
  • Cooking with olive oil
  • Little dairy consumption
  • Minimal red meat
  • Plenty of fish and seafood
  • Junk and packaged food do not exist in a genuine Cretan diet

If you want to follow a diet that keeps the basic principles of the Cretan diet,

  • eat 5-7 daily servings of fresh fruits and vegetables.
  • try 2-3 times a week legumes as your main meal.
  • consume free-range chicken.
  • two times a week eat fresh fish, boiled or roasted.
  • use raw olive oil in cooking.
  • drink fresh water 8-10 glasses a day.
  • limit the alcohol into a glass of red wine a day.
  • reduce salt and sugar.
  • eat two servings of dairy a day.
  • drink 2-3 cups of herbal infusions, tea, sage, mountain tea etc.
  • consume as snacks raw nuts.

Grilled Octopus
Grilled Octopus | Source

Food and Exercise

The Crete's inhabitants produce enough agricultural products. So, even today they choose to eat in-season vegetables and do not prefer packaged foods. They avoid sugar and choose pure organic thyme honey for a sweet life! Sea and mountains help Cretans to have physical activity both in winter and in summer. In conclusion, this diet in combination with exercise guarantees their longevity.


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    • stelaligizaki profile image

      Stella Aligizaki 2 months ago from Greece

      Thanks, Michael!

    • Michael-Duncan profile image

      Michael-Duncan 2 months ago from Spain

      Your article is informative and well presented.

    • stelaligizaki profile image

      Stella Aligizaki 2 months ago from Greece

      O.k, Stella. I understand. I really appreciate your comment.

    • Stella Kaye profile image

      Stella Kaye 2 months ago from UK

      Well, I have tried it but found it a bit chewy and bouncy. It's the same with a lot of sea-food like clams, conch, squid etc. It's all too rubbery for my taste.

    • stelaligizaki profile image

      Stella Aligizaki 2 months ago from Greece

      Thanks for reading, Stella Kaye. Please tell me why you'd give the grilled octopus a miss!

    • Stella Kaye profile image

      Stella Kaye 2 months ago from UK

      Good article containing sensible advice about healthy eating and drinking. Personally though, I'd give the grilled octopus a miss!

    • stelaligizaki profile image

      Stella Aligizaki 2 months ago from Greece

      Thanks for reading and commenting, Dora Weithers.

    • MsDora profile image

      Dora Weithers 3 months ago from The Caribbean

      This seems to be as healthy a diet as it can get. I prefer lifestyle that teaches responsibility rather than total abstinence of certain foods. This is good. Thank you.