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MY BIG HEALTHY GREEK DIET: In Celebration of My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2!

In Celebration of My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2!
MY BIG HEALTHY GREEK DIET with Elaine's Classic Greek Recipes

Elaine’s book, "Secrets of Fat-Free Greek Cooking" features healthy Greek foods, diet, and recipes.

Greeks love to joyously celebrate life with an abundance of food, dance, music and song, and will seize any occasion to have a feast. Growing up in a Greek household where my grandfather and father were Greek Orthodox priests, it seemed as if every weekend was an occasion for a glendi (party). I was constantly attending a party to celebrate someone’s nameday (their Saint’s feast day), birthday, wedding, bridal shower, or baptism. Then there were our yearly celebrations including the Greek Independence Day parade, the annual glendi of our patriotis (fellow countrymen) from Arcadia and Laconia (the regions of Greece my family is from), the numerous religious holidays such as Christmas and Easter, and the American holidays too - Mother’s Day, Father’s Day and Thanksgiving. With all the aunts, uncles, cousins, nieces, nephews, koumbados (godparents), sembetheros (relatives by marriage) and patriotis, we barely had time to digest before the next gathering would come about!

Fortunately, scientists have discovered that all this partying Greek-style can be good for you, too. We can all benefit from a big healthy Greek diet by enjoying our own Greek feasts worthy of the gods. As Toula’s father, Gus, proudly explains in the mega-hit, “My Big Fat Greek Wedding”, Greece has given the world many gifts, from philosophy to architecture. One of Greece’s most valuable contributions is its cuisine. Modern research has proven that traditional rural Greek cuisine is the heart-healthiest food in the world. Landmark studies, such as the Seven Countries Study (Amer J Epidemiology, 1986; 124(6):903-15) and Lyon Diet Heart Study (Circulation, 1999 Feb 16;99(6):779-85), indicate that the rural people of Crete and Greece have the lowest rates of diet-linked disease and obesity, and the longest life expectancy than any other ethnic group.


At the core of the traditional rural Greek diet are seasonally fresh fruits and vegetables; high fiber whole grains, beans and lentils; complex carbohydrate-rich pastas and breads; goat’s or sheep’s milk cheeses and yogurt; olive oil; nuts; and many healthful herbs and spices, such as garlic, oregano, bay leaves, cinnamon and cloves. Studies have shown that this Greek diet is rich in immune-boosting antioxidants, cancer-fighting phytochemicals, healthful omega-3 fatty acids and colon-cleansing fiber, which lowers the risk of diet-linked diseases including heart disease, obesity, diabetes, and some forms of cancer.

Greeks eat large quantities of dark green leafy vegetables, herbs and wild plants such as dandelions, spinach, mustard, fennel, cumin, and purslane, and fruits such as figs, pears, plums, grapes, melons, and oranges - containing powerful, healing phytochemicals, antioxidants and omega-3 fatty acids. These seasonally fresh fruits are the most common dessert. Many Greek dishes contain goat or sheep’s milk cheeses such as feta, which are lower in fat and easier to digest than cow’s milk cheeses. Thick, creamy goat-milk yogurt is often enjoyed with fresh fruit and a drizzle of honey.

While Greek cuisine is noted for its lamb dishes, these are traditionally eaten on special occasions only. Fish such as salmon, anchovies and tuna, is eaten more frequently, in moderate portions weekly. As shown in the Lyon Diet Heart Study and also in the influential 1989 English study known as the Diet and Reinfarction Trial (DART), the omega-3 essential fatty acids in fish oils offer prevention against heart attacks and high blood pressure. Small amounts of poultry and sweets are eaten just a few times per week.


The ancient Greeks believed that olive oil was a gift from the gods. As portrayed in Homer’s The Iliad and The Odyssey, olive oil has always been essential to the Greeks survival, and olive trees were considered as valuable as gold. This has been validated by modern research, which has demonstrated the numerous health benefits of olive oil.

The traditional rural Greek diet features olive oil consumed daily as the principal fat, replacing butter and margarine. Olive oil is high in monounsaturated fat and a 1989 study (Amer Inst Nutr, 1989;529-532) revealed that it raises blood levels of HDL ("good") cholesterol while lowering the artery-clogging LDL ("bad") cholesterol. Numerous studies, including an important 1999 study published in Circulation by the American Heart Association Nutrition Committee (Sept 14;100(11):1253-8), have shown that people who eat a high-monounsaturated fat diet, such as the traditional Greek diet, have a lower risk of heart disease than people who eat more saturated fats (including butter and margarine).

Important studies have also shown that people who use olive oil have a lower risk of breast cancer, osteoporosis, and rheumatoid arthritis. Research studies conducted by Dimitrios Trichopoulos, M.D., of the Harvard School of Public Health, indicate a link between olive oil consumption and a lower incidence of breast cancer (J Natl Cancer Inst 1995 Jan 18;87(2):110-6), as well as a reduced the risk of osteoporosis (Prev Med 1997 May-Jun; 26(3):395-400). A 1999 study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, conducted by Athena Linos and colleagues from the University of Athens Medical School, showed that the Mediterranean diet may help protect against rheumatoid arthritis. The researchers found that people who used the most olive oil and ate the greatest number of servings of cooked vegetables were significantly less likely to develop rheumatoid arthritis.


According to Greek mythology, it was the god Dionysus, son of Zeus who gifted mankind with the vine and taught the Greeks how to cultivate and ferment the sacred wine. Even today, there is a Greek saying, “The gods are only a memory, but one can taste the god in the wine.”

Research conducted by D.K. Das, M.D. and colleagues of the University of Connecticut School of Medicine suggests that red wine contains flavonoid antioxidants and resveratrol, an organic compound from grape skins, which may lower the risk of blood clots and heart attack (Drugs Exp Clin Res 1999; 25(2-3):115-20). Medical experts at The Harvard School of Public Health along with Oldways Preservation & Exchange Trust recommend drinking a glass of wine a day to promote good health unless contraindicated, such as pregnant women or people who take medication that may interact with alcohol and certain medical conditions that might worsen with alcohol use. This corresponds with the ageless Greek tradition of enjoying a glass of wine with meals.

The following classic Greek recipes highlight these healthy Greek ingredients, while helping to protect you against heart disease and cancer. Celebrate life Greek-style with all of these delicious dishes in one meal and have your own big healthy Greek feast!

Greeks always use locally produced olive oil and vinegar, to infuse and flavor their delicious and unique salads.
Serves 4
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil (preferably Greek olive oil)
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
Salt to taste (go easy on the salt as the feta cheese is salty)
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
2 cups torn romaine and/or iceberg lettuce, rinsed and patted dry
2 ripe tomatoes, cut into wedges
1 cucumber, peeled and sliced 1/2 inch thick
8 Kalamata Greek olives
1/2 cup feta cheese (preferably Greek), crumbled
2 teaspoons dried Greek oregano
Whisk together the olive oil, vinegar, salt and pepper in a salad bowl. Add the romaine and/or lettuce, tomatoes, cucumber, olives, feta cheese and oregano. Toss to mix well and serve at once.
Calories: 276 Carbohydrates: 8 g Cholesterol: 24 mg
Fat: 27 g Fiber: 2 g Protein: 7 g Sodium: 258 mg

The name of this soup comes from two of its ingredients - egg (avgo) and lemon (lemoni).
Serves 4
8 cups homemade or non-fat chicken stock
2 6-ounce boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1 carrot, peeled and cut into chunks
1 medium stalk celery, sliced
1 Bay Leaf
1 cup long-grain white rice
2 eggs
1 tablespoon cold water
Juice of 2 small lemons (about 1/2 cup)
salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Place the stock, chicken breasts, carrot, celery, bay leaf and rice in a large pot. Cover and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to low, cover, and simmer for 30 minutes, or until the vegetables are tender and the rice is cooked to al dente. Stir occasionally.
Remove the chicken breast from the soup and slice into strips. Return chicken strips back into the pot, adding it to the broth.
In a small bowl beat the eggs and water together with an electric mixer until the eggs are frothy. Add the hot chicken broth to the egg mixture a few spoonfuls at a time, while continuously beating the eggs. Once all the broth is incorporated, add the lemon juice and beat to blend. Pour the egg-lemon mixture back into the chicken soup pot, season with salt and pepper, and stir to blend well throughout.
Remove the bay leaf and serve hot.
Calories: 159 Carbohydrates: 42 g Cholesterol: 135 mg
Fat: 4.7 g Fiber: 1 g Protein: 16 g Sodium: 1,033 mg

Party Greek-style with a traditional roast leg of lamb.
Serves 6 to 8
1 6-pound leg of spring lamb, trimmed of excess fat
2 cloves of garlic, slivered
1/4 cup olive oil
Juice of 1 fresh lemon (about 1/4 cup)
1 tablespoon dried Greek oregano
salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Juice of 1 fresh lemon combined with 2 cups of water
Wash and dry the leg of lamb. With a sharp knife, make 4 or 5 slits in the lamb and fill with garlic slivers. In a small bowl, whisk together the olive oil, lemon juice, oregano, salt and pepper. Rub the leg of lamb with this mixture.
Place lamb on a rack in a heavy 9-x-13-inch roasting pan. Add 1 cup of water and roast uncovered at a preheated 450° F for ½ hour. Then lower heat to 325° F and roast for approximately ½ hour per pound (3 hours) or until a meat thermometer inserted in the lamb reads 165° F. Baste the lamb with ½ cup of lemon juice and water mixture every hour. After approximately 1½ hours of roasting, when the meat is half done, cover lamb loosely with foil until done.
Remove the lamb from the pan and let rest. Skim the fat from the pan juices and pour into a serving container. Slice lamb and serve with pan juices.
Calories: 270 Carbohydrates: 2 g Cholesterol: 99 mg
Fat: 15 g Fiber:
Spanakopita is usually made with spinach but Greeks will also use wild spring greens such as Swiss chard leaves, dandelion greens, outer leaves of escarole or romaine lettuce, and/or beet greens.
Serves 6-8
1/4 cup olive oil
2 10-ounce packages frozen chopped spinach, thawed and well-drained, or 2 pounds fresh spinach, washed, stemmed, coarsely chopped
½ cup onion, chopped
1 cup scallions, finely chopped
1 tablespoon oregano
1 tablespoon thyme
½ cup fresh flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped (or 2 tablespoons dried parsley)
salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 cup small curd cottage cheese
1/2 pound crumbled feta cheese
1 tablespoon Cream of Wheat (regular or quick-cooking)
2 eggs, lightly beaten
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
8 phyllo-dough sheets, thawed if frozen
¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
In a large skillet, cook the onion and scallions in 2 tablespoons of olive oil over medium-low heat for 2 minutes. Add the spinach and cook, stirring, until wilted, about 3 minutes. Remove from heat, place spinach in a colander, and squeeze out excess liquid. Transfer spinach to a large bowl, along with oregano, thyme, parsley, salt and black pepper. Mix well. Set aside to cool. Add cottage cheese, feta cheese, Cream of Wheat, and beaten eggs to cooled spinach; stir to combine.
In a small saucepan, melt remaining 2 tablespoons oil and the butter together over medium heat. Lightly brush an 8 x 8-inch baking pan with butter-oil mixture. Carefully unroll phyllo. Immediately cover it with plastic wrap and then a damp, clean towel. Keep covered as you work.
Lay one sheet of phyllo in the baking pan and brush liberally with butter-oil mixture. Repeat the process with 3 sheets of phyllo, offsetting sheets at 45° angles to cover the base and sides of pan, letting excess hang over edge
Pour the spinach filling over the phyllo, spread evenly. Fold the overhanging phyllo over top of spinach mixture. Brush with butter-oil mixture. Top with the remaining sheets of phyllo, brushing each with butter-oil mixture. Fold up the overhanging phyllo, tucking in the edges to seal. Sprinkle the top with ground cinnamon.
Bake in a preheated 350 F oven for 40 to 45 minutes, or until the phyllo is golden. Let stand one hour before serving.
Calories: 317 Carbohydrates: 15 g Cholesterol: 95 mg
Fat: 23 g Fiber: 4 g Protein: 13 g Sodium: 491 mg

HONEY ORANGES - Portokalia Glyko Fruit is a traditional finale to a Greek meal. The sun is so intense in Greece that the sugar in fruits like oranges, figs and grapes seem to increase in intensity and develop maximum flavor.
Serves 4
4 oranges (preferably blood oranges, but any variety can be used)
1 1/4 cups water
1/2 cup Muscat of Samos Greek sweet wine (if you can't find Samos, any sweet white or red wine will do) 
juice of 1 lemon (about 1/4 cup)
2 tablespoons honey (preferably Greek honey)
dash of cinnamon
Mint sprigs, for garnish
Over a bowl to catch any juice, cut off peel and pith (white outer membrane) from oranges with a small sharp knife.
Place the water, wine, lemon juice, honey and cinnamon in a saucepan over medium-high heat. Cook, stirring frequently, until the honey dissolves and the mixture comes to a boil. Remove from the heat.
Add oranges and any juice to the saucepan, and let stand until cool. Then place in the refrigerator for about 1 hour, to chill. Serve garnished with mint sprigs.
Calories: 140 Carbohydrates: 28 g Cholesterol: 0 mg
Fat: <1 g Fiber: 4 g Protein: 2 g Sodium: 2 mg

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