Cretan Diet and Health

Cretans for centuries now maintain the lead in olive oil consumption, since their yearly consumption amounts to 23-24 kilos per person, as it has been witnessed by travellers, epidemiological surveys and statistical data.
Over the last years, there is an increasing reference to the Cretan diet model, which considerably differs from the Mediterranean one in terms of the style and the kind of olive oil used. Cretan foods are literally drowned in oil.

The Mediterranean diet, a term that is often considered too generalised, became initially worldwide known through the results of the Seven-Countries study, in which Crete's population was found to exhibit the lowest death rate due to coronary diseases compared to other populations having participated in the research. According to scientists this is due to the large quantity of monounsaturated fatty acids contained in olive oil, which protect the heart in contrast to the saturated fatty acids of other animal fats (butter, margarine, lard) included in the diet of North Europeans. An additional explanation would be the high olive oil consumption of the Cretan population that comes up to 100 gr per person on a daily basis. This amount also includes the olive oil intended for frying various foods, such as fish, cheese, vegetable pies, cheese pies, meat. Recent scientific data reveal that high olive oil consumption not only reduces the LDL cholesterol levels in the blood, but it also prevents its oxidisation due to the antioxidant substances contained in olive oil, such as tocopherols, polyphenols, etc Moreover, olive oil does not reduce HDL levels, as it is the case with other vegetable oils, rich in polyunsaturated acids.

Natural antioxidants:        Apart from fatty substances, oil contains small quantities of other elements, which account for its benefits. These elements comprise vitamins and provitamins (A and E), metals (selenium) and an entire class of heterogeneous polyphenols named antioxidants. These antioxidants protect cells from oxidising stress, active oxygen and free radicals. Free radicals comprise those substances responsible for the damage of nuclear acids and proteins and are regarded to be the primary harmful agents of various chronic diseases such as cancer.

Olive oil and digestive system:  Olive oil is the most tolerable substance for the human stomach always in comparison to the other fatty substances. It exhibits the best index of digestibility and absorption from the intestinal walls. In this way, it contributes to the reduction of gastric fluids relieving the feeling of indigestion. Furthermore, it creates the feeling of satiety and facilitates the digestion of food nutrients. Clinic researches have shown that olive oil has a large absorption capacity from the intestine mucous resulting in relieving many intestine syndromes and contributing to the normal function of the large intestine.

Olive oil and bile:    In 1932 M. Chirary published the information that Touarte, the first doctor in 1887, officially recommended olive oil as a therapeutic medium both against cholelithiasis and hepatic colics. According to Chirary, olive oil cannot disappear or dissolve bilestones, but acts supplementary in the procedure of biliary secretion. This is why he recommends that patients suffering from bilestones, dyspepsia and stomach pains should take 1-2 spoons of aromatic olive oil with some lemon drops every morning for 10 days per month.

Olive oil and skin protection:      Olive oil protects the human skin from solar radiation and the burns it can cause. This property is due to the action of its Vitamin E and Provitamin A, as well as to its polyunsaturated fatty substances.

Olive oil and old age: Old age constitutes a progressive procedure, which is accompanied by a series of biological changes that inevitably lead to death. Researches have shown that aged people that consume olive oil are protected against alterations of the central neural system and the brain occurring as time passes due to the olive oil's antioxidant properties.

Olive oil and cancer: In accordance with a research conducted by D. Trichopoulos at the Public Health Department of Harvard University, women that consume olive oil more than once per day are 25% less likely to suffer from breast cancer in comparison with those rarely consuming olive oil.

Olive oil, cholesterol and heart diseases: The dietary model of Mediterranean people and especially Cretans includes plenty of carbohydrates, increased quantities of fruits and vegetables, small or medium quantities of meat and dairy products, enough pulses, moderate quantities of fish and a lot of vegetable oil, exclusively olive oil. The underlining cause of cardiovascular diseases is not the total quantity of fatty substances received through food, but it is rather the selection of the kind of fats. Consequently, the proper analogy of saturated and monounsaturated fatty acids is what protects against heart diseases. Olive oil, which in essence constitutes one of the most important monounsaturated fats, increases the good cholesterol and reduces the bad one building, thus, a very balanced lipidic system in the blood. It, thus, inhibits the formation of fat "plates" in artery walls, which are finally developed in clots and cause coronary or myocardial infarctions.

Olive oil and diabetes: According to modern clinical observations, olive oil plays a dynamic role in maintaining diabetes mellitus at low levels, especially when it comes to non-insulin-dependent type of diabetes. Olive oil, when received as the only fatty substance especially by people with diabetes, acts favourably in the slow evacuation of the stomach content to the duodenum. In this way, the digestion of carbohydrates is achieved at a slow pace without leading to the abrupt increase of glucose in the blood.


Extracts from the book "Oil-Tastes and a 5.000-years old Culture" by Mirsini Labraki-Mattheaki "Ellinika Grammata" Publications, 1999


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