BOSTON, MA – Dr. Stefanos Kales, Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School and Professor at the Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health, delivered the presentation “Traditional Greek Diet: Benefits, Applications to Workplaces and Outreach,” to over 70 attendees at the Consulate General of Greece in Boston. The symposium was organized by The New England Hellenic Medical and Dental Societyheld under the aegis of the Consul General of Greece in Boston, Stratos Efthymiou.
Dr. Kales opened his talk by postulating that much of the current widespread interest in Greek food and “eating like a Greek” derives from the worldwide obesity epidemic, combined with the robust body of evidence developed over many decades supporting that the Traditional Greek Dietas the best overall pattern of nutrition for preventing disease and improving the quality of life. Kales presented compelling historical and medical data to argue that the Traditional Greek Diet of the 1950s and 1960s is the quintessential example of the healthy pattern popularly known now as the Mediterranean Diet.
The key elements of the Traditional Greek Diet are a high intake of extra virgin olive oil, fruits, vegetables, other plant proteins and fibers (nuts and legumes), unrefined whole grains, and fish; a moderate intake of dairy, eggs and lean meats with moderate alcohol intake of wine with meals; and low red meat and sweet consumption. Kales argued for linkages to Ancient Greece (Magna Grecia), the principle of Pan Metron Ariston (everything in moderation is best) and the natural bounties of the Mediterranean basin to the presence of similar healthy patterns being found in Greece and Southern Italy in the 1960’s. On the other hand, Kales demonstrated that changing economics and lifestyles in Greece have led to dramatic departures in Greece away from the traditional rural diet. This has resulted ina much higher consumption of red meats and saturated fats, a decreased intake of vegetables and legumes and consequently, marked increases in obesity among Greek children.
Closely following the principles of the traditional Greek diet significantly reduces the risks of obesity, cardiovascular disease, cancer, dementia and other chronic diseases, while increasing the quality of life and longevity. Accordingly, the Mediterranean Diet has been recognized by a U.S. government panel as healthy for Americans and ranked by national nutrition experts as the best overall option for most people and importantly, as the easiest healthy nutrition pattern to follow. Its simplicity is based on the lack of calorie counting; no complicated food restrictions (the ability to eat any food within limits), and its appeal as an indulgent and tasty, but healthy lifestyle. Therefore, Kales emphasized the need for Greeks to view and promote everyday Greek eating as “lots of greens, beans and extra virgin olive oil”, rather than a caricature of the occasional treats of lamb and baklava.
Kales highlighted efforts by his research team to bring traditional Mediterranean eating to American working populations such as firefighters and police officers, as well as various types of outreach to the general population both in the United States and in Greece. This included the successful “hands-on immersion” conference he organized in Halkidiki, Greece with Harvard and other eminent international authorities last October. In this regard, he quoted the observation of renowned expert, Prof. Walter Willett of Harvard: “the traditional Mediterranean Diet is the world’s most well documented eating pattern for promoting a long and healthy life. Experiencing this diet, delicious as well as healthy, in its homeland was an unforgettable experience.”
Accordingly, the evening at the Consulate was completed in the fashion of a true symposium with a delicious array of healthy Greek mezedes and wines, prepared by Chef Petros Markopoulos of Ithaki restaurant of Ipswich.