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Back to the Roots: Greek Traditions for Health in the Age of COVID-19

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(Photo by EUROKINISSI, FILE)

Modern lifestyles in big cities have had a physical and mental impact on our health. On the one hand, modern citizens experience stress – about almost everything – on daily basis. Stress has been scientifically linked with various diseases but also with bad life decisions (i.e. bad nutrition, smoking, alcohol consumption, insomnia). Overall physical health is critically linked with life decisions. They overlap.

For mental health, research has proved that praying and meditation can help us better control our lives, focus, and solve our problems. They also contribute to our feeling blessed with what we have, which reduces anxiety.

In the time of coronavirus, it seems ironic how up to date is the greeting and toast ‘stin igia mas’ – to our good health.” Cretans strike their glasses on tables and exclaim “stin igia mas!” to be strong and healthy. Pontians commonly wish “health, happiness, and longevity”, revealing the body-mind-health connection.

This connection truly exists. All over Greece, there are a great variety of cuisines, practices, and recipes, often connected with Christianity and fasting (called ‘nistia’) and connected with meditation, praying, good deeds, and positive thoughts about our fellow humans.

But the context is always the widespread Mediterranean diet – with local variations based on the available ingredients.

Ancient traditions also connect food with the environment. The rocky environs of Epirus and Crete are better for goats and sheep, where people made cheese from their milk. And in Macedonia’s rich valleys near Lake Kerkini, water buffalo have survived and give us their delicious products.

The same applies to plants. Delicious wild greens that are wonderful for pies thrive in the3 Peloponnese and delicious ‘gortsies’ – wild pears – grow in the cold mountains of Thrace.

There is a consensus on what constitutes the Mediterranean diet, which nutritionists believe is best reflected in traditional Greek food: Meals are rich in fruits and vegetables and aromatized and antioxidized with herbs.

For better health, and for an edge against COVID-19, fill your fridge and pantry with unprocessed cereals, legumes, olive oil, fresh fruits and vegetables, unprocessed nuts, and herbs. In lesser amounts there should be fish and other seafood. In much smaller amounts consume poultry, milk, cheese, yogurt, and eggs (if you are not vegan). Just once in a while, eat red meat and sweets.

I propose a weekly nutrition regimen based on the Mediterranean diet with the following main meals: one day with legumes, three days of cooked vegetables with olive oil and some carbs (i.e. potatoes or rice) which the Greeks call ‘ladera’, meaning “a veggie dish with oil,” one day with poultry and some carbs (i.e. potatoes, rice), two days with fish.

Red meat should be consumed just once every week.

Based on the above, it makes sense to say longevity in countries like Greece and Japan’s is connected through common nutritional principles. In the case of Japan, more fish is introduced, as in most islands and costal areas of Greece. But fresh unprocessed plant-based food is the key to longevity and to fighting both infectious and non-infectuous diseases. Always listen to your doctor, but keep a healthy lifestyle. The age of COVID-19 is unfortunately here, but we have various weapons to fight it – along with body and mind.

* The above is not medical advice but mere suggestions for improving your diet. Before reach herbal use you should consult your doctor, especially those who have health issues, are pregnant or are under the age of 6.

Evropi-Sofia Dalampira is an Agriculturist-MSc Botany-Biology and PhD Candidate in Agricultural-Environmental Education and Science Communication