What exactly is the famous Cretan Diet?

Calling a diet ‘famous’ might liken it to a fad but the Cretan Diet was actually just born out of necessity. It doesn’t take carb-counting or a strict set of rules to follow this diet – it’s all about eating locally, something residents on the island of Crete know how to do well.

Studies have shown that on average, Cretans typically live longer and aren’t afflicted by heart disease and cancer as much as other states. Their diet was established as a result of what produce was readily available to them, as their islander status meant they needed to be self-sustaining where possible.

On the whole, the Cretan Diet simply involves eating fresh produce, limited meat and fish, and a whole lot of olive oil. Cretans aren’t afraid of fatty acids, carbs and alcohol – cutting corners instead when it comes to sugar and red meat. If you’re up for the task of eating like the Cretans do, here are some staples of the Cretan Diet.

Olive oil

Olive oil is perhaps the most important part of the Cretan Diet, though undoubtedly the most counter-intuitive.

Yes, we know what you’re thinking. Doesn’t olive oil have loads of fat? It does, but not necessarily the bad kind. Those regularly on the Cretan Diet on average consume three times more fat than most Americans.

Unlike other oils, olive oil contains components that have been linked to keeping people cancer-free. Cretans don’t typically fry with olive oil, using it instead for dressing or in sauces for bread. Speaking of bread, that’s another thing readily abundant within the Cretan Diet – Cretans consume three times more bread than the average American.

Fruits and vegetables

While dining in Crete, you’ll notice that dishes typically come in a rainbow of colours. You’ll rarely just see one food group per meal, as dishes are served up with a side order of grilled vegetables, with fruit for dessert.

The name of the game for the Cretan Diet is to remain seasonal. Throughout the year, various trees across the island are dripping with fruit, from oranges and lemons to figs, apples and pomegranates. When they’re ready to be picked is when these fruits will appear on your plate, and rarely otherwise. The same goes for vegetables – they’re served both cooked and raw, but always done up with simple recipes usually involving fresh herbs.

Meat and fish

Meat and fish play a smaller role in the Cretan Diet, though you will find them around the edges of Cretan eating habits. With the sea touching all corners of the island and chefs with an affinity for resourcefulness, prioritising seafood in their dishes just kind of makes sense.

When it comes to the Cretan Diet, meat and fish are typically prepared on the grill, and are rarely fried. Eating red meat and fish on a regular basis is advised against, and is done no more than once a week, even though at restaurants around the island, these two ingredients tend to dominate menus.