While a diet with plenty of vegetables is part of eating like Ikarian, Buettner says there are certain foods that set their way of life apart. "The local diet is unique from other Greek, Italian, and nearby islands because of its focus on beans and legumes—especially chickpeas and lentils—and wild greens," he says. There are nine healthy Greek foods considered staples if your goal is to live a long life.
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9 healthy Greek foods you should eat
1. Wild greens
"Most of the food eaten in Ikaria is harvested from seasonal gardens, which provide the purest form of the Mediterranean diet in the world," says Buettner. Dandelion greens and purslane are two examples of wild greens widely available here in the United States, says registered dietitian and Foodtrainers founder Lauren Slayton MS, RD. "Often wild greens have higher nutrient content than their cultivated counterparts," she says, adding that they are also typically free of pesticides.
Wild greens can be eaten like herbs, chopped and worked into salads and other meals, Rachel Berman, RD, a registered dieititian and the general manager at Verywell. "Grape leaves are another type of wild green, a good source of fiber which is commonly consumed stuffed with rice," she says.
2. Olive oil
What would a longevity food list be without this heart- and brain- healthy liquid gold? Olive oil is linked to lowering inflammation and working as a powerful antioxidant, protecting the body against harmful free radicals.
Why olive oil is so good for you:
Potatoes often get a bad wrap, but Slayton says they are a nutritious staple—though she notes that in order to reap the benefits, they should be consumed roasted or baked, not as French fries. "In the carb hierarchy, potatoes get my vote as they’re a whole food," she says. "They’re a good source of vitamin b6, which is good for athletic performance or PMS, and potassium." Berman adds that eating the skin also ups the fiber, and is a good source of vitamin C.
4. Black-eyed peas
If you only eat black-eyed peas once a year on New Year's Day, Slayton says you're missing out on some major nutritional benefits. "Black-eyed peas are definitely an overlooked legume," she says. "They’re a good source of minerals such as magnesium and iron." She also adds that they tend to be less gas producing than other types of legumes, too. To get maximum health benefits, Berman recommends buying the beans uncooked and not canned as the canned ones can be high in sodium.
5. Mediterranean herbs
Rosemary, sage, thyme, oregano, basil, parsley...not only do these Mediterranean herbs add flavor, they're linked to lowering inflammation, too. One that's especially powerful is garlic. "Garlic can reduce the risk of developing cardiovascular disease thanks to its powerful anti-inflammatory properties," says registered dietitian Tracy Lockwood Beckerman, RD.
Watch the video below to see more reasons why garlic is so good for you:
Whether you add slices to your water or use the citrus fruit to brighten up your meals, lemon revs up your metabolism and helps with digestion. Pro tip: use the peel, too. It's high in calcium, potassium, and vitamin C.
Chickpeas are about to be everywhere. The Greek staple is loaded with benefits including being a fiber- and protein-rich alternative to meat. They're also super versatile. "You can blend them into a hummus, incorporate them into a marinara sauce, [or] add them to quinoa or salads," says registered dietitian Marisa Moore, RD.
Thought the only way to live a healthy life was to sip matcha instead of coffee? Not in Greece. Because coffee is high in antioxidants, it's linked to longevity and reduced inflammation.
Honey has been used holistically for centuries. “All honey has proteins and enzymes that are antibacterial and can help heal the gut lining, allergies, and even acne, if it’s applied topically,” says registered dietitian Kelly Springer, RD. Like virtually everything else on this Grecian food list, honey is also high in antioxidants. Oh, and honey never expires.
What's so great about this list of healthy Greek foods is that everything is widely available in the United States. Even if you don't live on an island in the Aegean, you'll have no trouble adding each to your diet. The desire to eat food that's not only delicious but also is linked to living a long, healthy life? There's nothing foreign about that.
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