In Part 1, Roula Marinos Papamihail examined some of the ‘Greek eating habits’ that are beneficial and worth following. In Part 2, she discusses the ‘Greek eating habits’ that DON’T serve us.
Some of our ‘Greek eating habits’ serve us well. They’re just a handful of the Greek eating traditions that have contributed to the Mediterranean Diet’s health benefits and should be maintained. Learn about those in Part 1.
So what are the ones that aren’t beneficial to us?
Read on to find out.
Greek eating habits that DON’T serve us
As you read through this list, keep in mind your current lifestyle, state of health, and Westernized influence. This will allow you to at least consider the following aspects of the traditional Greek eating experience as a possible detriment rather than a benefit to your overall health. In the same manner that small shifts in perception can make a big impact on mood, small shifts in diet can significantly impact your health.
1) Eating bread with every meal
Greeks love their bread. Who doesn’t? But when we speak about bread, we often hear Greeks (and non-Greeks) say things like:
- “A little bit of psomaki (bread) pou kai pou (here and there) doesn’t hurt.”
- Pan metron ariston (everything in moderation) is OK.” (a variation of the statement above).
- “I’ve cut out everything else so don’t ask me to cut out my bread too.”
- “I can’t eat my meal without bread!”
Unfortunately, when it comes to bread, a little CAN hurt, and for many people, it may hurt A LOT. Digestive disorders, thyroid and autoimmune diseases have become much more prevalent in our society. Bread (wheat products in general) seems to be the main contributor! Gluten, the protein found in wheat, is considered by many health professionals as the main trigger and/or cause of these health issues.
While bread has been around for thousands of years, modern day bread is different. Today’s bread includes gluten that is highly inflammatory AND non-digestible (1). It’s definitely not yiayia’s bread!
Creating more wheat
The original, thousand-year-old forms of are called einkorn and emmer. This is likely the type of wheat used by our distant ancestors. They contained 14 chromosomes. Through natural hybridization processes, additional types of wheat were formed and there was “a gradual expansion of the reach of wheat plants with only modest and gradual evolutionary selection at work,” with a natural addition of chromosomes added through the years.
As the population grew, the need to produce more wheat led to advances in the techniques of wheat hybridization. In the 1940s, scientists started implementing purposeful hybridization techniques. By 1980, there were thousands of new strains of wheat. This yielded more wheat — faster, and more efficiently — with the noble purpose of feeding more people (and it worked).
Why this is troublesome
The modern day result of this intentional hybridization, however, is not only a plant that looks different (shorter and stockier), but also a plant with many more chromosomes and additional gluten proteins that are NOT found in the parent plants and or are not part of the “natural” process of hybridization mentioned above (1). These “new and foreign” gluten proteins are assumed to be what is creating havoc on people’s bodies. (For a detailed discussion on this topic refer to cited source at the bottom of this post).
While Socrates’ philosophy of “everything in moderation” is a wonderful saying to live by, for those suffering from gluten-induced diseases (or are borderline), when it comes to bread it doesn’t apply (in the same way it wouldn’t apply to an addict using an illicit street drug “in moderation”).
Another characteristic of today’s gluten is that it forms what are called memory b cells. Memory b cells are released by the body in response to a pathogenic “attack”. Once triggered they always get released. As a result, even a tiny bit of gluten will give many individuals unwanted physiological effects that may take several days to subside. Gluten is actually the ONLY food item that does this. No other food item has been found to trigger memory b cells.
American wheat vs. European
Many individuals state that they don’t experience the same physiological distress when they eat wheat products in Greece or Europe. This is because Europe’s wheat is less hybridized than America’s wheat. As a result, you aren’t exposed to as many abnormal gluten proteins as here.
TIP: Source more traditional forms of wheat (einkorn and emmer) and/or buy some local wheat on your next travels to Greece. This may help you to continue to be able to enjoy a piece of bread with your meal, just like our traditional ancestors did.
NOTE: If you suffer from any of the diseases mentioned previously, re-evaluating your dietary intake and re-adjusting what you do/don’t eat by removing gluten may be a necessity to be able to experience long-term health.
2) Eating excess meat
In our grandparents’ day, meat was served only on holidays and special occasions (as described by many older generation Greeks). It was hard to come by and was expensive. Today, meat is easy to get and cheap. As a result, the amount of meat Americans and Greek-Americans consume, not just weekly — but daily — has skyrocketed.
While free-range grass-fed meats are extremely high in a variety of macro- and micro-nutrients (and not cheap!) there are many negatives of chronic meat consumption documented — regardless of the source. Heart disease, diabetes, and cancer are just a few examples of ailments that have all been linked to excessive meat consumption. The longstanding belief that you “need meat on your plate for protein” and that protein can only be found in meat, is still prevalent today. This is a big contributor to the constant meat-eating AND is false. Plant foods, fish and legumes also contain protein.
TIP: The traditional Mediterranean diets consists primarily of plant foods, legumes, grains, and some meat. Plates are usually about 80% plant based and 20% meat based. Follow this, and you can continue to enjoy your high-quality meat and maintain adequate protein levels. Don’t use it as your main source of sustenance.
3) Cleaning your plate
Since ancient times, we’ve been told to “clean” our plates, meaning we should finish everything on our plates. This was because in the more recent past, there were times when people didn’t know when they would get their next meal (you’ve likely heard relatives mention that). Also, in the past, the fear of insulting your host was real. Nevertheless, we’ve been conditioned that cleaning our plates is a good idea.
With the overabundance of food today AND no threat of being thrown out of someone’s house for not cleaning your plate, NOT eating everything on it will most likely benefit you, especially if you’re struggling with your weight.
When we base the amount of food we eat off of our serving size, we indirectly detach ourselves from intuitive eating. Many people fail to pay attention to the satiety signals their body is sending them. They instead override these signals and continue to eat until their plate is empty.
TIP: Don’t focus on how much food is on your plate or believe you must finish it all. Focus on your body’s cues to guide you when to stop eating. This will help you build much healthier eating habits based on your body’s needs rather than on the plate size OR what others expect you to eat.
Changing habits, staying traditional
The overall Greek food experience is a lifestyle geared towards optimal health. However, society, the environment, and state of our health warrants the need for us to tweak, shift and/or adjust some of our Greek eating habits, so we may continue to enjoy the Mediterranean Diet’s long-standing, documented benefits.
“If one way be better than another, that you may be sure is nature’s way.”
Source: Wheat Belly William Davis, MD
Interested in learning more about how diet and fermented foods can help YOU alleviate your own digestive distress or discomfort? Contact me today at firstname.lastname@example.org and schedule a free discovery session.