Research about the Cretan diet
The island of Crete has attracted the interest of the scientific community since 1948, when researchers from the Rockefeller Foundation of the United States were invited by the Greek government in an effort to improve the “bad” post-war living conditions of the population in Crete. In this context, a detailed assessment of the Cretan diet was conducted, which, to the researchers’ amazement, was nutritionally adequate, with only a few exceptions which were limited to areas with very low incomes and little food production by the families themselves. The researchers have generally concluded that “overall, the way of eating and the dietary habits were really well adapted to the natural and economic resources of the area and the needs of its residents”.
The study of seven countries
The correlation of the Cretan diet with health became widely known later, with the Study of the Seven Countries. The study began shortly before 1960 by the American Ansel Kis and his colleagues, on the occasion of the impressively low mortality rates as well as cardiovascular diseases that were observed in the area. The special dietary habits that characterized the region were studied to explain not only the lower incidence of coronary heart disease and cancer but also the lowest mortality by all causes observed in the population of Crete, in comparison with the selected countries by the researchers. According to United Nations figures, no other Mediterranean region has had such low levels of mortality as Crete, either before or after the Second World War.
The study involved a total of about 13,000 men, who were selected from sixteen different regions of the following countries:
with the aim to investigate the ambiguous relationship between diet and cardiovascular disease. Comparisons between different populations showed that the population of Crete had better health and lower mortality rates from coronary heart disease and cancer. After 20 years of monitoring, Cretans had the lowest mortality rates by all causes and after 25 years of monitoring, deaths from coronary heart disease in Crete were dramatically fewer than deaths observed in the populations of the United States and Northern Europe, even compared to the deaths that occurred in other regions of Southern Europe, such as Italy, Yugoslavia and Corfu. As shown in Chart 1, deaths from coronary heart disease in Italy and Yugoslavia were almost three times higher, while in Corfu twice as many as the deaths observed in Crete.
The “Lyon Heart” Study
After the Study of the seven countries, French researchers Serge Renaud and Michel de Longeril showed in the “Lyon Heart” study that administrating a Cretan type diet to patients who had suffered acute myocardial infarction reduced the rate of death to 70% at 27 months after the episode, compared to administrating the diet recommended by the American Heart Association. Moreover, after 4 years the Cretan type diet was associated with a decrease in the percentage of all deaths by 56% and a decrease in the occurrence of cancer by 61%.
Mortality from coronary heart disease per 1000 persons in the populations studied in the Seven Countries Study, after 25 years of observation. The average mortality is reported for two populations studied in Finland, three populations studied in Italy, five populations studied in Yugoslavia and two in Japan. In the United States, like the Netherlands, one population was studied. None of the individual populations showed mortality rates less than Crete.
The role of fasting in the Cretan diet
In the low consumption of animal produce observed in Crete in the study of the seven countries has also contributed the fact that Cretans during this period followed the fast promoted by the Greek Orthodox Church to a great extent. Thus, the low consumption of red meat and dairy products cannot be attributed only to economic factors, as in spite of the low income of the residents, the majority of the population produced its own animal and vegetable products. During fasting periods though, animal products were kept to be consumed during non-fasting periods and this tradition, apart from its contribution to better health, was important for the ecological and environmental balance.
Cretan Diet and Health
ΑπFrom the Cretan to the Mediterranean diet and recent discoveries in connection with various chronic diseases and health indicators.
Based on the Cretan diet of in 1960, health scientists also defined the nutritional model of the Mediterranean diet, which has been the subject of intense scientific inquiry in recent years. This is particularly important as, according to the World Health Organization, 60% of all deaths worldwide are due to chronic diseases and the adoption of behaviors associated with a healthy lifestyle, such as diet, can reduce the occurrence of these diseases to a great extent.
Aging is the result of biological changes resulting from the accumulation of irreversible damage to the cells of the organism and diet is one of the most important factors influencing the course of this process. According to the study of the seven countries and other studies afterwards, the Cretan diet contributes to slowing the aging process and therefore, longevity. Individuals who adopt the Cretan diet have a higher life expectancy, reduced mortality from all causes, but especially reduced mortality from coronary heart disease as well as cancer.
The Seven Countries study was the first to show the relationship between the Cretan diet and coronary heart disease, but these findings were confirmed in several subsequent studies. In addition to coronary heart disease and acute myocardial infarction, the Cretan diet has been shown to exert a protective effect against the occurrence of stroke as well.
Diabetes type II, metabolic syndrome
Increased rates of obesity in recent years have resulted in correspondingly higher rates of metabolic syndrome and diabetes. Nowadays the metabolic syndrome is a very common disorder that increases the risk of both diabetes and cardiovascular disease and is characterized by obesity central type elevated glucose levels, elevated triglyceride levels, elevated blood pressure levels and low levels of good HDL cholesterol. Adopting the Cretan diet has been associated with a reduced incidence of metabolic syndrome and diabetes. Furthermore, in diabetic patients, the adoption of the Cretan diet has been associated with better disease control, while recommending the Cretan diet to patients newly diagnosed with diabetes appeared to delay the onset of drug therapy.
Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease
Very recent studies suggest that the Cretan diet is also associated with Alzheimer and Parkinson diseases, whose incidence is increasing in recent years. The adoption of the Cretan diet has been shown to reduce the incidence of both disorders and mortality from Alzheimer’s disease.
Cretan or Mediterranean diet?
The traditional diets of the Mediterranean people was the result of significant developments that occurred over two millennia with major influences from the Greeks, Arabs and Asians. About 20 countries, quite heterogeneous from each other can be described as Mediterranean, whose eating habits vary due to religious, economic and cultural particularities. The term “Mediterranean diet”, in the manner currently used, was essentially introduced by nutrition scientists to describe the Cretan diet and the diets of other regions of the Mediterranean which had common features with it, in the 1950s and 1960s, when they had overcome the consequences of the Second World war, but before the arrival of the fast food culture. Because olive oil was the main source of fat in the Cretan diet, the term “Mediterranean diet” actually describes the dietary pattern that was prevailing in Mediterranean regions where olive trees were traditionally cultivated.
Thus, the term “Mediterranean diet” is somewhat misleading, because in fact there is not only one, but many Mediterranean diets.
The Cretan diet is the combination of all tastes and dietary habits of the people which are met in Crete during its history.