AUTHORITY NUTRITION

13 Greek Foods That Are Super Healthy

Written by Caroline Pullen, MS, RD on July 24, 2017

In the 1960s, Greeks were living longer and had lower rates of chronic disease than the rest of the world.

This is likely due to their diet, which was full of seafood, fruits, vegetables, grains, beans and healthy fats.

The Mediterranean diet is based on the traditional Greek diet and other similar food patterns of nearby countries.

Research suggests that following the Mediterranean Diet can decrease your risk of heart attack, stroke, diabetes, obesity and premature death ().

This article discusses 13 traditional Greek foods that are super healthy.

1. Hummus

Hummus is a popular dip or spread throughout the Mediterranean and Middle East.

It has been eaten for thousands of years — even Plato and Socrates wrote about the benefits of hummus.

It’s typically made by blending chickpeas, tahini (ground sesame seeds), olive oil and lemon juice. This dip is not only delicious, but it’s also extremely healthy ().

In fact, recent research suggests that eating hummus may help with weight management, blood sugar control and heart health (, ).

This is partly due to its main ingredient, chickpeas, which are also known as garbanzo beans. They are an excellent source of protein and fiber ().

Hummus also contains heart-healthy fats from olive oil and tahini ().

Olive oil is a staple of Greek cooking and the Mediterranean diet. It’s been linked to many health benefits, including less inflammation, better brain health, protection against heart disease and stroke and the ability to help fight cancer (, , ).

You can serve hummus as a dip with fresh vegetables, pita bread or crackers.

Summary: Hummus is a dip and spread made from chickpeas, tahini, olive oil and lemon juice. It’s loaded with protein, fiber and healthy fats.

2. Melitzanosalata

Melitzanosalata means eggplant salad in Greek, but it’s actually a dip.

It’s made by blending or mashing roasted eggplants with olive oil, garlic and lemon juice. It’s similar to a dish called baba ghanoush, which is Middle Eastern in origin.

Eggplants are a good source of fiber and antioxidants, which fight damage caused by free radicals ().

Free radicals exist in the environment, but they are also formed in the body. They can cause cell damage that has been linked to aging, cancers and chronic disease ().

Eggplants contain a powerful antioxidant called nasunin. Research suggests that nasunin can reduce free radicals and protect brain health ().

Furthermore, the dip is flavored with lemon juice and garlic. These are both frequently used in Greek cooking and provide health benefits of their own.

For example, garlic can boost the immune system and help prevent heart disease, while lemons are rich in heart-healthy vitamin C and may help prevent kidney stones (, , , ).

Melitzanosalata is typically served as an appetizer for dipping bread and vegetables. You can also use it as a spread on a sandwich.

Summary: Melitzanosalata is a popular dip made from roasted eggplants. It’s a good source of fiber and antioxidants.

3. Tzatziki

Tzatziki is another popular dip and spread used in Greek cooking.

While it’s very creamy, it’s pretty low in calories, with about 35 calories in two tablespoons of tzatziki sauce.

Tzatziki is made with Greek yogurt, cucumbers and olive oil.

Greek yogurt is creamier and thicker than regular yogurt. This is because the yogurt has been strained to remove the liquid whey.

Historically, Greeks strained the yogurt to reduce its water content and prevent spoilage.

But straining Greek yogurt also reduces its lactose content and makes it higher in protein. Just 3.5 ounces (100 grams) provide 10 grams of protein ().

Protein is one of the most important nutrients for weight loss. It can help reduce appetite, regulate hunger hormones and increase metabolism ().

Tzatziki sauce is often served as a dip with pita bread. It can also be added to grilled meats for a high-protein dish.

Summary: Tzatziki is a popular dip made from cucumbers and Greek yogurt. It’s high in protein and low in calories.

4. Dolmades

Dolmades are stuffed grapes leaves that can be served as an appetizer or main dish.

They are typically stuffed with rice, herbs and occasionally meat. The stuffing can vary, altering their fat and calorie contents.

However, grape leaves are both low in calories and high in fiber. They also have high amounts of vitamin A and vitamin K ().

Additionally, they have a very high antioxidant content. In fact, research suggests that grape leaves have ten times the antioxidant activity of grape juice or pulp ().

What’s more, red grape leaves may improve blood circulation in people with chronic venous insufficiency, a condition in which blood has a hard time circulating through the veins ().

Dolmades are flavored with different herbs and spices. Herbs and spices are an important part of Greek cooking and also contain many health benefits ().

For example, many dolmades recipes use parsley and dill.

Dill is believed to be a good source of antioxidants and may slow the growth of disease-causing bacteria and fungus. It may also improve digestive health ().

And parsley is an excellent source of vitamin K. Just five sprigs provide over 100% of your daily vitamin K needs ().

Vitamin K not only helps blood clot, but it also supports bone and heart health ().

Summary: Dolmades are stuffed grape vine leaves that are extremely nutritious and have strong antioxidant properties.

5. Gigantes Plaki

Gigantes are large white beans. They are appropriately named after the Greek word for giant, while plaki means a dish baked in the oven with vegetables.

Appropriately, the dish refers to gigante beans baked in a tomato sauce.

Lima beans or other large white beans are often used in place of gigante beans, given that they can be difficult to find.

White beans are very nutritious. In fact, all beans are very nutrient-dense, and many are regularly consumed throughout Greece (, ).

Beans are an excellent and important source of protein for vegetarians.

They are also great for weight loss, since they are high in fiber and protein (, ).

In addition, research shows that people who eat more beans have a lower risk of heart disease. Beans are also known to help control blood sugar and diabetes ().

Summary: Gigantes are large beans baked in a tomato sauce. Beans are rich in many nutrients and have been linked to many positive health outcomes.

6. Avgolemono

Avgolemono is a traditional Greek soup. It’s typically made with chicken, lemon, eggs and orzo pasta or rice.

It can be thought of as the Greek version of chicken noodle soup. Chicken soup has been recommended for hundreds of years to help fight colds and the flu.

Interestingly, some research supports that chicken soup may not only help reduce cold and flu symptoms, but also possibly help prevent them (, ).

One study compared how cold water, hot water and hot chicken soup affected a stuffy nose.

It found that while hot water worked better than cold water, chicken soup was best at alleviating a stuffy nose. However, the study did not identify what in the soup caused this ().

Another recent study found carnosine, a compound in chicken soup, fights off the flu in its early stages. However, it’s metabolized quickly, so the effect is temporary ().

In addition to its potential immune-boosting properties, avgolemono also contains high levels of protein from the chicken and eggs, all while being relatively low in calories.

One serving of a traditional avgolemono soup contains 27 grams of protein and 245 calories.

Nevertheless, it can be high sodium, so it may not be the best choice for salt-sensitive individuals ().

Summary: Avgolemono is lemon chicken soup. It may have immune-boosting properties and is a good source of protein.

7. Fakes Soupa

Fakes soupa is a lentil soup. It can be made with or without tomatoes and is a staple in the Greek diet.

It’s an excellent source of protein and fiber. Just one cup of lentils contains 18 grams of protein and 16 grams of fiber ().

These powerful legumes are popular throughout the Mediterranean and contain many vitamins and minerals. One cup of cooked lentils contains the following ():

  • Molybdenum: 330% of the RDI
  • Folic acid: 90% of the RDI
  • Manganese: 49% of the RDI
  • Iron: 37% of the RDI
  • Vitamin B1: 28% of the RDI
  • Zinc: 24% of the RDI

These nutrients make fakes soupa an excellent food for vegetarians, since vegetarian diets are often low in iron, protein and zinc ().

In addition, research suggests that lentils may help lower blood pressure, fight cancer, control blood sugar and lower cholesterol ().

Summary: This lentil soup is high in fiber, protein and many other nutrients. Lentils may help fight cancer, control blood sugar and lower cholesterol.

8. Souvlaki

Souvlaki consists of small, grilled pieces of meat on a skewer and is one of the most well-known Greek foods.

It’s sold throughout Greece in “souvlatzidiko” or souvlaki shops and can be found in almost every Greek restaurant around the world.

Souvlaki is typically made from pork, chicken, lamb or beef. It’s traditionally only meat, but it’s now often served with vegetables like a kabob.

Meat provides many nutrients such as protein, iron and B-vitamins ().

What’s more, meat is a complete protein, meaning it has all the essential amino acids. Diets high in protein have been shown to help with weight loss and satiety ().

Meat intake is also associated with increased muscle mass, which is especially important in older adults ().

Souvlaki is now commonly served at fast-food Greek restaurants with fries and pitas. You can try getting a salad instead for a healthier meal.

Summary: Souvlaki is simply grilled pieces of meat on a skewer. Meat provides many benefits such as protein and B-vitamins.

9. Saganaki Shrimp

Saganaki shrimp is a traditional Greek appetizer that is both tasty and heart healthy.

It features shrimp in a savory tomato sauce and is traditionally served in a heavy-bottom frying pan known as a saganaki pan in Greece.

Shrimp and other shellfish are an important part of the Greek and Mediterranean diets. They’re also extremely healthy.

Shrimp is high in protein and very low in fat. A 3-ounce (85-gram) serving contains 18 grams of protein and only 1 gram of fat ().

It also provides about 50% of your daily selenium. Selenium may help reduce inflammation and lower the risk of prostate cancer ().

While shrimp is high in dietary cholesterol, research shows that dietary cholesterol has little to no effect on blood cholesterol in most people ().

Tomatoes are the other main ingredient in this dish and rich in antioxidants, including vitamin C and lycopene ().

Lycopene is a powerful antioxidant that gives tomatoes their red color. It has been linked to a reduced risk of heart disease and cancer ().

Tomatoes are frequently consumed in Greece and may contribute to the lower rates of heart disease, cancer and premature death.

Summary: This appetizer features shrimp in a tomato sauce. It’s high in protein, low in calories and rich in antioxidants.

10. Baked Sardines

Fish is a staple in the Greek and Mediterranean diets.

High intakes of fish, especially fatty fish, have been repeatedly linked to many health benefits, including a reduced risk of heart disease ().

Sardines are one of the most commonly eaten fish in Greece. These small, fatty fish are not only flavorful, but also one of the healthiest foods you can eat.

In fact, they are great source of EPA and DHA. These are types of omega-3 fatty acidsthat have been linked to many health benefits. 3.5 ounces (100 grams) of sardines contain 473 mg of EPA and 509 mg of DHA ().

Research has shown that a moderate intake of 250–500 mg of EPA and DHA per day can lower the risk of death from heart disease by at least 25% ().

DHA is also crucial for brain health. It’s not only critical to healthy brain development in infants, but it also promotes healthy brain aging ().

In addition to healthy fats, 3.5 ounces (100 grams) provide the following ():

  • Protein: 25 grams
  • Vitamin B12: 149% of the RDI
  • Selenium: 75% of the RDI
  • Vitamin D: 68% of the RDI
  • Calcium: 38% of the RDI

Sardines are also good for your bones, as they contain high amounts of protein, calcium and vitamin D ().

While they are eaten many different ways, they are often baked with olive oil, lemons and seasonings.

Summary: Sardines are high in protein and healthy fats and may help lower the risk of heart disease. They also contain many vitamins and minerals, including calcium and vitamin D for strong bones.

11. Horiatiki Salad

Horiatiki means villager in Greek, so this dish simply means villager’s salad.

It’s typically made with tomatoes, onion, cucumbers, olives and feta. It’s then dressed with olive oil and vinegar. All of these ingredients are loaded with nutrients and considered staples in Greek cooking.

The vegetables in the salad make it high in fiber. Vegetables also contain many antioxidants and nutrients, including vitamin C, vitamin K and potassium (, , ).

The olives and olive oil contain healthy monounsaturated fats. These fats may reduce your risk of a heart attack and stroke, as well as reduce inflammation (, ).

The feta sprinkled onto the salad is another staple of Greek cooking.

Feta is made from sheep or goat’s milk. It’s good for your bones since it’s high in calcium, protein and phosphorous. In fact, it contains more calcium than most other cheeses (, ).

Summary: Horiatiki salad is made from tomatoes, onions, cucumbers, olives and feta. It contains healthy fats, fiber and many vitamins and minerals. It has many antioxidants too.

12. Spanakorizo

Spanakorizo is a spinach and rice dish that’s traditionally served with lemon, feta cheese and olive oil. It can be served as a main dish or side.

Spinach is one of the healthiest vegetables you can eat. One cup (30 grams) contains the following nutrients ():

  • Vitamin A: 56% of the RDI
  • Vitamin C: 14% of the RDI
  • Vitamin K: 181% of the RDI
  • Folic acid: 15% of the RDI
  • Potassium: 5% of the RDI
  • Iron: 5% of the RDI

Spinach also contains many antioxidants that help fight free radicals and prevent cell damage ().

For example, they contain lutein and zeaxanthin, which improve eye health, and quercetin, which fights infection and inflammation (, ).

Rice is also rich in many B-vitamins and minerals, such as manganese, selenium and iron ().

However, iron from plant sources such as rice and spinach is not absorbed as well as iron from meat. Luckily, this dish contains lemon. Lemon’s citric acid and vitamin C contents aid in the absorption of iron from this dish ().

Summary: Spanakorizo is a spinach and rice dish that’s high in vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin K, iron and folic acid. It also contains many antioxidants that may promote eye health, fight infection and reduce inflammation.

13. Horta Vrasta

Horta vrasta simply means boiled greens in Greek and is a staple in Greek households. The dish is typically topped with olive oil and lemon juice.

Traditionally in Greece, wild greens were used. Greens are commonly consumed throughout the Mediterranean, and a high intake of greens is a key, often overlooked component of the Mediterranean diet.

Most wild greens have an extremely high antioxidant content. One study found that many wild greens contain more antioxidants than blueberries ().

Research shows that while some of their antioxidant content will be lost during boiling, they retain antioxidants better than most foods when boiled ().

If you do not live in the Mediterranean, you can still enjoy this dish, as you can use almost any leafy green vegetable. Commonly used greens include endive, dandelion greens, spinach, mustard greens or chicory.

While the exact nutrient content will vary depending on which greens you use, all leafy greens are high in vitamin K and fiber yet low in calories (, , , ).

Moreover, all leafy green vegetables are also good sources of dietary nitrates. Recent studies have shown that a diet rich in nitrates from vegetables can lower blood pressure and reduce the risk of glaucoma (, ).

Summary: Horta vrasta is a dish of boiled greens. They are traditionally made with wild greens that are high in antioxidants. This dish is rich in vitamin K and fiber yet low in calories.

The Bottom Line

The traditional Greek diet is both flavorful and healthy.

What’s more, it’s rich in antioxidants, healthy fats, fiber, vitamins and minerals. It’s also been linked to many favorable health outcomes.

By increasing Greek staples like olive oil, seafood, herbs, fruits and vegetables in your diet, you can improve your overall nutrition and help fight off chronic disease.

An evidence-based nutrition article from our experts at Authority Nutrition.

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