The Cretan diet is an eating regime designed to promote weight loss and increase longevity. It is a variation of the Mediterranean diet and is made up of a large amount of fresh fruits, vegetables, and legumes such as beans, peas, and lentils. Red meat is reduced, as are all other animal fats. Olive oil is stressed as the main fat source in the Mediterranean diet, along with moderate amounts of nuts.
The Cretan diet differs from the Mediterranean diet in that it focuses on the traditional eating habits of the people of Crete, whereas the Mediterranean diet contains elements of food from all Mediterranean countries including Algeria, Morocco, Italy, and Spain. The island of Crete has incredibly fertile soil, which encourages people to eat locally and seasonally. Until the second half of the 20th century, Cretans only ate meat a few times a year on special occasions. The produce of the island including grapes, olives, and citrus fruits is central to the regime, as well as grilled seafood.
Also included in the Cretan diet is exercise, but incorporating exercise into regular social activities is emphasized. Taking strolls with friends and walking to and from work or the market are encouraged in place of strenuous trips to the gym. Cretan people are less likely to suffer from stress-related illnesses like cardiovascular disease and depression, and there are lower instances of obesity, Alzheimer's disease, and diabetes.
An integral part of the Cretan diet is using olive oil as the main source of fat. Mediterranean people tend to eat more fat than their Western counterparts, but because it is from vegetable sources, they do not suffer the same detrimental effects such as high cholesterol and high blood pressure. Olive oil is a rich source of omega-3 fatty acids and anti-oxidants. It can even help reduce LDL cholesterol, the “bad” kind of cholesterol found in butter and red meat.
Like the Mediterranean diet, the Cretan diet promotes a relaxing lifestyle around eating, including careful food preparation, and enjoying meals slowly with family and friends. Meals consist of a variety of dishes but in smaller portions than Westerners tend to eat. Sweetener comes from fruit syrups or honey instead of white sugar, and whole grain cereals take the place of refined cereals. Also included in these diets are a moderate amount of red wine, which is rich in anti-oxidants and believed to help reduce high blood pressure.