A Taste of Ikaria, Greece
A small island in the Aegean Sea boasts one of the world’s largest concentration of centenarians, and research scientists all over the world who have studied the people of Ikaria believe their longevity results from a combination of lifestyle and diet.
Ikaria is one of four acknowledged “blue zones” (along withSardinia, Italy; the Island of Okinawa, Japan; and Loma Linda, Calif.), parts of the earth where a community of people has active lives past the age of 100 years, due to life practices and healthy diets. Several books and articles have been published about the blue zone diet and lifestyle.Ikaria has the highest percentage of 90+ year olds in the world. In fact, one out of three people on this tiny island make it to their 90s. In comparison to the rest of the world, Ikaria has a 20% lower rate of cancer, a 50% lower rate of heart disease and almost no cases of dementia.
The Ikarian diet resembles the Mediterranean diet -- a lot of beans, wild greens, and red wine, modest amount of seafood and fish, potatoes, goat’s milk, herbal tea are consumed. Very little red meat, poultry or refined sugar is eaten. Nearly 75% of Ikarians grow their own vegetables and herbs and make their own wine.
Daily exercise and afternoon naps are a tradition. Research studies have shown afternoon naps can reduce the chances of having a heart attack or stroke by 30%. Naps are also an excellent way to reduce stress and help rejuvenate the body. Most businesses on the island of Ikaria close their doors around 3 pm daily, reopen at 9 pm and remain open well past midnight. Almost the entire community does not wear a watch, and arriving late to events is widely acceptable -- which reduces stress. The island also has a sense of tight community. Everyone knows almost everybody and experts suggest this reduces isolation, depression, weight gain and even suicide/death.
Most Ikarian style cooked dishes are drenched in extra virgin olive oil, which contains natural antioxidants associated with lowering the risk of heart disease and various types of cancers. Another ingredient found in a lot of Ikarian dishes, goat milk is easier to digest than cow’s milk, plus it is high in tryptophan, which reduces the stress hormone and lowers the risk of heart disease. In fact, goat milk could differentiate a prospective new entry into the popular Greek yogurt market in U.S. groceries.
Interestingly, Ikaria also has more than 100 types of wild greens growing on the island, serving as rich sources of antioxidants. Consumed daily, herbal teas can help lower blood pressure, reduce the risk of a heart attack and decrease chances of dementia. In fact, a popular ancient tea called Siderites (aka, Greek mountain tea) is made of dried leaves and flowers from the Siderites plant. It grows on rocky slopes at the elevation of 3,200 feet. Researchers believe this Greek mountain tea aids digestion, strengthens the immune system and suppresses the common cold, flu, allergies and sinus congestion.
For decades, Greek restaurants throughout America have filled their menus with ingredients imported from various islands throughout Greece, hoping to entice customers with delicious old-world dishes, while also sharing traditional healthy food ingredients.
Chicago’s popular Greek Islands restaurant says it imports more than 75% of its ingredients from Greece. Like many dishes in Ikaria, several Greek Island dishes are cooked in extra virgin olive oil. Staples such as the Cold Lima Beans Appetizer (Greek Lima Beans, extra virgin olive oil, celery, carrots, red and green peppers) and Skordalia (a garlic-potato spread, blended with extra virgin olive oil) are two popular menu items.
This year, Greek Islands' owners say they intend to expand the restaurant’sauthentic menu with more heart-healthy selections such as Mediterranean-style Salmon (baked in parchment paper) and Seafood croquettes (made with imported baby Greek octopus). Says managing partner Gus Couchell, “We are replacing our butter with olive oil. Most of our chicken dishes are prepared skinless. Our best seller, octopus, is now available in Seafood Croquettes, and another dish, Octopus Stifado, is stewed octopus in a savory tomato-herb sauce.”
Food manufacturers might be wise to look beyond the already popular herbal teas, yogurt, hummus and olive oil. Instead, food companies might consider producing some of Ikaria’s signature dishes. Two widely popular dishes are: bean stew (lima beans, onions, tomatoes, kale, dill, extra virgin olive oil) and Soufiko (eggplants, potatoes, zucchini, onions, tomatoes, sweet peppers, oregano, extra virgin olive oil). pf