INTERVIEW: Dimi Harpas, dietitian and nutritionist of Eat Live Mediterranean

Mediterranean diet Mediterranean food

Eat Live Mediterranean

Eat Live Mediterranean, Accredited practicing dietitian and accredited nutritionist Dimi Harpas of Eat Live Mediterranean talks all things Mediterranean, diet and wellbeing.

Below is the interview.

If you would like to know more about Eat Live Mediterranean please click here: https://eatlivemediterranean.com.au/

 

We were so excited to follow your journey through Crete this year. What are your thoughts on the Cretans diet and lifestyle? 

I was so interested to go to Crete to experience firsthand the birthplace of the traditional Mediterranean diet. As you drive through Crete, you can see how the Cretans have thrived for thousands of years living off what their land had produced. Crete has a rugged, diverse and spectacular landscape. You see enormous mountains, you see the bluest beaches & you see never-ending stretches of olive groves. There are many elderly people who live in Crete who are still living off their land (just as they always have) & look as strong and as robust as someone 20 years their junior. It is no secret that it is a powerful blend of the Cretan diet, lifestyle & environmental factors that have all contributed.

I loved trying the traditional dishes that were unique to Crete. Also, I was pleased that there were many places to eat & experience authentic Cretan cooking. The beauty of Cretan food is that the ingredients speak for themselves: there is so much flavour & yet the food is so simple (and extremely nutritious!). Yum!

What led you to create ‘Eat Live Mediterranean’ and what were you hoping to achieve? 

I have always loved helping others to improve their health through nutritional therapy. I also love Greek cooking and food in general. After working in private practice for over 4 years, I realised that I could pair my knowledge & experience in the Mediterranean diet with my clinical skills, and I launched ‘Eat Live Mediterranean’ at the beginning of this year.

I am so passionate about the Mediterranean Diet and lifestyle because I know how powerful it can be-& I want others to know it too! I also launched Eat Live Mediterranean to help others learn the practical side to the diet and how to adapt it to their own lives.

What is the Mediterranean diet? 

Let me start by explaining what it ‘isn’t’ first. Most people think that the Mediterranean diet is a combination of Greek, Italian and Spanish cuisines because that is how it is marketed. Or they may think it is the ‘souvlaki & yeeros’ diet of the Greeks. This couldn’t be further from the truth.

The true Mediterranean Diet is actually a dietary pattern modelled on the diet of the Cretans from the 1950s. Researchers found the Cretan men of those times had the lowest rates of death by heart disease in the world. At that time, Crete had 3 deaths per thousand people while Finland had 171 deaths per thousand people. So it is actually the traditional & historical ‘peasant’ diet of the Greeks. Now, the Mediterranean Diet is the most comprehensibly researched diet in the world and we have a lot of evidence showing that it is incredibly beneficial for our physical & mental health.

The Mediterranean diet ‘pattern’ is based on plenty of vegetables, fruits, extra virgin olive oil, legumes, wholegrains, nuts, fish, fermented dairy (like fetta and Greek yoghurt), a moderate amount of white meat, a reduced amount of red meat and a little red wine for good measure!

What are the benefits of taking on a Mediterranean approach to one’s health? What does this way of eating and living promote? 

The Mediterranean Diet may protect you from chronic diseases, promote good physical & mental health throughout your life and even increase your chances of living longer. It is also not a restrictive diet, it is a ‘pattern’ of eating or way of eating (making it achievable & sustainable for people to adopt!).

I noticed there are limitations on the consumption of red meat in this diet, why is that? 

We know that red meat is a good source of protein, iron & vitamin B12, however we also know that it can be high in saturated fat. Studies have consistently shown that consuming large amounts of red meat (more than 700 g per week) may increase our risk of developing heart disease and certain cancers. We need to be even more careful about eating large amounts of processed meats because they contain harmful substances called ‘nitrosamines’ which have been classified as carcinogens (i.e they can cause cancer). 

The Mediterranean diet doesn’t eliminate red meat, per say. It is just seen as a ‘sometimes’ or special occasion food. Think about how the Greeks in villages used to eat meat. They may have eaten red meat on holidays, special feast days and every other week (when they had a goat or lamb to spare). Also, the amount they consumed was minimal, about 60 grams or so.

Could you please tell us more about the UNESCO heritage listing of the Mediterranean diet? 

The Mediterranean Diet was officially given a heritage listing in November 2010 because UNESCO saw the importance of recognising & protecting it. UNESCO views the Mediterranean Diet as a ‘set of skills, knowledge & practices and traditions that concerns taking food from the landscape to the table in the Mediterranean basin. It also concerns their processing, their preservation & their consumption’.

The Mediterranean Diet is not only recognized as being healthy and sustainable for our wellbeing, but also healthy & sustainable for the environment. The reason behind this is because it is a mostly plant based diet. Generally, this means it can reduce the strain on the environment & the emission of greenhouse gases.

You take on a much more holistic approach to health. You incorporate principles of the Mediterranean ‘lifestyle’ when considering solutions for your clients; can you tell us more about that? 

The word ‘diet’ actually comes from the Greek word ‘Diata’ which actually translates to a ‘way of life’ or ‘lifestyle’. Eating is about so much more than just consuming a meal, calories or even nutritional benefits. Eating brings people together, provides enjoyment and is an important part of the human experience. I feel that it is so easy to lose sight of that in our busy day and age. I try to remind my clients that ‘how’ we eat is just as important as ‘what’ we eat. Mindful & intuitive eating something that many of us struggle with in this day and age, and I believe it is so important to be able to ‘re-learn’ this skill of connecting to how food makes us feel.

What does the research behind the Mediterranean diet actually point to in terms of health? Is there an unquestionable finding that if we were to only follow that, it would lead to better health? 

In the science & nutrition world, it is very difficult to say with 100% certainty that a specific diet can lead to better health, because there are so many variables involved in one’s health. However, the more evidence we have on a specific way of eating, the better and there has been more research done on this diet than any other diet in the world.

What we do know for certain is that the Mediterranean diet is an extremely healthy eating pattern and the evidence is only building. 

In terms of physical & mental health the Mediterranean Diet may:

  • Prevent Type 2 Diabetes and complications of Type 2 Diabetes;
  • Maintain heart health & prevent secondary heart attacks/ stroke;
  • Increase longevity & reduce frailty in the elderly;
  • Reduce the risk of developing Alzheimer’s Disease & Dementia;
  • Reduce risk of developing Parkinson’s Disease;
  • Improve chances of falling pregnant & reduce pregnancy complications;

If there is only one message that you would like to get across, what would that be?

If you are starting to think about making changes to your health for the better, you do not need to do a restrictive or rigid diet that will not serve you in the long term. Make small changes and keep building on them. The Mediterranean way of eating and living is not only good for the body, it is good for the soul! It is a way of eating that you can continue for the rest of your life.

Where to from here for Eat Live Mediterranean, are there any exciting projects underway that you would like to share with our readers? 

There is still so much I would love to do! I would love to develop online courses, Ebooks, many more recipes of course & who knows, maybe I can host a Mediterranean Diet tour in Crete one day!

 

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