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Ikarian Diet: what is it and why should I choose to follow it?

Since the previous century, the Mediterranean diet, first established as a model on the Greek island of Crete, is recommended in order to maintain our good health and achieve longevity, however, out of all the Mediterraneans, the people of Ikaria island seem to have the best results in those areas. Even though it is proven that the Mediterranean diet protects against a number of illnesses, such as cardiovascular disease and some types of cancer, in the year 2020 its preeminence is doubted, as it has been observed that the Ikarians have the best results in the fields of cardiovascular health and longevity, compared to the rest of the Mediterranean. It is of major importance to mention that in 2009, Ikaria was the final addition of the “Blue Zones”, a total of 5 regions with the highest life expectancy in the world, as 1/3 of its residents had a life expectancy of over 90 years of age, while having much lower rates of cancer, cardiovascular disease and dementia. The question, now, is what really separates Ikaria from the rest of the Mediterranean islands.

We use the term “Ikarian” to describe not only the people that follow this particular food pattern, but rather an overall lifestyle model that has been observed in Ikaria. Starting with the Ikarian Diet, it is indeed a model very different from the Mediterranean. Primarily, the last one is based on high consumption of grains, fruit and vegetables, medium consumption of olive oil and legumes, low of dairy products and white meat (fish, poultry etc.) and very limited red meat and sweets. In Ikaria, the consumption of meat, even of white meats, is significantly lower, a fact that can be attributed to various factors, such as the presence of pirates near the coasts of the island, very limited land areas suitable for livestock or high adherence to the fasting periods that the orthodox religion sets. Additionally, a dietary habit of the locals is the daily consumption of red wine, as well as a variety of tea and herbal beverages, which respectively contain high amounts of antioxidants and diuretic factors, components known for their cardioprotective effects.  Finally, olive oil tends to flow abundantly on the Ikarian table, both as a raw ingredient and in meal preparation. Therefore, we can describe Ikarian Diet as a mostly plant-based diet, with even higher plant-based content than the Mediterranean.

Regarding other aspects of the Ikarian lifestyle, exercise is the second most important feature. In the absence of large arable areas on the island, the locals realized that the only solution would be to grow their own fruits and vegetables and raise a limited number of animals for future consumption within the family. Daily occupation with the garden and farming activities resulted inevitably in an active lifestyle. The aforementioned result was then reinforced by the fact that, in the context of social life, locals tend to also walk adequately, in order to visit either a loved one, the sea, the church and so on, thus reaching the point of consuming more energy every day compared to someone going to the gym. Furthermore, social life itself is a very important trait of their way of life, since meeting daily with family and friends is an integral part of it. Finally, midday napping is rarely absent from their daily routine and is considered as one of the most important elements in reducing stress, thus additionally protecting their well-being.

Considering the aforementioned, it is observed that, whether it is due to the circumstances or to conscious decisions, people of Ikaria created a diet and lifestyle pattern that achieved to rank them among the top 5 regions of the world in terms of longevity and overall quality of health. And on one hand, they are the ones that created the model, but on the other, people from all over the world can learn from their example. Growing our own vegetables may not be possible, but we can choose to buy those instead of some processed food for example. The pace of our lives may be fast, but still, we can create the opportunity to spend time drinking a glass of red wine with our family and friends. And so, step by step, while adopting these habits we will benefit our health, physically and mentally, by offering an invaluable gift to our body.

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