The Greek Fast: Appetizing and Healthy

Photo Credit: Grilled Octopus on Bean Salad by Karen Blumberg Photo Credit: Grilled Octopus on Bean Salad by Karen Blumberg
The Greek-Orthodox fasting season is well underway. The word “fasting” is usually associated with liquid only diets or other strict ways of eating. This type of fasting however is a bit more lenient and tasty; The Christian Greek Orthodox fasting practice is unique in that you can actually eat real food; they only need to avoid animal products. While other religious fasting practices may promote an unbalanced way of eating, this fast has been studied and has specific health benefits.

Research shows that individuals who follow a Greek Orthodox fast have a lower intake of saturated fat, total fat and calories and a higher intake of fiber, a combination that protects from heart disease and cancer. In addition, studies have shown the non-animal protein sources such as legumes and nuts are healthier than animal protein sources due to their fiber and antioxidant content, but also effective for weight loss due to their low fat content. Deficiencies are rare with this pattern of eating. A study by British and Greek researchers showed that individuals who were following a Greek Orthodox fast, actually had higher levels of iron intake compared to those who were not fasting.

In recent years there are very few people that avoid animal products for 40+ days and it is a rare event when someone avoids olive oil during the week. Mostly Christian Greek Orthodox nuns and monks follow a strict religious fast. Today most people only fast the week before Easter, and it’s hardly a test of self-restraint since there are so many products out on the market such as “vegetarian” cheese, chocolate, milk (soy, rice) etc. Avoiding animal products just for the sake of avoiding them while replacing them with other substitutes misses the point, not only spiritually but also nutritionally. The health benefits of the Greek Orthodox fast come from the increased intake of fruits, vegetables, beans and good fats from nuts, seeds and olive oil and a lower intake of calories. Unfortunately a diet rich in processed foods even if they have no animal products in them will not provide the expected benefits.

A strict fast without olive oil may not be feasible for most of us, but it’s worth trying to follow a vegetable based diet with a hint of seafood. Greeks may believe it’s good for your soul, but science says that it’s good for your health.

Elena Paravantes is a Greek-American Registered Dietitian-Nutritionist, writer and founder of olivetomato.com a blog about the Greek Diet and Greek Food.

Greek Reporter

3/22/2012

See also
Fasting According to the Scriptures Fasting According to the Scriptures
Vincent Martini
Fasting According to the Scriptures Fasting According to the Scriptures
Vincent Martini
Notice that Christ mentions the discipline of fasting as a foregone conclusion for his followers. We also see that fasting is pointless if it is not done with the right spirit. Those who fast “publicly” and with great “fanfare” have received their reward, and it is both temporal and fleeting. True fasting is a relational and Spiritual discipline that affects one’s whole person and transforms one into the likeness of Christ.
Lenten Holidays Lenten Holidays Lenten Holidays Lenten Holidays
Victoria Sverdlova
During the time of gastronomically austere yet spiritually joyous Great Lent, there is room for holidays as well—sitting quietly, joyfully, and warmly around the table with close friends and family. Different family members may be fasting to varying degrees—healthy adults, children, the elderly, the ailing—but the holiday table should be set with Lenten foods for all. In this case, it is time for tea, with all the attending sweets.
When Should Children Begin to Fast? When Should Children Begin to Fast? When Should Children Begin to Fast? When Should Children Begin to Fast?
When the children grow and their personality and inclinations become clearer, parents should show tact with respect to the norms of fasting. They must not, for example, forbid them sweets against their will, or make the fast days so strict with regard to food quality and quantity as to exceed the norms of the Church’s rule of fasting. Ailing or frail children can naturally be given dispensations, or even be freed from fasting.
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