Menopause and My Big Fat Greek Diet

Toni Hurst Health Guide
  • I read something recently about the health benefits of nuts, and it reminded me that once upon a time, I viewed nuts as health food.


    Many years ago I was fortunate enough to be invited to Greece, an all-expenses-paid trip, as a speaker at a conference on the Mediterranean Diet. I joined about 80 people on the tiny island of Crete to hear others-much smarter than myself-speak about the long-term health benefits of a diet similar to what people in Greece eat every day. I thought-hmmmm-instead of just talking about it, let's go out into restaurants and into the streets and ask people if they will share the secrets of their healthful diet.

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    They did. So while the scientists were inside a conference room debating this and that, I was in local restaurants and tavernas eating and talking. I learned a lot, and I'll share that with you. But I bring it up now because during menopause, while everything is changing so rapidly inside us, it's important to keep focused on a healthful diet. I know mood swings and hot flashes and generally feeling sorry for myself can send me straight to ice cream, chocolate, and even potato chips, which I don't even like but they make me feel better. I hate the word diet and I'm not all that crazy about the word healthful, either. I'll stay away from both of them.


    The most fascinating thing about what was on the table in those Greek homes was that there was a lot of fat. At breakfast, they ate a bowlful of  fresh yogurt, nuts and fruit, and sometimes some sliced meats. They never heard of low-fat yogurt. Because it is fresh and unsweetened (and no artificial ANYTHING), they drizzle honey on it, just a bit. They accompany that with strong coffee or tea. After breakfast is cleared, they leave the nuts and fruits on the table all day for snacking.


    Lunch might be a slice of freshly baked bread with olive oil steeped with dried or fresh herbs, or naturally low-fat flatbread smeared with roasted garlic, or with an incredibly delicious mixture of fava beans and olive oil. I haven't had anything like it here but I've made do with hummus on flatbread for lunch. More fruits and fresh vegetables are also served, and more nuts and fruits are put on the table for afternoon snacking.

    Dinner was more extravagant, usually fish of some sort, more bread and olive oil, vegetables from the garden, and wine. Dessert was more fruit, fresh or dried, nuts and maybe a little bit of honey.


    You'll notice there is no butter, nothing we would think of as "snack foods," and no sugar. But the fruits and nuts were constantly available to anyone who walked by the kitchen table. What a fabulous idea!


    I brought home that idea and for months I bought fresh nuts like almonds, walnuts, hazelnuts, Brazil nuts, pecans, and cashews and put those and raisins and prunes and other dried fruits out on the kitchen table, just to see if my kids (and husband) would snack on them. THEY DID!   And who cared if they ate that and weren't so hungry for dinner? Not me.


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    I fell out of the habit years ago but with all the good news surrounding nuts these days, I'm going to get some and put them out for grabbing all day long. They are full of fiber and antioxidants and cancer-fighting selenium, and yes they have FAT but it's the good fat, and I'll limit myself to a big handful each day. And maybe I'll start making my own preservative-free yogurt for breakfast. The flavor of that fresh yogurt was heavenly-a far cry from the low-fat, chemical-laden stuff we get in little containers in the supermarket. I try to buy sulfur-free dried fruit at the store, but any sort of dried fruit will do.


    My goal this week is to return to my big fat Greek diet. I think it might help my mood, and I believe it will help keep me from getting the "hungries" and grabbing something bad for me. I'll let you know how it goes.  


Published On: September 10, 2008