Diabetes & The Greek Diet

Lemons and Bay leaves: Two staple condiments in the Mediterranean Diet

Since my last post, I’ve been thinking a lot about the “Greek diet,” and the good and bad eating habits in Greek households. I’m not an expert on the Mediterranean diet, I only know from experience what the diet consists of, and what makes it healthy, and unhealthy.

For the most part, starches derive from kritharaki, rice, lentils, pasta, and bread like most cuisine. However, carbs do not make their appearance at the dinner table every night. We also have phyllo. Of course. The crackly dough on the outside of tiropita. Desserts like Baklava are wrapped in phyllo, or filled with finely shredded phyllo. As far as I know, I don’t think our diet instigates diabetes or heart disease. At least I didn’t think so. My father was diagnosed with Type II diabetes years ago. I was young, but I remember the commotion between my parents, and the whispered conversations about doctor appointments. At the time I didn’t really know what it was, I was a child with a case of something close to ADD, always in my own world. Though some things never change as you age.

In grade six history class, we were assigned a project to research a Canadian inventor, their invention, and the impact of the invention on society. I researched Sir Frederick Grant Banting and Dr. Charles Best (a duo more commonly known as Banting & Best). Long story short, Banting was fascinated by the pancreas, and wanted to understand the break-down processes that occur in the pancreas, that lead to Diabetes. Banting’s goal was to extract and isolate digestive acids from a deteriorating pancreas. After successful experimentation on dogs, Banting named the “juice” insulin, and it was prepared as an injection for diabetics. Insulin injections would facilitate digestion of blood sugar. Although a milestone in the research of diabetes, and a short-term response to break down blood sugars, it was not a cure.

Two weeks ago, Papou had a doctor’s appointment, in response to symptoms of lethargy, excessive thirst, and other unpleasant symptoms suffered by diabetics. He was diagnosed with Type II diabetes. Today he visited our house to use my fathers One Touch glucose meter. Blood from a self-inflicted needle piercing in the finger, palm, or forearm, is transferred to a metal test strip, which is then read in the device. Yiayia fought with me for ten minutes about how to insert the needle into its holder. I tried to explain that you just need to push it down into the slot, push the button on the side, and the needle will pop out quickly to pierce the skin. Finally she decided to just take the needle and poke Papou’s finger.

“Yiayia, you stabbed him!”

Ade, he’s fine!”

Papou stared at Yiayia. And she giggled! It was more of the shock of being pinned though. I sew, at random, and I always manage to get a needlepoint or two in my fingers. It’s a brief shock, nothing more. But still! Needless to say, we took his reading.

Ti lei Yianna? What does it say?”

“7.4.”

I showed the machine to Papou. I can’t explain the silence that fell over my grandparents, mom, and myself. It sounds cliché, but I felt it. Papou stared at the machine.

Yiayia spoke first: “It’s not so bad though, it came down. Plus you ate macaronia yesterday.”

Like any starchy food, pasta, bread, rice, those carbs translate to sugar. Yiayia has Papou on a strict diet of vrasta (boiled vegetables with garlic and olive oil), tourlou (ratatouille), and no carbs. When Yiayia lectured Papou about his new diet, I thought back to when I was young, and the meals that my family made, and the meals that my friends families made.

My childhood reminds me of my mothers past, and failed Swanson TV Dinners. Though I sometimes complained to my parents to make more packaged food, I’m thankful they didn’t. To this day, I eat a ton of vegetables. And fruits. But I prefer vegetables, if I’m given a choice. But at the same time, there’s carbs: I love bread too, and that’s something I think I’ve inherited from my mother as well, the “bread-aholic” gene. I like to convince myself that we eat enough fruits and veggies to balance out the carbs. Meat? Personally, not a fan. I like chicken, but I could live without it. This realization struck me before I thought back to my past three years in University, and all the shitty food I ate. All-nighters at the school meant a vending machine of junky-options for dinner: anything from Reese’s butter-cups to Frito Hoops (I always went with the hoops).

My point is, I could have easily been next in line for Diabetes, but before Papou was diagnosed, and before I hit an all time low, I hit the gym and spent more time in the kitchen preparing my own, good Greek meals; the same meals that kept me healthy as a child. (See? You should learn to cook! It will save your life one day).

I like to think that the Diabetes ricocheting through my family occurs because we do not strictly adhere to the Mediterranean diet. It must have something to do with genetics as well. Last post, if I seemed flustered, it was because of this: how can the Mediterranean diet diminish, when in the end, a simple lifestyle change could mean reduced health complications and more lives saved? And, if you have any personal stories about a health related “all time low” I’d love to hear it! What did you do to help yourself, or someone you know?

(P.S. Stay tuned in the next two weeks on my blog, I’ll be posting a few simple and quick lunch recipes, but until then check out my recipe for Horiotiki Salata, a simple, healthy, and filling Greek salad).

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One thought on “Diabetes & The Greek Diet

  1. Hi Joanna,

    Thanks for the great post and thank you for mentioning my site! Yes, diabetes does run in families, but there are other risk factors: obesity, diet etc but the good news is that studies have shown that with a proper diet, exercise and medications (if needed) it can be controlled. And the Mediterranean diet can be an ideal diet for prevention and control.

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