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Dine the Greek way
But beware of Trojan horses—not all Greek food is healthy

» Spinach and feta pie

» Greek-style stewed chicken

» Greek-style tuna steaks with roasted vegetables

» Greek pasta salad

Heart-smart fact

Older, sedentary individuals have hearts that are 50 percent stiffer than those of older athletes, according to a study sponsored by the National Institutes of Health.

Although many of their meals consist of 40 percent fat, residents of the Greek isle of Crete who eat a traditional diet live longer than most populations on the planet. In fact, Greeks who haven’t succumbed to Western-style meals are 20 percent less likely to die of coronary artery disease and about 30 percent less likely to die of cancer than Americans.

These are stats that make nutritionists take note, and what they’ve found is that the traditional Greek diet—which focuses on vegetables, fruits, grains, beans, nuts and yogurt; olive oil as the sole source of added fat; only a few weekly servings of fish, poultry, eggs and sweets; and red meats saved for special occasions only—is one of the healthiest eating styles you can choose. What’s more, the Greek diet is tasty—a sign that you don’t have to give up good food to stay healthy.

But be cautious: Some Greek foods found on these shores don’t fit the heart-healthy profile of traditional Greek cuisine. The nonprofit Center for Science in the Public Interest analyzed typical restaurant-size portions of some popular Greek meals. What they found could stop your heart:


Greek treatThe damage
Spanakopita (spinach pie in phyllo dough)410 calories, 24 grams of fat
Greek salad with dressing (entrée size)390 calories, 30 grams of fat
Dolmades (grape leaves stuffed with meat and rice)540 calories, 32 grams of fat
Moussaka (a meat and eggplant casserole dish)830 calories, 48 grams of fat
Beef or lamb gyro (sandwich)760 calories, 20 grams of fat
Baklava (honey and nut pastry)550 calories, 21 grams of fat

Skip these diet killers, devise lower-fat versions of them or choose some of the following Greek delights.

Spinach and feta pie

  • 1¼ cups water
  • 2 medium onions, chopped
  • ½ cup uncooked white rice
  • 10 ounces frozen chopped spinach, thawed and squeezed dry
  • egg substitute equivalent to 4 eggs
  • ¼ cup fat-free milk
  • 4 ounces feta cheese with sun-dried tomatoes and basil
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano, crumbled
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 2 medium lemons, quartered

In a medium broiler-proof skillet, bring the water to a boil over high heat. Stir in the onions and rice. Return to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer, covered, for 15 minutes.

Stir in the spinach, egg substitute, milk, 2 ounces of feta, oregano and salt. Reduce the heat to medium-low. Cook, covered for 20 minutes, or until the eggs are almost set. Sprinkle the remaining 2 ounces of feta over the pie. Meanwhile, preheat the broiler.

Broil for 2 minutes, or until the cheese begins to melt slightly. Remove from the oven and let stand for 5 minutes to allow the flavors to blend and for easier cutting. (The egg mixture will continue to cook while the pie broils and stands.) Cut into four wedges. Serve with lemon to squeeze on top.

Serves 4. Per serving: 249 calories, 6.5 g total fat (4.0 g saturated fat, 0 g polyunsaturated fat, 0 g monounsaturated fat), 21 mg cholesterol, 705 mg sodium, 31 g carbohydrates, 4 g fiber, 7 g sugar, 16 g protein

Greek-style stewed chicken

  • 1 teaspoon olive oil
  • 1 pound chicken breast tenders or tenderloins, all visible fat discarded
  • 1 medium green bell pepper, cut into 1-inch strips
  • 2 medium shallots, peeled and quartered
  • 14.5-ounce can no-salt-added diced tomatoes, undrained
  • ½ cup fat-free, low-sodium chicken broth
  • ¼ cup Kalamata olives, drained and coarsely chopped
  • 1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano, crumbled
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon pepper
  • ⅛ teaspoon ground cinnamon

Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Pour the oil into the skillet and swirl to coat the bottom. Cook the chicken for 2 minutes. Turn and cook for 2 minutes.

Add the bell pepper and shallots. Cook for 2 to 3 minutes, or until the vegetables are tender-crisp, stirring occasionally.

Stir in the remaining ingredients. Bring to a simmer. Reduce the heat and simmer, covered, for 25 to 30 minutes, or until the chicken is no longer pink in the center.

Serves 4. Per serving: 197 calories, 5 g total fat (1 g saturated fat, 0.5 g polyunsaturated fat, 3 g monounsaturated fat), 66 mg cholesterol, 404 mg sodium, 10 g carbohydrates, 3 g fiber, 28 g protein

Greek-style tuna steaks with roasted vegetables

  • vegetable oil spray
  • 1 cup uncooked couscous
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil (extra virgin preferred)
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano, crumbled
  • 1 medium garlic clove, minced
  • ½ teaspoon grated lemon zest
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon pepper
  • 2 8-ounce tuna steaks (about one-inch thick)
  • 1 medium yellow squash, diced
  • 1 medium onion, cut into 8 wedges
  • 1 medium green or yellow bell pepper, cut into thin strips
  • 1 medium tomato, cut into 8 wedges
  • ¼ teaspoon paprika
  • 1 medium lemon, cut into 4 wedges

Preheat the broiler. Lightly spray a broiler pan with vegetable oil spray.

Prepare the couscous using the package directions, omitting the salt and oil. Meanwhile, in a small bowl, stir together the oil, lemon juice, oregano, garlic, lemon zest, salt and pepper. Set aside.

Rinse the tuna and pat dry with paper towels. Cut the tuna in half. Place the tuna in the center of the broiler pan. Place the squash, onion, bell pepper and tomato pieces around the tuna in a single layer. Lightly spray the tuna and vegetables with vegetable oil spray. Sprinkle the tuna with the paprika.

Broil for 2 minutes. Turn the tuna over. Broil for 1 to 2 minutes, or until the tuna is the desired doneness.

Fluff the couscous with a fork. Spoon it onto the center of a serving platter. Place the tuna steaks on the couscous. Stir the lemon juice mixture; pour over the vegetables in the broiler pan. Stir. Spoon over the tuna steaks. Serve with the lemon wedges.

Serves 4. Per serving: 431 calories, 9 g total fat (1.5 g saturated fat, 1.5 g polyunsaturated fat, 5.5 g monounsaturated fat), 51 mg cholesterol, 342 mg sodium, 51 g carbohydrates, 4 g fiber, 7 g sugar, 35 g protein

Greek pasta salad

Salad

  • 12-ounce package dried tricolor rotini (4 ½ to 6 cups)
  • 1¼ cups frozen baby peas, thawed
  • 1 cup diced red bell pepper (1 medium)
  • ⅔ cup unpeeled seeded and diced cucumber (½ medium)
  • ½ cup thinly sliced green onions (4 to 5 medium)
  • 4 ounces crumbled feta cheese, rinsed

Dressing

  • ½ cup nonfat or low-fat cottage cheese
  • ½ cup plain nonfat or low-fat yogurt
  • ¼ cup fat-free, cholesterol-free or light, reduced-calorie mayonnaise dressing
  • ¼ cup thinly sliced green onions (green part only) (3 to 4 medium)
  • 1 to 2 tablespoons finely snipped fresh dillweed
  • ¼ teaspoon pepper

For salad, cook pasta using package directions, omitting salt and oil. Drain and put in large bowl. Stir in remaining salad ingredients. Set aside.

In a food processor or blender, puree cottage cheese, yogurt, mayonnaise and green onions.

Stir in dillweed and pepper, then combine with pasta mixture. Cover and refrigerate until chilled, about 30 minutes.

Serves 8. Per serving: 224 calories, 4 g total fat (2 g saturated fat, 0 g polyunsaturated fat, 1 g monounsaturated fat), 14 mg cholesterol, 271 mg sodium, 36 g carbohydrates, 3 g fiber, 11 g protein

Recipes adapted with permission from American Heart Association One-Dish Meals, copyright © 2003; The American Heart Association Low-Fat, Low Cholesterol Cookbook, copyright © 2004; and The New American Heart Association Cookbook, copyright © 2001. Published by Clarkson Potter/Publishers, a division of Random House, Inc. Available from booksellers everywhere.


© 2014 Dowden Health Media