For Hanukkah, my parents got me a cookbook full of recipes that originated on a Greek island called Ikaria. Ikaria is known for having one of the highest life expectancies in the world. Not only does the average Ikarian live into their 90s, but they also remain healthy and active until the very end, suffering from chronic disease at much lower rates than the rest of Greece, Europe, and the United States. The cookbook’s author (a native Ikarian herself) offers some evidence and wisdom about the elements of the Ikarian lifestyle that confer the people such longevity. I will share with you now some New Years resolutions that will help you be more like the Ikarians.
- Eat more plants: This one’s hardly news, folks. As dietary recommendations go, the one to eat more whole fruits and vegetables is the least controversial. And it just so happens that the Ikarians eat mostly a whole food, plant-based diet, with a small amount of yogurt, cheese, meat, and fish sprinkled in. They eat a ton of dark, leafy greens, beans, grains, and other fruits and veggies. This year, find the fruits, vegetables, and whole grains that you like and eat them as often as you can.
- Cook from scratch more often: Most Ikarians actually grow a lot of their own food, including the animals. Even if they didn’t grow it themselves, it is very rare to find them heating up a frozen dinner or digging into a bag of potato chips . They prepare their meals from whole ingredients, with patience and love. This one’s backed up by research too; people who cook more tend to have better health outcomes. This year, resolve to cook more often than you did last year.
- Be liberal with the EVOO: Olive oil definitely has health benefits —it improves cholesterol, helps you absorb fat-soluble vitamins — but like all oils, it’s calorie dense (i.e. fattening). Still, the Ikarians are remarkably heavy-handed with the stuff. It certainly explains how they make the piles of greens they eat so delicious. And who am I to argue with their thriving cohort of centenarians? This year, try using olive oil for cooking, dipping bread, salad dressings, whatever you like.
- Drink wine regularly: Hang on now, don’t get too excited. My fellow college students, let me assure you that I’m not endorsing binge-drinking, but the Ikarians do drink a couple of glasses of wine daily with their meals. Empirical evidence is on our side with this one too — alcohol in moderation is consistently associated with lower incidence of heart disease. If you don’t drink at all, this is no good reason to start, but if you do, a glass or two of wine a day is definitely much healthier than seven shots on Saturday.
- Take life slow, not too seriously, and be spontaneous: Ikarians are known for not having a great sense of time. They don’t rush anything, especially their meals. Case in point: see above the baked chickpea dish I made from the cookbook that took three hours in the oven (and it was delicious, by the way). They don’t generally make plans in advance; it seems like people just show up at each other’s homes around dinner hour and they happily share food and wine. I know that’s not really how it works over here, but this year, resolve to make a little more time for you, for doing things just because you feel like it, and for spending time with the people you love. It might just mean a longer, happier life.