Why are the Greeks among the healthiest people on earth? T+L went to find out.

By Diane Kochilas
June 13, 2011
Credit: Christos Drazos

The Local Diet

In ancient mythology, the gods ate ambrosia to gain Herculean strength and immortality, and it was Hippocrates who first suggested, circa 400 B.C., “let food be thy medicine.” Today, ordinary citizens of Greece follow that same philosophy. Consider their focus on fresh ingredients—vine tomatoes, seasonal greens, and squashes of every stripe; grapes, figs, and dozens of varieties of olives and olive oil; fish, fish, and more fish; and red meat in moderation. Couple that with the grazing tradition of sharing mezes, or small plates, and it’s no surprise that the word metabolism has Greek roots.

Greece, by the Numbers

10,760,136 people
143,000,000 olive trees
26 liters of olive oil consumed per capita, per annum
22.5 percent obesity rate (versus 34 percent in the u.s.)
79.92 years average life expectancy

Where to Eat Well

Athens: You’ll come across plenty of tavernas in the capital, but chef-owner Nagia Pigaditi’s tiny To Mageriko Tis Nagia’s, in the Kallithea district, stands out for its seasonal menu of good-for-you comfort food. Our favorite? A goat-cheese pie with sesame and honey. 1 Galatias; 30-210/951-7230; lunch for two $57.

Crete: The site of numerous health studies in the 1960’s, Crete gets credit for putting the Mediterranean diet on the map. For authentic Cretan cuisine, head to Patrelantonis, on Marathi beach. Chef Kyria Roula will wow you with baked grouper and okra, squid braised with wild fennel, or a fish and chickpea stew. Marathi, Chania, Akrotiri; 30-282/106-3337; lunch for two $60.

Ikaria: On this Cyclades island, longevity rates are uncannily long—more than one-third of the population lives past 90. At the 10-acre Ikarian Wine Club, owners George and Eleni Karimalis serve delicious vegetarian dishes using produce grown in their gardens. On the menu: stuffed grape leaves and house-made pasta with fresh herbs and olive oil, both of which pair perfectly with the winery’s crisp white Begleri. Karimalis Estate; 30-227/503-1151; dinner for two $70.

Santorini: Travelers flock to the island’s dramatic volcanic cliffs, but few are familiar with its unique produce. The “waterless” tomato fritters, white eggplant purée, and salted cod brandeda in a tomato-garlic poure sauce at Nichteri Restaurant should not be missed. Kamari; 30-228/603-3480; dinner for two $65.

Bring It Back: Olive Oil

Produced by a co-op in Crete, Gaea PDO Kritsa has a delicate flavor and hints of grass and artichokes.

Kalikori is pressed from small green olives on the Ligris Estate in Kalamata. oliveoilemporium.com.

From Lesbos, the Kalabokas family estate’s unfiltered Eirini is redolent of island rosemary, oregano, and almond.