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Take-out time: Why you should try Greek food

You're not up to cooking dinner tonight, and you just had a scent memory of all those delicious aromas arising from that Greek restaurant near your office. Is Greek cuisine a healthful meal choice? As with any restaurant, Greek or otherwise, there are healthy choices and less-than-healthy choices on the menu. Some of the Greek classics such as gyros, spanakopita, dolmadakia, and fried squid can be loaded with sodium and fat. But here are a few healthy reasons you should go Greek tonight:

Olive the benefits: Like other Mediterranean cuisines, Greek food relies heavily on the tiny olive and its rich oil. The Kalamata olive, from the town of the same name, is the large, meaty black olive commonly found atop the popular "Greek salad." Though olives are high in sodium, the tiny fruit contains oleic acid, a monounsaturated fat that that may help to lower cholesterol.

Pick a pocket: Pita, the round bread consumed with Greek cuisine, is baked so an air pocket remains in the middle, perfect for holding veggies or scoops of hummus, tabbouleh, or feta cheese. Pita bread is relatively low in fat, but if the menu offers it, opt for the whole-wheat or whole-grain variety of pita to pack in a little more fibre, iron, and protein than unenriched white pita. Pita is another item to eat in moderation. One pocket bread can contain about 170 calories and about 14% of your recommended daily sodium limit.

The fine feta: Goat's milk is the main ingredient in feta cheese, the creamy, savoury cheese commonly crumbled into Greek food. A serving of feta cheese adds its flavour for fewer calories and grams of fat, as well as less cholesterol, than a comparable amount of cheddar cheese.

Yes to salata: A salad is usually a healthful menu choice. And one of the most popular dishes on any Greek restaurant menu is the "Greek salad." This bed of greens is topped by a bunch of good-for-you foods - fresh tomatoes, cucumber, onions, olives, feta cheese, olive oil, and a dash of oregano.

Yummy yogurt: Not your usual cup of yogurt, Greek tzatziki combines the slightly sour flavour of plain yogurt with the fresh, juicy crunch of cucumber, along with a hint of garlic and drizzling of olive oil. And as with any yogurt, you'll get good helpings of calcium and protein.

Healthful herbs: It's said that one of the secrets of Greek cuisine is the proper use of herbs and spices. Along with flavour, herbs and spices bring antioxidants and other vitamins and minerals to the plate. Dishes are filled with a variety of aromatic herbs, including oregano (rigani), rosemary (dendrolivano), thyme (thymari), sage (faskomilo), and mint (diosmos). Cloves (garifalo), cumin, sesame seeds, and cinnamon add spice to breads, sweets, sauces, and meats.

The "symposium": Did you know that the word symposium actually comes from the Greek tradition of gathering together to enjoy a "convivial meeting for drinking, music, and intellectual discussion"? So along with the delicious and often healthful foods, why not consider going out for Greek cuisine a good excuse to relax, slow down, and savour conversation and good company?

Amy Toffelmire



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