Healthy Greek Dining

Mix a nutritional guidebook and a Greek cookbook, and the results are something to stew about.

Dining in a Greek restaurant is usually lively with the occasional breaking of dishes. Opa!

Unfortunately, Healthy Living From a Greek Island lacks this liveliness, taking things too seriously because of society's immediate need to cope with our growing (pun intended) obesity.

A founder and former partner in Athens on Fourth, Eleni Delfakis is a native of Crete. She earned a master's of science in dietetics with an emphasis in nutrition education from the University of Arizona. She also has a dietetic credential from the American Diabetic Association. As an educator, Delfakis co-authored a food service textbook and teacher's manual. And herein lies the problem: Healthy Living is more than a cookbook--it's part nutrition guide written in a lecturing textbook style.

The Copper Hill Press Web site states that it primarily works with unmanaged writers and publishes one year after manuscript acceptance. In the nutritional scheme of things, what is new and revolutionary upon documentation becomes yesterday's news when a book is held for at least a year later.

Lots of charts and tables prevail, and with good reason, so the eyes can take a break from the vast amounts of text and to better bookmark resources. An entire chapter offers tables of portion sizes for the various food groups. Another table explains how many miles you have to pedal in order to burn 150 calories.

On page 34, healthy snacks for children reveal nothing new: one cup milk with two graham crackers; whole grain cereal with fruit and low-fat milk; plain yogurt with fresh fruit; and a slice of chicken on whole wheat with tomatoes and cucumbers. How many children will willingly eat a dish of plain yogurt? And then there's the Met Life height and weight table for men and women. This chapter particularly looks like fiction.

Delfakis claims that studies show the people of Crete live the longest and have the lowest percentage of heart attacks and cancers--yet no studies were provided. Can we naively assume that diet simply does the trick? What about other considerations such as commuting, pollution, stressful jobs, credit card debt, taxation and political angst?

Delfakis emphasizes the m-word--moderation. She is anti-Atkins and other fad diets, stressing that a well-balanced diet includes low-fat protein, more fresh fruits and vegetables, liberal use of whole grains, olive oil and the occasional sweet indulgence.

Unlike most nutrition books, Healthy Living spends several pages on foods that fight against diseases and aging. There are no surprises when it comes to fruits and vegetables, but oysters? With herbal remedies, Delfakis compares beneficial and dangerous herbal remedies and why other societies rely on herbs more than our pharmaceutical-driven nation. The pros and cons of coffee, tea and alcohol consumption are not conclusive.

Although Delfakis reveals a few thought-provoking nutritional nuggets of information about the many benefits of coffee, can we really take her word that light roast has more caffeine than a more robust dark roast?

On the cookbook side, photographs are more amateurish than professional, but they still capture the idyllic essence that is Greece, but not the jump-off-the-page, mouth-watering temptations from more professional and stylized cookbooks. Her recipes show that she practices what she preaches, but unlike most modern recipes, the usual breakdown of nutritional analysis for portion size, grams, fats, carbohydrates or calories is lacking.

The traditional Greek fare includes spinach pie, stuffed grape leaves, chicken-egg lemon soup, lamb with pine nuts and raisins, red roasted pepper stuffed with goat cheese, walnut cake and baklava. Cosmopolitan recipes include sweet peppers and peach salad, black-eyed peas, baked beans, beef burritos with green chile sauce and Spanish custard add variety. Figs, a prized Mediterranean ingredient, appear in no recipes, but then how often are figs found locally unless maybe in your own lushly landscaped backyard.

Should you buy the book? If you are not knowledgeable about nutrition, then Healthy Living from a Greek Island provides a very thorough source of information for your bookshelf. If you're a fan of healthy Greek food and want to prepare it in the comfort of your kitchen domain, the book offers many easy recipes made from fresh ingredients. However, the two most popular dishes--moussaka and pastitsio--have been omitted.

Perhaps they weren't healthy enough?