Piercing blue waters, beautiful fresh seafood, and an abundance of hummus (my favorite) is what I imagine it would be like eating in Greece. I hope to find out one day soon but, for now, I enjoy the restaurants that bring me as close to that experience at their table.
Greek is another delicious culture that has an array of flavor experiences from light, delicate dishes to rich, deeper dishes. Along with this variation is also a range in caloric experiences.
Here is where you will discover how to keep Mediterranean fare as part of your healthier and lower-calorie lifestyle.
Healthy Greek Food Option Strategies:
1) Spread sparingly
Greek restaurants are known for all of their delicious spreads. Hummus, tzatziki, skordalia, melitzanosalata are all made from healthy ingredients but that doesn’t mean they are free from calories and fat. Half a pita and a couple tablespoons of each of these can have you at 300 calories or more before the entrée is even presented.
My suggestion: Put it on your plate. Instead of dipping bread into each of the dips, put a dollop of each on a plate so you are aware of how much you are having OR opt out all together and save the sauce for your entrée.
2) Have it on a stick
Souvlaki is the Greek version of a shish kebob, marinated meat and/or vegetable on a skewer. Doesn’t sound so bad, right? Right. But, choose wisely because there are some heavier meat choices
My suggestion: Choose the chicken kebob if you are dieting. It is your leanest option in comparison to the higher fat lamb, cow and/or pork options.
3) Free yourself from feta
Cheese is a staple item in Greek cuisine. Feta is especially popular and does have its benefit. It is lower in fat then some other cheeses like cheddar but, it can still have a pretty big impact on a meal.
My suggestion: Feta has great flavor so a little will go a long way. If it is an accompaniment to your dish, you won’t need it ALL so push some of it to the side or ask for less. Also, opting out of those cheesy main dishes like spanakopitakia, for example, would be a really great saver.
4) Choose sea over land
Lamb and beef are two of the three staple proteins. Fish is the third and the best of the three choices. If it is not a lean cut of beef, you are most likely going to exceed a moderate number of calories. Fish is much lower in fat and if it carries any, it is the heart-healthy unsaturated kind.
My suggestion: Choose seafood or chicken. If you decide on beef, choose a lean cut like eye of round roast, sirloin tip, top or bottom round roast/steak, or top sirloin. If lamb is your choice, try the lamb shank or leg of lamb. Keep in mind, though, that all of these choices will STILL have more fat then their counterparts.
5) Don’t go crazy of carbs
Like another Mediterranean cuisine, Italian, the Greek cuisine does have their fare share of carbohydrates. It may not be the focus of the dish, but they are still there in the form of rice, potatoes, filo dough, and pitas.
My suggestion: Choose one, if any. A pita or a side of rice can run you up 50 grams of carbs and 300 or more calories. That is more than half your meal! Take half a serving and save it for the part of the dish with a lot more of the enjoyable flavor.
6) The classic gyro may not be your hero
Beef or lamb stuffed into an extra large pita with sauce dripping from the sides may sound like heaven. But, when it’s all said and done it can run you 800 calories or more!! And, that is without the sides of rice and fries it comes with.
My suggestion: Stick to a chicken gyro if it’s offered, opt for the sauce on the side, and add a salad next to it instead of fries or rice. Also, Souvlaki (skewered and grilled meat) is a great alternative. Again, just pay mind to the sauces and sides.
Healthy Greek Food Comparison
Here is a way to make the night out a well-deserved, healthy one.
** calorie content will vary from place to place
Sources http://ndb.nal.usda.gov; www.myfitnesspal.com; ; www.nutrihand.com
Healthy Greek Food Meal Example
For a little perspective, here is of what a MODERATELY portioned meal might look like from each of the menus:
The left column is the average caloric intake for an entire day and, has more fat than anyone needs! The right column tones it down quite a bit but still is a little too high for a meal unless you are very active. To clean it up even more, make a choice – wine, appetizer, or dessert. Next time you are out, take a little more time to peruse the menu. I guarantee you will be feeling pretty good about your choice!
nice Article, also helpful tips for other cuisines
I am of Greek heritage and LLLLLLLLLLLLLLLOOOOOOOOOOOOOOVVVVVVVVVVVthe food. This is helpful information in knowing what are really the best choices—not all are.
I love Greek food and never realized how many calories I was eating! Thank you for the heads up on making better choices.
HEHE I am Greek(yeah i live in Greece ) and had my fair share of Gyro plates,havent had one in some time and not planning to have more.Need to get lean and mean……tourists cant seem to get off of it its really cool seeing them all rushing to souvlaki and gyros restaurants……you just cant beat the taste of a traditional greek gyros!Nice article
Sadly this article is spot on. Greek food is commonly high in salt, fat (unhealthy fat) and carbs. This is evidenced by Greece not even making the list of countries with the longest living citizens. I’ll stick to the good old Australian diet of seafood and vegetables and live longer thank you.
Thanks for your insights Josh! While I haven’t been to Australia (yet!), it definitely sounds like you have my kind of diet. Seafood and vegetables are incredibly healthy, and have potential to contribute to improved health and longevity. Keep it up!
-Kristin, BuiltLean Coach & Managing Editor