Children and Cretan diet

Children and Cretan diet

Cretan diet: Nutritional pattern for children

The Cretan-Mediterranean diet as a nutritional pattern for children and adolescents

Findings on the beneficial effects of the adoption of a diet of the Cretan or the Mediterranean type can also be extended to children and adolescents. In general it has been shown that children and adolescents whose nutritional habits are closer to this nutritional pattern present larger intakes of several beneficial nutrient substances, while the quality of the diet is significantly degraded in those who are not so close to this pattern (Serra-Majem et al. 2003). Nevertheless, data from Greek population demonstrate low rates in the adoption of Mediterranean diet, both by children and adolescents (Kontogianni et al. 2008).

Several recent studies have demonstrated that the adoption of the Mediterranean diet in the early childhood reduces the possibility of asthma and allergy occurrence (Chatzi & Kogevinas 2009), while it also improves control of the disease in children with an onset of  asthma  (Barros et al. 2008). Moreover, it is particularly interesting that the frequency of asthma and allergic symptoms is lower in children whose mothers were close the Mediterranean diet pattern during their pregnancy (Chatzi et al. 2008).

As far as childhood and adolescence obesity is concerned, there is not sufficient data to lead in definite conclusions. Nevertheless, it has been showed that the nutritional habits of adolescents who can be characterized as obese diverge by far from the traditional Mediterranean nutrition (Hassapidou et al. 2006), while according to another study obese children appeared to adopt the Mediterranean diet in a lower degree compared to children of normal body weight (Lazarou et al. 2009). However, there are also other factors, apart from nutrition, such as physical activity, parents’ body weight, as well as views and attitudes regarding nutrition, which seemed to affect significantly the body weight of children, a fact that suggests the complexity of the problem regarding childhood and adolescence obesity, which has now taken dimensions of an epidemic.

The problem of childhood obesity

During the last 3 decades, the rates of childhood and adolescence obesity have increased significantly. Almost 110 children up to 18 years old worldwide can be characterized as hyperbaric or obese (Haslam & James 2005) and the problem reaches even the less developed societies as a consequence of  sedentary life and the consumption of food which is easily available and has a low cost and a high calorific (Wang & Lobstein 2006). Obesity rates in these ages have been increased in almost every country, while in Europe almost 1 out of 4 children is hyperbaric or obese. Statistic data from Greece, and particularly from Crete, are disappointing. Crete holds the 5th position in Europe in the rates of hyperbaric and obese children aged 7-11 and the 1st position in the 13-17 age groups featuring a ten rates difference from England, which holds the 2nd position. In Crete, 1 out of 3 children is (

Childhood obesity and complications

As the rates of obesity increase, health complications become more and more obvious (Sinha et al. 2002, Daniels 2006). Hyperbaric and obese children run an increased risk of presenting different health problems not only in their childhood but also in their later life, while it is also possible that they will also be obese children in their adulthood. According to a study, children which were obese in the age of 10-15 had an 80% possibility of being obese as adults in the age of 25 (Freedman et al. 1999). A different study showed that children, who are obese before the age of 8, present a more severe type of obesity as adults (Whitaker et al. 1997). A lot of obese children present, already from this age, implications due to increased fat storage in the body, which include insulin disorders (often reflected by increased sugar or insulin blood levels), increased blood pressure levels, increased cholesterol and triglycerides levels, fatty liver infiltration and increased levels of systemic inflammatory markers (Cali & Caprio 2008).  All these conditions, which increase the risk for diabetes and cardiovascular diseases, do not present symptoms and often remain undiagnosed.

These disorders can also appear in less obese children, as they seem to be related not only with the total fat rate, but also with the part of the body in which fat is accumulated (Cali & Caprio 2008). Apart from the already mentioned problems, obese children may present asthma and sleep apnea, while in the long term they run an increased risk for stroke, breast, kidney and large intestine cancer, myoskeletal problems as well as gall-bladder problems (Daniels et al. 2009).

Other than its impact on physical health, obesity also seems to affect other parameters which are related to the psychology and the quality of life of a child. Obese children sometimes present reduced school performance, while in certain studies it has been demonstrated that they are prone to addictive habits such as smoking and alcohol, have a low self-esteem, feel uncomfortable about their appearance, and occasionally have dysfunctional relationships with their peers (Daniels 2009).

It is clear by the above mentioned that obesity is not a problem of aesthetics, as it is often considered, but a complex condition which sets a child’s health in serious danger and, in some cases, degrades its quality of life.

Etiology of childhood obesity and the role of the family

Childhood and adolescence obesity appears to be hereditary in a certain degree. Nevertheless, the upsurge observed in recent years suggests that the role of environmental factors is particularly important, since our genes have not altered in such a short time. There are several factors which are involved in the etiology of childhood obesity (Daniels et al. 2009), such as socioeconomic parameters, lack of physical activity and consumption of foods and drinks (such as refreshments and juices) of low quality and high calorific value. Furthermore, lactation appears to be helpful in the prevention of childhood obesity.

Apart from the above mentioned factors, the role of parents is of crucial importance (Gruber & Haldeman 2009). It is clear that the family environment is significantly responsible for the appearance of obesity, but it also plays an equally important role in the way of dealing with the problem.  Obese parents tend to have obese children, bequeathing to them not only their genes but also their nutritional habits. Parents are responsible for the kinds of food available in the house, as well as for the meal schedules, and at the same time they constitute an example for their children, both in nutritional and physical activity habits. It is also worth noticing that almost 50% of parents do not observe increased body weight in their children and therefore take a lot of time to look for an appropriate therapy or, in some cases, do not look for any therapy at all (Parry et al. 2008).

Treatment of childhood and adolescence obesity

Treatment of obesity should initially include evaluation of the child’s body weight and its risk against complications of obesity, both in its health and in its psychology. The body weight of parents should be evaluated, as well as them current nutritional and physical activity habits of both the child and its family (Daniels et al. 2009). In general, cooperation with a specialized dietician is required not only for the evaluation but also for the therapy, and in order for the treatment to be effective parents must have an active participation (Daniels et al. 2009, Gruber & Haldeman 2009). It is the parents that should create the appropriate conditions for a good nutrition within the house limits and support the increase of physical activity, while at the same time they might also have to reconsider the potentially unsuitable approach which they used in the past in order to transmit to their children the messages about the changes that have to take place. The change of nutritional habits is a multiple and gradual procedure which requires time, patience and a big effort both by the children and their parents.

Advice on nutrition of children:

Advice on nutrition of children and adolescents

The adoption of a nutrition style that is based on the pattern of the Cretan diet is ideal for children and adolescents, independently of their weight. However, it should be adapted in a way by which particular nutritional needs of these ages are fulfilled. One should not forget that the adoption of the right nutritional habits in this age is important in order to set the base for the right nutrition pattern in the years to follow.

The following advice is useful for all children and especially those with increased body weight. Nevertheless, they cannot, in any case, replace the advice of a specialized dietician who will determine the nutritional schedule and the course of therapy according to the particular needs of each child.


Having breakfast is important for children, not only for weight control but also for a better school performance. A balanced breakfast includes milk, yoghurt or low fat cheese, bread or whole grain cereals and fresh fruits or fresh juice.

Scheduled meals and snacks

Regular meals in specific times help the organism to regulate more effectively food intake based on its requirements in energy, and reduces possibilities of overconsumption of food. Apart from breakfast, children should have two more meals during the day, one for lunch and one lighter for dinner, as well as two snacks of good quality, one at school and another during the afternoon. It is better for snacks to be prepared at home by parents.

Meals as a pleasant experience

Meals should be a pleasant experience both for parents and children, as well as an opportunity for the family members to come close to each other. On the contrary, having a meal in front of the TV is possible to lead to overconsumption of food.

Food variety

It is the variety of the food consumed that will ensure adequacy of nutritional substances since there is no food which contains on its own all the nutritional substances that are necessary for our organism. Participation of children in the purchase of food as well as in the preparation of meals can help them broaden their tasting preferences.

Fruits and vegetables

Fruits and vegetables should be an inextricable part of a child’s nutrition since they must be consumed in at least 5 portions during each day:  1 portion of fruits consists of 1 small fruit or ½ glass of juice, while 1 portion of vegetables consists of one cup of raw vegetables and ½ cup of boiled vegetables. In order to achieve the 5 portions goal, each basic meal should include salad or cooked vegetables, while fruits should be part of breakfast or snack. It is preferable to choose seasonal fruits, of local production, and to consume a variety of them. Wild herbs are also a very good choice.

Carbohydrates as a nutritional base

Food containing carbohydrates should be a nutritional base for children and adults. Almost half of the calories consumed daily should derive from carbohydrates. Pulses, bread, cereals and whole grain pasta, rice in the husk and boiled or roast potatoes are considered good choices in this food category.

Saturated fat

The fat quality is very important in a diet. Choose olive oil in food preparation, but also in pastry, and avoid animal fat as much as possible. Some of the good choices are low fat dairy products, lean meat, poultry and fish, as well as homemade pastry based on olive oil. These foods have a low content of saturated fat which has several adverse effects in the organism.

Availability of healthy foods at home

The availability of healthy snacks at home and the exclusion of low quality foods helps children to adopt a better nutrition. Fruits, low fat yoghurts combined with fruit, honey and dried fruits, beverages which can be produced at home with milk and fruits, toast with whole grain bread and low fat cheese are only a few of the numerous choices for a healthy snack at home.

There is no such thing as “good” and “bad” food

In the framework of a well-balanced nutrition, we should not be obsessed with food choices. Children can consume even “bad” food, as long as it is not on a regular basis and there is an agreement between parents and children regarding the frequency.

Food as a means of nutrition and pleasure

In no case should food be used as a rewarding, a threat or bribery. Children should learn to regard food only as a means of nutrition and pleasure, because this is the only way for them to learn to respond to the actual feeling of hunger. For the same reasons, parents should not insist on an empty plate from the children. Furthermore, foods which might not be agreeable to a child should be present on the table, but the child must be given the freedom to choose or reject them. This policy is more possible to finally help in the reconciliation of children with these foods.

Parents as an example for children

As it is mentioned above, parents, through their habits on food and physical activity, affect children in their choices. Good nutritional habits and regular physical activity should therefore be part of their lives, not only for the sake of their own health, but also for the health of their children.