Eat Like a Greek, Nutrition

The Rules of the Greek Fast

So the Holy Week has begun, known as Megali Evdomada – the literal translation being “Big Week” in Greek. Nowadays most people (and kids) fast only this week. Growing up in the states, we would follow the traditional Greek fasting diet for the week, but there was such variety in the food, that we really didn’t notice any difference. Dishes that do not include animal products and adhere to the rules of the fast (called nisteia in Greek) are called nistisima, so for many dishes there was a nistisimo version, for example spinach pie without the feta cheese.

During that week we had pasta, sometimes accompanied with little pieces of cooked octopus in tomato sauce, rice and spinach, green beans or peas ladera (made with tomato and olive oil), lentils cooked with olive oil, Greek potato salad, spanakopita (spinach pie) or leek pie without cheese, taramosalata, skordalia, vegan Greek cookies (koulourakia).

And of course there was the American element; for lunch at school we would have peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, the perfect nistisimo snack: no animal products and combines protein and carbs. Till this day it’s one of my favorite sandwiches. Make it healthier by using whole wheat bread and jam with no sugar added.

Foods Allowed on the Greek Fast

Following this type of eating, even only for a week a will still provide benefits, so it may be worth a try even if you are not Greek, click here and see why. The rules are pretty simple: no animal products with the exception of animals such as octopus and squid as many believe that these creatures do not have blood. In fact, it has to do more that their blood being blue rather than red, due to the hemocyanin.

Allowed: beans, vegetables, bread, fruit, honey, nut butters, rice…pasta (no egg noodles), cereals,  olive oil, honey, and basically anything that does not contain animal products with exception of certain seafood. Seafood that is allowed in includes mollusks (squid, calamari, octopus, mussels, clams) and crustaceans (shrimp, crabs, crayfish etc).
Not Allowed: meat poultry, pork, game, fish, dairy, eggs, butter

Fasting Days

The days that the fast is followed are as following:

  • Every Wednesday and Friday
  • The Great Fast (Lent)-beginning on a Monday 7 weeks before Easter
  • Fast of the Apostles- it begins on a Monday, 8 days after Pentecost, and ends on June 28
  • Fast of the Repose of the Virgin Mary–August 1 to 14
  • Christmas Fast–lasting 40 days, from November 15 to December 24

A Note About Olive Oil

Diehard followers also avoid olive oil which is traditionally allowed only on the weekends. In the old days they used tahini to add some fat, nowadays many of those who avoid olive oil during the fast here in Greece will use corn oil (ugh!) or other seed or vegetable oils, just so they can say they avoided olive oil. But these oils are not beneficial so healthwise if you want to follow a Greek fast, you would be better off using olive oil, which has added health benefits and actually improves your diet.

 Sample Menu for a Greek Fast

  • Breakfast: Slice of whole wheat bread with tahini or peanut butter and a glass of juice
  • Snack: H piece of pasteli, a honey and sesame bar
  • Lunch: Rice with beans (Greeks commonly use lentils for this dish, but you can use other types) or rice with spinach or pasta with shrimp
  • Snack: a few Kalmata olives with bread or bread sticks and some fruit.
  • Dinner: A large piece of nistisimi spanakopita (spanakopita made without cheese and egg)

Photo Credit: Grilled Octopus by Klearchos Kapoutsis

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23 Comments

  • Reply Regina Maria LeBorg March 9, 2019 at 11:57 pm

    During a “strict” fast day, it is my understanding that a person may only eat bread, vegetables and fruit. Can any grain, such as rice be substituted for bread? And because one cannot use oil, I presume the veggies must be steamed, cooked in water or eaten raw. Is this correct?

    • Reply Elena Paravantes RDN March 13, 2019 at 6:05 am

      On the strict fast days, you do not eat olive oil or drink wine but you can eat all the other fasting foods (including other grains).On the weekends olive oil is allowed. Vegetables may be cooked in water with herbs and also with tomato or tomato sauce, and often tahini is mixed in instead of olive oil.

  • Reply Greek Chickpeas and Rice with Lemon- Tahini Dressing | Olive Tomato October 17, 2019 at 2:24 pm

    […] by a Greek monastery cookbook. As you may have read here on olivetomato, Greeks traditionally abstained from animal products (with the exception of some shellfish) for over 200 days a year for religious reasons. That meant […]

  • Reply Greek Inspired Chickpeas Cooked in Tomato Sauce November 23, 2019 at 7:50 am

    […] in Greece we are in the holy week, the last week before Easter. While traditionally the religious fast starts about 40 days before Easter, most Greeks nowadays will not be fasting for all those days, […]

  • Reply Kat March 7, 2020 at 1:06 am

    Can you also eat shellfish like shrimp or scallops? Are those considered “blue blooded” too? Thanks in advance!

    • Reply Elena Paravantes RDN March 7, 2020 at 7:21 am

      Hi Kat, Yes you can eat all shellfish. I’ll clarify that in the post.

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