The Ancient Greek Diet: Foods, Meals and Eating Habits in Ancient Greece

By Lemon & Olives
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ancient greek diet

What did the ancient Greeks eat?

This is a question I often get asked and one that I’m always learning something new when answering. I love doing research about the ancients and their foods. It is cool to me to think that what I may be eating is something Plato, Aristotle, or even the mighty Alexander The Great may have enjoyed.

While there are foods that are undoubtedly ancient, like pasteli, others we may never know for sure, unless they contain ingredients we know the Ancient Greeks didn’t have, like tomatoes.

Is that kind of weird? Imagine going your whole life never seeing or eating a vegetable that is so widely available now. I guess you wouldn’t have known what you were missing.

Other dishes we know the ancient Greeks ate were fish based. Fish was a staple for most Greeks living in ancient times since it was so readily available from the sea. What about red meat? In today’s view, that be reserved from the 1% or upper class.

Anyhow, let’s dive in an explore the diets of Ancient Greeks!

Introduction to the Ancient Greek Diet

The ancient Greek diet and cuisine was shaped by the terrain, climate and agricultural practices of ancient Greece. Their wholesome diet focused on natural, minimally processed foods that made important contributions to the renowned athleticism and overall health of the Greeks. Let’s explore the main foods, typical meals, dining customs and key aspects of the ancient Greek diet and cuisine.

The ancient Greek diet consisted mainly of foods that were readily available from the local environment and agricultural practices of ancient Greece. The rocky, mountainous landscape and warm Mediterranean climate allowed ancient Greeks to grow fruits, vegetables, herbs and raise small livestock. With coastlines surrounded by the Mediterranean and Aegean seas, fish was also a major part of their diet.

The ancient Greeks did not have access to processed foods and sugars like we do today. As a result, their diet was based around whole, unrefined foods produced locally in Greece. The ancient Greek diet provided the fuel and nutrition needed for an active population while supporting general health and athletic capabilities.

Some key characteristics of the ancient Greek diet:

  • Emphasis on vegetables, fruits, beans, grains, olive oil, fish, eggs, cheese and yogurt
  • Low consumption of red meat which was expensive
  • No refined sugars or processed foods
  • Honey used sparingly as a sweetener
  • Wine diluted with water for hydration
  • Three main meals per day with dinner as the largest

This natural diet, along with active lifestyles, contributed to the athletic physiques and good health of the ancient Greeks. Their wholesome diet offers many beneficial principles for healthy eating today.

Main Foods in the Ancient Greek Diet

The ancient Greek diet consisted mainly of vegetables, fruits, beans, grains, olive oil, fish, eggs, cheese and yogurt. Here is an overview of the primary foods:


Fresh vegetables made up a major part of the ancient Greek diet. Common vegetables included cabbage, onions, garlic, turnips, radishes, carrots, parsley and spinach. Leafy greens like chard, beetroot leaves and dandelion greens were also eaten.


Orchards of fig, olive, apple and pear trees could be found throughout ancient Greece. Fresh figs, olives, apples and pears would have been frequently eaten and also dried for storage.

Beans and Legumes

Beans, peas, chickpeas, broad beans and lentils provided an affordable source of protein in the ancient Greek diet.


Wheat and barley were the most important grains in ancient Greece. They were eaten as bread, baked goods, porridge or added to soups. Millet was also a common grain and used to make unleavened bread.

Olive Oil

Olive oil was the primary source of fat in the ancient Greek diet. Olive trees grew abundantly in Greece, and olive oil was used for cooking, dressings and to flavor foods.

Fish and Seafood

As a seafaring culture, fish and seafood like tuna, mackerel, sea bass, red mullet, octopus and mussels featured regularly in ancient Greek meals. Fish sauce called garum added flavor to dishes.

Eggs and Dairy

Eggs from chickens, quail and other fowl were commonly eaten. Goat and sheep milk was more prevalent than cow’s milk. Soft cheeses included feta and goat cheese. A cottage cheese-like food called oxygala was also eaten.

Meat and Poultry

Meat was less common than plant-based foods in the ancient Greek diet. Pork and mutton were the most prevalent meats. Chicken became more common later on. Goat and venison were also eaten. Only the wealthy could afford beef and lamb regularly.

Fruits, Nuts and Honey

Fresh and dried fruits like figs, grapes, apples, pears and olives provided sweetness. Almonds, walnuts and pistachios were prized nuts. Honey provided natural sweetness in desserts and baked goods.

Herbs, Spices and Flavorings

Mint, dill, thyme, oregano, garlic, cumin, mustard, fennel and sesame seeds added flavor to ancient Greek cooking. Vinegar, wine and garum (fermented fish sauce) also added flavor.


ancient greek diet wine

Wine was frequently consumed at meals, but it was always diluted with water. Undiluted wine was seen as uncivilized. The diluted wine provided hydration, calories and flavor.

In summary, the ancient Greek diet was based around vegetables, fruits, legumes, grains, olive oil, fish, eggs and dairy. While lean meats and poultry played a smaller role, the diet supplied sufficient protein from plant sources like beans and nuts. Herbs, spices and diluted wine added flavor dimensions to the ancient Greek diet. Overall, it provided wholesome nutrition from minimally processed, locally produced foods.

Meals and Eating Habits in Ancient Greece

The ancient Greeks ate three meals per day – breakfast, lunch and the main meal, dinner. Here is an overview of the typical meals:


Breakfast was usually light and often consisted of bread dipped in wine. Barley bread was most common. The bread and wine combination provided carbs, protein, hydration and some antioxidants to start the day.

If they were tired of dipping bread in wine, they also ate something called a teganites (τηγανίτης), which would have resembled a pancake. These were made with wheat flour, olive oil, honey and curdled milk and were usually topped with honey or cheese.

Sometimes leftovers from the previous night’s dinner or foods like figs, olives, cheese or yogurt composed breakfast.


Lunch was a light midday meal eaten after the morning’s work. It often included bread, olives, cheese, figs, nuts, fruit, salted fish or vegetables. The lighter lunch fueled afternoon labors and kept ancient Greeks from getting drowsy.

These small plates of different foods I believe transformed into what Greeks have today – mezedes. It’s like tapas in Spain. A collection of small dishes or appetizers. In many other countries in Europe and the Middle East, this is very much part of the culture, too.  Who started it first? I’m not too sure, but the practice of serving small plates is alive and well.


After a long days work, the appetite had grown and now it was time to really eat. This was and still is in Greece, the most important meal of the day. This was the time they would gather with friends and discuss philosophy (some of them anyhow) and their daily events. Notice that I said friends and not family. This is because men and women normally ate separately. If they had slaves the slaves would serve the men dinner first, then the women, and then themselves. If they did not have slaves, the women of the house served the men first, and then themselves after the men were done.

Since dinner was the most important meal, this is where most of the foods were consumed. At dinner, the Ancient Greeks would eat: eggs (from quail and hens), fish, legumes, olives, cheeses, breads, figs, and any vegetables they could grow and were in season. Such as: arugula, asparagus, cabbage, carrots, and cucumbers.  Any type of red meat was reserved for the wealthy since it was harder to come by as say the fish from the sea. Therefore, many Greeks lived a full life having only ever had red meat a handful of times. It wasn’t all bad however, as the mediterranean lifestyle limits meat to a few times a month, so in reality, the lower class was healthier than the upper class, I doubt they saw it that way however.


Dessert was not a daily thing in Ancient Greece and reserved for festivals or special occasions. Since sugar wasn’t known to the Ancient Greeks, honey was the main sweetener. Therefore, they consumed things like cheese drizzled with honey, or figs and olives with honey. Basically, foods topped with honey were the most common type of dessert.


Nuts, fruits and bread served as on-the-go snacks for ancient Greeks. Street vendors also sold foods like chickpeas, lentil soups, figs and skewers of fried fish. Sesame bread rings called pastilli provided morning snacks with wine.

Cooking Methods

Boiling, baking, frying and stewing were common cooking methods. Grilling, spit roasting and cooking over coals were also used. Olive oil was central for frying, baking and dressing foods.

Dining Customs

The ancient Greeks ate while seated or reclined. Food was served on low tables. Spoons were used for soups and knives eventually gained acceptance. Fingers handled most foods. The wine and water mix was usually a 3:1 ratio. Getting drunk was looked down upon – wine was meant to be enjoyed in moderation with food.

Regional Differences

map of ancient greece
Map Of Ancient Greece (Source)

Coastal Greeks ate more fish and seafood. Inland regions consumed more meat and poultry. Religious fasting practices also impacted regional food customs. The wealthy enjoyed more meat while common people ate more grains, legumes and vegetables.

In summary, the ancient Greeks relied on three main meals throughout the day with dinner being the focal point. Light meals allowed for larger evening feasts to unwind, dine and socialize after a day’s work.

Key Aspects of the Ancient Greek Diet and Cuisine

Let’s explore some of the integral facets that defined the healthy dietary patterns and cuisine of ancient Greece:

Local and Seasonal Foods

The ancient Greek diet was shaped by the local terrain and agricultural practices. Their cuisine relied heavily on what foods were grown, raised and caught nearby in each season. Transporting exotic foods from abroad was expensive and not realistic. This reliance on local, seasonal foods provided superior freshness and nutrition in the ancient Greek diet.

Focus on Natural, Minimally Processed Foods

The ancient Greeks ate a whole foods diet centered around natural ingredients like vegetables, fruits, beans, grains, olive oil, eggs, cheese and fish. The diet contained far less meat than modern standards. There were no processed sugars or convenience foods. This foundation of minimally processed foods contributed to overall health.

Balance of Plant and Animal Products

The ancient Greek diet provided balance between plant-based and animal-based foods. Staple plant foods included grains, legumes, vegetables, fruits, nuts and olive oil. Cheese, eggs, fish and limited poultry and meat made up the animal products. This balance provided adequate protein and a range of essential nutrients.

Olive Oil as the Primary Fat

Olive oil was the main source of fat in the ancient Greek diet. Rich in monounsaturated fats and antioxidants, olive oil provided healthy fats that supported heart health. Olive oil was used liberally in cooking, baking and dressings.

Wine Culture | Ancient Greeks and Their Wine

Since we can see the Ancient Greeks drank so much of this stuff, let’s look at it a little deeper.

Besides water, which was a daily task for the women of the house to fetch, this was the main drink of the Ancient Greeks. It was so important to them that they even had a Greek god of wine – Dionysos (Διόνυσος). Wine was served at all meals and during the day. We know the Greeks made red, white, rose, and port style wines. The main areas of production being  Thásos, Lesbos and Chios.  To see Greek wines of today, check this page out: A Guide To Greek Wines

I want to stress the importance of wine in terms of a cultural thing and not as a means to an end. What I mean by this is that the Ancient Greeks did not drink wine to get impaired. No, as a matter of fact, it was considered bad to get/be drunk. They were meant to enjoy the wine for what is was and not for what it could do if one had too many.


As a matter of fact, during the Ancient Greek symposium (συμπόσιον from sympinein, “to drink together”) the leader of the event, called a symposiarch would dilute the wine and determine how strong it would be. If people got out of hand and became intoxicated, they were the talk of the town and not looked favorably upon. It was a social event.

To get a sense of how they felt, the following is a fragment from Eubulus’s play Semele or Dionysus written in 375 BC.

For sensible men I prepare only three kraters [what the wine was served in]: one for health (which they drink first), the second for love and pleasure, and the third for sleep. After the third one is drained, wise men go home. The fourth krater is not mine any more – it belongs to bad behaviour; the fifth is for shouting; the sixth is for rudeness and insults; the seventh is for fights; the eighth is for breaking the furniture; the ninth is for depression; the tenth is for madness and unconsciousness.

Even in Greece today, most drink with food and getting drunk is never the end goal. It’s about enjoying life.

Remember earlier when I said the leader of the symposium would dilute the wine? This is because Ancient Greeks did not drink wine straight. As a matter of fact, it was considered barbaric to do so. I wonder what they would think of us nowadays? Instead, all wine was cut with water so people would not get inebriated. And let’s be honest, if you’re drinking wine all day, you need it cut with something if you plan on getting all your work done.

However, that’s not to say they didn’t get a little loose while playing Kottabos (κότταβος) with their Kylix (also this one) (κύλιξ)

Ancient Greeks Active Lifestyles

The ancient Greeks lived active lifestyles, walking extensively and performing physical work. Athletic competitions were also integral to society. This high activity level paired with their wholesome diet supported fit physiques.

Importance of Mealtimes

Shared meals were vital to ancient Greek culture for dining, socializing and philosophical discussions. Their healthy diet was enjoyed alongside rich social connections.

In summary, localism, whole foods, plant-animal balance, olive oil, wine and active lifestyles defined the healthy dietary patterns of ancient Greece. Their cuisine was intimately connected with lifestyle, philosophy and social norms.

Overall, The Ancient Greek Diet Was…

The ancient Greek diet provided wholesome nutrition centered around vegetables, fruits, legumes, grains, olive oil, fish, eggs and dairy. Meat played a smaller role, but the diet supplied sufficient protein from plant-based foods. With an emphasis on local, minimally processed foods, balanced nutrition and active lifestyles, the ancient Greek diet supported health, athletic capabilities and an integral social role of shared meals. Their cuisine offers many beneficial principles that we can embrace today through Mediterranean diet patterns and wholesome cooking with mainly plant-based ancient Greek foods and ingredients.

Bonus – Kykeon And Spartan Cuisine.

Something briefly worth noting, is that the Ancient Greeks also drank something called, kykeon (κυκεών), which was made by combining barley gruel, water (or wine), herbs and goat cheese into a almost shake like consistency. Yummy.

This. Is. Sparta!

Whenever I get to talking with others about Ancient Greece, the Spartans are always brought up. Don’t get me wrong, I too love the whole view of them being amazing fighting machines. The mighty 300 of them taking on the entire Persian army at Thermopylae, and the line that Dienekes, a Spartan soldier, said in response to the thousands of arrows that would be coming to pierce their shields [paraphrasing  a bit]:

Hey, Dienekes, the Persians have so many arrows they will block out the sun.

Dienekes looks up, his red cape flowing in the wind, and replies:

“So much the better…then we shall fight our battle in the shade.”

Of course he says this.

However, from a culinary standpoint, the Spartans had maybe the worst food in history. Not maybe, they definitely did.

They ate something called, melas zomos (μέλας ζωμός) or black soup. How was this made? Simple, just boil some pigs legs, pig blood, salt, and vinegar.

Yeah…this is why they screamed a lot and kicked people down black holes.

The Ancient Greek Diet In Modern Times: Discover the Modern Mediterranean Diet

The journey through the ancient Greek diet reveals more than just historical eating habits; it uncovers the foundation of what we now know as the Mediterranean Diet. This contemporary diet, celebrated for its health benefits and delicious flavors, finds its roots in the simple, balanced, and natural foods of ancient Greece.

Are you inspired by the wholesome principles of the ancient Greek diet? Do you wish to incorporate these time-tested eating habits into your modern lifestyle? If so, we invite you to explore our comprehensive course on the Mediterranean Diet. This isn’t just a diet plan; it’s a voyage into a lifestyle that has nourished generations.

What Our Course Offers:

  • Practical Guidance: Learn how to create delicious, nutritious meals that echo the ancient Greek way of eating.
  • Cultural Insights: Gain a deeper understanding of the Mediterranean diet’s history and its relevance today.
  • Health Benefits: Discover how this diet can improve your overall health, just as it did for the ancient Greeks.
  • Interactive Learning: Engage with a community of like-minded individuals who are on the same path to wellness.

This course is more than a dietary guideline; it’s a gateway to a healthier, more balanced way of living, inspired by the ancients yet perfectly suited for modern life.

Join us and embark on a culinary journey that transcends time. Enroll in our Mediterranean Diet course today and take the first step towards embracing a lifestyle that has been cherished for millennia.

About the author

Lemon & Olives is a husband and wife team exploring the Mediterranean (Diet) Lifestyle, Greek foods, Greek Culture, History and all things Greece.

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