Easter is the most important religious observance in the Greek Orthodox faith with devotees around the world adhering to many traditions associated with the holiday, particularly fasting. The purpose of fasting is to cleanse the body as well as the spirit in preparation for accepting the resurrection at Easter, which is the most sacred of all observances in the Greek Orthodox faith.

Lent for Greek Orthodox followers begins on Kathari Deftera (Clean Monday). This marks the beginning of the 40-day fast. The rules are that during the first 33 days, a vegetarian diet is observed until the last week of lent when a full vegan diet is observed. But with meat and dairy featuring so high up in the Greek diet, is it safe to abstain for 40 days?

Natalie Kringoudis, natural health expert, told Neos Kosmos that fasting is definitely not dangerous. “It gives the body a chance to cleanse and repair itself.” Apart from cleansing the inside of our bodies, fasting can have some cleansing benefits on our psyche. “Emotionally it can be a good thing too,” explained Kringoudis to Neos Kosmos. “Our gut is our emotional centre. We have receptors in our gut so when we cleanse the body we often find that emotionally we cleanse as well. People may feel vulnerable when they cleanse because they can’t have the things that they want to have, and because of the way our bodies work and the receptors we have in our gut that stir up those emotions.”

Fasting rules are relaxed for the young, the elderly and the sick explained Kringoudis “but the majority of people that are generally very healthy, it can be very good for them to refrain from eating foods that lead to toxic build up in the body. “Dairy and meat lead to toxic build up in the body that sits in the gut and this can have quite an impact on the digestive system. So fasting gives the body time to cleanse and clean the gut out, from the top to the bowel.”

People who are fasting need to make sure they are still maintaining a healthy balanced diet and replacing foods for dairy and meat by making the right choices in the food they are eating. Kringoudis said “you need to make up a balance of protein and carbohydrates, so you will need to eat plenty of legumes – chickpeas, lentils so your body gets everything it needs.” You may add a good quality multivitamin or fish oil into the mix as well.

We are very lucky that the Greek diet consist of a lot of variations on vegetarian recipes. Foods that are good to eat during lent, and that help you maintain a healthy balanced diet include fasolatha (bean soup), fakes (lentil soup), briami (roasted vegetables in tomato sauce), vegetarian moussaka, yemista (stuffed vegetables), horta (spinach), kolokithokeftethes (zucchini fritters) and Greek salads.

But this is the time to venture out of the Greek diet and find other vegetarian options. Instead of fakes why not try dhal? The Indian diet is rich in vegetarian options so sample curries and samosas. Not sure what to do with rice? Add some Asian flavour and make fried rice or sushi.

Or try a traditional Italian risotto, tomato and basil, leek and pine-nuts. Pasta is also a great base for a hearty meal and an easy way to keep carbohydrates up. Rice paper rolls work well as an on-the-run snack. Use tofu as much as you can to replace meat

There are so many different types of vegetarian stir-fries. Mushrooms are known as meat for vegetarians so showcase them – roast them with tomatoes and rosemary, barbecue them with freshly cracked salt and pepper, or fry them with some balsamic vinegar and have them on toast.

Salads are fun to play withso mess around with the different lettuces available: swap green leaves for cabbage, Vietnamese coleslaw, mix in nuts, make a couscous salad or roast vegetable salad. Middle Eastern spices really suit chick peas so try this in a salad or grab a tagine and some Moroccan spices, add in some raisins and serve with pilaf. Poached fruit for dessert with vanilla pods is perfect. And for the coffee lovers, don’t fret: soy lattes aren’t so bad.