I’m trialling a new series.
I’m looking at diets from around the world and seeing if anything we used to do has any merit today.
Jesus would have eaten an ancient Israelite diet, so let’s see what that involves.
Surprisingly, a large number of health foods were regularly consumed by the Israelites, so we’ve got a pretty solid anti-inflammatory diet here.
Jesus is always depicted drenched in amber glow, kissed by the warm silken banner of the almighty, but could a portion of that be due to a diet full of healthful foods promoting beautiful golden skin?
Let’s check out some of the staples in Jesus’ day:
Olive oil and olives grew well in this mediterranean climate, so they were abundantly used. Olive oil was likely to have been cold pressed, avoiding the damage that other heated processes can cause to this stable oil. Oilve oil is high in unsaturated fats, which are linked to lower levels of heart disease and related disorders, like high blood pressure.
Figs and Dates
Figs grew well in this climate and are an excellent source of prebiotic fibre. Prebiotics support the natural gut flora and suppress the growth of pathogenic settlers! Dates are sweet, but also contain some fibre which slows down digestion and prevents unhealthy insulin spikes from occurring. Dates were also fermented into a drink called ‘Shechar’. Fermented beverages contain probiotics which help to colonise the gut with helpful bacteria.
Pomegranates are unlikely to have been a huge part of the ancient Israelite diet, but they nevertheless tout a number of health benefits. A recent study found that pomegranate extract could reduce inflammation by bringing down blood lipid levels (a known risk factor for heart disease, obesity, diabetes and a range of other inflammatory conditions). Israelites probably would have eaten this fruit fresh in season, and may have fermented it into wine to preserve it out of season.
Many of you know that too much wine can cause inflammation and liver damage over time, but a little every day can actually support health. Red wine, which is what Israelites would largely have had access to, can reduce inflammation because it contains lots of antioxidants which inhibit cellular damage.
This is where it gets really interesting. There were no cows in ancient Israel, so milk, cheese, and yogurt were made solely from goats. Goat milk is widely accepted as anti-inflammatory. Many who cannot tolerate cows milk can drink goats milk without difficulty. Due to the naturally warm temperatures, this could also be made into a range of probiotic yogurts and even something similar to ghee or clarified butter, which has become a popular health food.
Coastal and river dwelling inhabitants would have had access to a range of fresh fish. Fish is naturally high in Omega 3 and 6 fatty acids, both of which are shown to support longevity and provide anti-inflammatory effects in the ratios naturally found in marine foods. Fish were also salted and dried, producing a lean, protein rich food source that could be transported and kept in storage without going off.
Leeks, Onions and Garlic
Potent prebiotics, these three vegetables were often added to a range of cooked dishes for flavour and nutrients. These three in particular have been praised in the scientific literature for contributing to the health of the gut due to their high levels of prebiotic fibre, which help good bacteria populate the large intestine, crowding our pathogens which cannot digest it. Leeks, garlic and onion are all related, coming from the onion family.
Any of you Keto/ Paleo people will reel in horror at the notion that wheat was a staple in ancient Israel, but this was not the refined wheat you are used to today. Most widespread was Emmer Wheat, an ancestor of Durum Wheat. Durum wheat is a much heartier grain which contains more fibre and is less processed. It also contains less gluten, which is inflammatory to the gut lining.
Overall, to eat like Jesus, was to eat surprisingly well! Lots of healthy oils with anti-inflammatory omega 3 fatty acids. Fruits and vegetables with prebiotic fibre. Dairy from goats instead of cows, and fresh fish some of the time! On a side note and not mentioned above, meat was rarely eaten during the year, and when it was, it was largely goat, with some chicken, duck and goose. Too much meat has been implicated in heart disease as well as some cancers, most commonly colorectal.
Jesus is known for his wisdom as a prophet in Christianity, and is a guiding light for Christians across the globe, but even those of us who aren’t religious could probably learn a thing or two about health from this historical figure.
If you enjoyed this short insight into diets from around the world, let me know in the comments, and as ever, please like and subscribe for more to come!