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Mediterranean Diet Invented by Ancient Greeks, Study Reveals

mediterranean diet
A bottle of fresh olive oil and an amphora. Credit: Manfred Wernercc-by-sa4.0/Wikimedia Commons

Ancient Greek doctors invented the renowned Mediterranean diet, as Hippocratic physicians prescribed healthy diets and used rich flavors in food in order to treat their patients, a study from the University of Exeter revealed.

Experts at the University of Exeter studied texts of ancient Greek doctors and found that they believed rich flavors could improve the food’s nutritional potency, while one of them, Galen of Pergamon, prescribed food recipes containing garlic and onions to patients.

According to the same study, the work of ancient Greek doctors laid the principals of modern Mediterranean cooking, considered among the world’s healthiest.

Ancient Greek philosopher Plato wrote about the importance of food on health, while Hippocrates said: “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.”

Ancient Greek diet like Mediterranean diet

mediterranean diet ancient greek
The Mediterranean diet, which was invented by the ancient Greeks, is rich in vegetables, fruit, and olive oil. Credit: Han Hillewaer/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY-SA 3.0

As Professor John Wilkins, an expert on Greek Culture at the University of Exeter, explained to the Daily Mail, “The ancient diet resembled the modern Mediterranean diet but without oranges and lemons from China and tomatoes from South America, of course. The diet is largely based on regional plants, which the doctors generally preferred over imported luxuries…”

“Also, the ancient Mediterranean did not sustain a huge number of animals, so meat was limited, as it is in the modern Mediterranean. The soil produced flavor-rich food, making cereal palatable,” concluded Professor Wilkins, whose study is published in the Journal of Ethnopharmacology.

Ancient Greek physicians “take flavor as a measure of nutritional potency because that property of astringency in unripe apples or pungency in onions reflects the effect that the food will have on the digested material and ultimately the impact on body humors,” the expert stated.

“Galen sees nutrition as a third of the medical art, along with pharmacology and surgery. If people had too much thick humor, phlegm in particular, then they needed onions and garlic to thin it. That is a sort of early idea of dealing with too much cholesterol,” he continued.

Furthermore, Wilkins described that Galen’s writings included recipes for pancakes and put under discussion the types of bread and cakes that should be eaten. The physician also warned of the dangers of milk, which, according to him, contains whey and solids that may block the narrow channels in the liver in susceptible individuals.

His recipes included simple cooking techniques, designed to bring out the flavor of basic ingredients and he even wrote about how snails should be boiled twice to reduce their laxative properties.

Galen even recommended spices such as pepper, ginger and cinnamon to his patients, while other doctors recommended fruits and vegetables. In other cases, ingredients that are no longer used, like silphium, asphodel and muscari were also used in cooking.

Principles of the Mediterranean diet

Greek food is often considered among the most healthy cuisines in the world, as it is linked to the Mediterranean diet, which has been proven to have countless health benefits.

The Mediterranean diet is the utmost example of a diet that never goes out of style; it has stood the test of time and it is still considered one of the healthiest of all.

The Mediterranean Sea is home to significant cultural diversity as it is bordered by Greece, Italy, Spain, France, Lebanon, Turkey and North Africa.

Although each country presents its own food choices and traditions, recipes from each culture present a substantial overlap, therefore distinctive cuisines share nutritional attributes and ingredients.

As a rule, the Mediterranean diet is mainly plant-based, as it is high in vegetables, fruits, legumes, and unprocessed grains while low in meat and meat products (only a few times per month).

Adherents to the diet also consume a reduced amount of dairy products.

These ingredients are bound together by olive oil, an essential ingredient when it comes to defining the basics of healthy Greek food and the Mediterranean diet.

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