The Greek Monastic Diet

Recent research has (again) supported the long-claimed benefits of a monastic diet, this time in its Greek form as found on Mount Athos.
athos 3
“If you want to live a long healthy life, you could do worse than joining the monks atop Mount Athos in Greece. On Easter Sunday, “60 Minutes” profiled many of the Orthodox monks that have dedicated their lives to following the words and deeds of Christ. It’s a job they take seriously. Prayers have been offered at Mount Athos every day, with no interruption, for more than a thousand years.

“The monks here have one goal, and that is how they can get closer to God,” Father Serapion told “60 Minutes” correspondent Bob Simon.But the monks have also benefited in an unexpected way – they live long lives with shockingly low levels of cancer and heart disease. Alzheimer’s is virtually unheard of.
athos monks
Is it the holy water? Actually, say scientists, it might be what they are eating, rather than drinking.

“What seems to be the key is a diet that alternates between olive oil and non olive oil days, and plenty of plant proteins”, Haris Aidonopoulos, a urologist at the University of Thessaloniki, told “The Independent” in 2007. “It’s not only what we call the Mediterranean diet, but also eating the old-fashioned way. Simple meals at regular intervals are very important.”

Before you go running out to buy the Mount Athos diet book (there isn’t one), you might want to consider their meal plan. “They eat two meals a day. The ‘first meal’ lasts 10 minutes; the ‘second meal’ also lasts 10 minutes,” Simon reported. “There’s no meat and no dinner table conversation – the only sound is a monk reading from sacred texts.”
Still, the results seem impressive. The health of 1,500 monks was studied between 1994 and 2007. None had developed lung or bowel cancer. Only 11 had prostate cancer, a fraction of the international rate, according to the “The Independent”.
athos monks cooking
The benefits associated with the Mediterranean diet – lower rates of cancer, heart disease, Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s – have long been touted. And it’s not that hard to follow. Eat mostly fruits and vegetables, use herbs instead of salt, replace red meat with fish and lean poultry, and ditch the butter for olive oil. Also, be sure to throw in a few glasses of red wine. And, perhaps most importantly, get plenty of exercise.
athos food
The monks on Mount Athos don’t have any treadmills, but you won’t catch them sitting on the couch watching TV either. They don’t actually have any televisions, or radios or newspapers for that matter. What they do have, is plenty of manual labor: picking fruit from the gardens, clearing brush and hauling building materials through the mountains via mules.
It’s not an easy life – the monks don’t have wives or children. In fact, women aren’t allowed on the property at all. And the monks rarely leave, not even for the funerals of their closest loved ones.
When asked if he regretted not seeing his father one more time before he died, Father Iakovos told Simon, “Not at all… I know that we’re gonna see each other in paradise one day.””
athos food 2
See also:
Cuisine of the Holy Mountainhr
“The Cuisine of the Holy Mountain Athos”
by Monk Epifanios o Milopotaminos [Sighronoi Orizondes / Distribu 2010]
greek monastery cookbook
“Greek Monastery Cookery” by Archimandrite Dositheos [Epralofos S.A.; 2003)

Inevitably, more populist presentations have appeared, notably “The Mount Athos Diet: The Mediterranean Plan to Lose Weight, Feel Younger and Live Longer” by Richard Storey, Sue Todd and Lottie Storey [Vermilion 2014]
“While it doesn’t require you to spend your days in reflective prayer, the latest diet regime to hit the spotlight does recommend that followers mirror the eating habits of the Greek Orthodox monks of Mount Athos. The religious men eat a Mediterranean diet made up almost exclusively of unprocessed, fresh, low-fat foods, and also engage in days of fasting where they drastically reduce their calorie intake to clear their minds. The monks are obviously doing something right as they have been found to live an astonishing 10 years longer than the average Greek person and also tend to be slim and youthful.

Outlined in a new book, “The Mount Athos Diet” by Richard Storey, Sue Todd and Lottie Storey, the plan aims to eliminate the concept of ‘dieting’ and instead splits the week into three types of day; three moderation days, three fasting days and one feasting, which can be moved around each week to adapt to lifestyle.

During the three fasting days you cut out all dairy, fish, meat, alcohol, eggs and oil, sticking to small portions of fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds and beans. The moderation days allow you a healthy, fresh, low-fat, Mediterranean diet. Dairy, olive oil, fish, chicken and eggs can all be included, although sugar, processed foods and red meat are still off the menu.
Alcohol is even allowed on these three days – though only red wine in moderation (2 units a day) is allowed. The feast day is, as it sounds, a free-for-all, where anything from red meat to cake, mojitos and chocolate is allowed – though the diet does recommend a modicum of restraint in terms of portion size. The three days can be placed in any order to make your life easier.

The book explains: ‘Studies have shown that the monasteries of Athos are among the world’s healthiest communities. The monks live very long lives, largely free of cancers, cardiovascular disease, diabetes and Alzheimer’s. Their way of eating also carries with it an enticing by-product: natural weight loss.

‘The monks don’t count calories, nor do they suffer any of the deprivation commonly associated with the ‘fad’ diets of the Western world. Theirs is not really a ‘diet’, more a way of life. ‘They eat good food and drink good wine, and by following age-old principles of using wholesome ingredients, eating in moderation and exercising regularly, they are among the fittest and healthiest people on earth. ‘Each monastery is largely self-sufficient and very little produce is bought in from the mainland. The monasteries are surrounded by kitchen gardens, orchards, vineyards, beehives and olive groves, and everything produced is organic and seasonal; much time-consuming effort is required to nurture crops and maintain the maximum possible output from the land.
athos monks cooking 2
‘Monastery meals are an extension of the daily religious observance, occurring twice a day – morning and evening. ‘Meals are consumed in silence, as the monks listen to the daily readings from the scriptures (with occasional interruptions from the Abbot).’

Richard Storey, one of the authors of “The Mount Athos Diet”, who has visited the monks every year for 15 years, spoke to “MailOnline” about how he came to the conclusion that their eating regime would be beneficial for everyone.

‘The monks are deemed to be amongst the healthiest group of people in the world, with very low cancer rates and almost no Alzheimer’s and after years of living among them I recognised their diet had a large part to play in this,’ Storey told “MailOnline”.’I always came back feeling fitter, healthier and having lost weight, but I never felt like I had been deprived.
‘We recruit numerous people to test out the monk’s diet to see if it was applicable in a normal Western life. I lost 22lb everybody lost weight ‘A key thing we found was that the lack of calorie counting was a large relief. ‘We also found that somewhere along the way, usually at the three or four week mark, you realise that, without any pressure being placed on exactly calories, you are eating differently and what you crave on the feast day changes.
‘Most people no longer even want the highly-processed, high-sugar foods they did at the beginning.’

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