Biblical diet 'unhealthy'

Jan 13, 2009
A grain silo - a communal location for storing grain - in Meggido, Israel, dating from 8th century BCE. The grain silo had a capacity of 450 cubic metres (photo: Nathan MacDonald).

A new study into the diet of ancient Israel has revealed that far from being 'the land of milk and honey', its inhabitants suffered from the lack of a balanced diet.

Dr Nathan MacDonald, a theologian at the University of St Andrews, carried out a careful examination of the ancient diet using biblical texts and archaeological evidence.

The study disputes the misconception held by many that the Bible provides not just religious instruction and moral guidance, but the recipe for healthy living. In North America, books based on the diet of the Bible such as What Did Jesus Eat, The Maker's Diet and The Bible's Seven Steps to Healthy Living are bestsellers. In fact, the new research finds that the biblical diet wasn't healthy at all.

Dr MacDonald, a lecturer in the Old Testament, explained, "Though many people have thought otherwise, the evidence is that the diet in biblical times was not very healthy. Except for times of famine and food shortage - which were relatively frequent - it provided the necessary calories, but was lacking in certain key vitamins and minerals.

"A number of books propound a biblical diet because it is thought to be a low fat, high fibre diet. True, many Israelites rarely ate meat, but vegetables and fruit also featured far less than they needed to. In reality, it was not a balanced diet."

Dr MacDonald's examination of diet in the time of the Bible included an in-depth analysis of biblical texts, comparative anthropological evidence, and archaeological finds. The study brings together evidence in a way that has never been done before.

The archaeological evidence was particularly insightful. Dr MacDonald commented, "Scientific examination of human bones from the Israelite period provides evidence of the poor nutritional status of the Israelites. Tests on human remains suggest cases of iron-deficiency anaemia. This is consistent with a diet that is high in flat bread and low in meat and vegetables. Pregnant women and children would have been especially vulnerable to malnutrition with consequences for the rest of their lives."

In studying the neglected topic of food and eating in the Old Testament, Dr MacDonald believes that the Bible has much to say about food that is still relevant today.

"The Bible never purports to provide dietary advice. Even the biblical food laws serve very different purposes than modern nutritional advice. Nevertheless, the Bible has much to say about food that deserves attention, such as the importance of sharing food with those less fortunate then ourselves," he concluded.

Dr MacDonald's book What Did the Ancient Israelites Eat? Diet in Biblical Times is published by Eerdmans (Grand Rapids, MI).

Provided by University of St Andrews

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User comments : 6

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Dologan
5 / 5 (1) Jan 13, 2009
Isn't the irony delicious that this research is McDonald's? I'm definitely lovin' it! ;)
Amy_Steri
5 / 5 (1) Jan 13, 2009
People who could benefit from this article either will never see it because they don't have internet access in their trailer park, or they will not believe a word in it because they have "faith in the lord". The people who will read and accept the information in this article already know better.
malapropism
not rated yet Jan 13, 2009
But Amy_Steri, it's ok - in fact more than ok, desirable - if believers eat according to the Bible and have poor nutrition because of it; with a little luck thrown in (they would probably decree it the will of God, I suppose) this will cause them as a group to have lower fertility and be a self-limiting population. Well, one can hope anyway... :-)
Falcon
not rated yet Jan 14, 2009
But Amy_Steri, it's ok - in fact more than ok, desirable - if believers eat according to the Bible and have poor nutrition because of it; with a little luck thrown in (they would probably decree it the will of God, I suppose) this will cause them as a group to have lower fertility and be a self-limiting population. Well, one can hope anyway... :-)

Sorry but lower IQ usually leads to higher sex drive (I think). There was a movie made by Fox Entertainment called "Idiocracy" http://en.wikiped...diocracy that seemed to illustrate that point exactly. Then again it was only a movie...
Marquette
not rated yet Jan 19, 2009
While Dr. MacDonald identifies yet another reason the Bible should not be considered a source of scientific information, he is correct to point out that the advice given on the "greater truths" such as compassion and kindness, are the main points of wisdom people should be taking from the Bible. Those who believe the Bible to be an authority on "everything", including science, are missing the point.
davidtm
5 / 5 (1) Feb 09, 2009
I think we have to criticize shoddy scholarship wherever we find it regardless of its supporting or contradicting our world view. As I recall in the very first book of the Bible God tells the inhabitants of the garden that he gave them herbs, plants and fruits for their food. The obvious implication then is that vegetables, fruits and herbs should be our main diet since according to the Bible it was what we were created to eat. Only later was meat eating included. Mr MacDonald would do well to do more research. If the Bible suggests a primary diet of vegetables, fruit and herbs supplemented later by meats it can hardly be considered unbalanced. The fact that Israelites didn't follow that suggestion is immaterial. Americans are told what a healthy diet is and fast food restaurants still do a thriving business.