Chuck, I was sitting in church during Holy Week and found myself thinking, “I wonder what Jesus ate?” What do you know about his first century diet? – Teresa M. in Connecticut
That’s a great and timely question, especially during this Easter season.
With the growing concerns of nutrition and fitness, I get more and more questions about the health practices of great leaders like Jesus.
In his excellent book “What Would Jesus Eat?” Dr. Don Colbert does a great job of explaining what the Master would have eaten and drank during his day.
Colbert told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette: “I thought I’d go back to the training manual – the Bible – and see what Jesus ate. Lo and behold, Jesus ate the healthiest diet ever developed, the Mediterranean diet.”
The Bible gives us some hint to the Savior’s health habits in verses like Luke 24:42, which tells how he ate broiled fish and honeycomb. Other passages describe how he consumed fish, bread and wine at the feeding of the multitudes, the wedding at Cana and Lord’s Supper.
Colbert, however, takes the search a step further, looking at the average diets of those living in first-century Israel.
Jesus was a Jew, so he would have followed Old Testament dietary laws. These laws were exacting:
- Fish with scales and fins were eaten.
- Crustaceans (crabs, lobsters, shrimp), mollusks (clams, mussels) and catfish were not.
- Sheep, cattle and goats were eaten.
- Hogs were not (Colbert says tongue-in-cheek that Jesus would not have eaten an Easter ham.)
Christian History magazine elaborated that at the two meals each day, bread, legumes, oil and dried or fresh fruit composed a typical meal. The light breakfasts – often flatbread, olives and cheese (from goats or sheep) – were carried to work and eaten at mid-morning.
Dinners were more substantial, consisting of vegetable (lentil) stew, bread (barley for the poor; wheat for the rich), fruit, eggs and/or cheese. Fish was a common staple (particularly as a relish for bread), but red meat was reserved for special occasions (probably eaten about once a month).
Locusts were a delicacy and reportedly tasted like shrimp. (Bet you thought I was going to say chicken! Of course, Jews then wouldn’t have even known they tasted like shrimp, since shrimp and all other crustaceans were “unclean.”)
Nazareth Village’s website elaborates: “Among the foods most likely available in first-century Nazareth (were):
- “Grains: Wheat, barley, sorghum.
- “Legumes (pulses): lentils, broad beans, chickpeas (pulses were roasted, dried and used in soups and stews or ground into pastes and purees).
- “Vegetables: cucumbers, onions, garlic, leeks.
- “Fruits: olives, figs, grapes, melon, pomegranates, dates, fruit byproducts (olive oil, raisins, wine, dried figs, fig cakes, syrup, honey).
- “Nuts: walnuts, pistachios, almonds.
- “Spices: cumin, dill, cinnamon, mint, hyssop, mallow, chicory, mustard, coriander, salt.
- “Milk and milk byproducts: butter, leben (curdled milk), yogurt, cheese.
- “Meat and related food: eggs, fish (salted), fish byproducts (fish brine, fish gravy), lamb, beef (probably quite rare), fowl (chickens, doves).”
Regarding the nutrition value of the above, Dr. Aaron Tabor highlighted the following points in his article on BeliefNet about some of the foods and drinks Jesus likely consumed:
- Figs are excellent sources of potassium and dietary fiber, and are good source of antioxidant phytonutrients like anthocyanins and carotenoids.
- Grapes are a rich source of many phytonutrients, including resveratrol, saponins and many other antioxidant compounds.
- Olive oil is rich in anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant compounds, as well as monounsaturated dietary fat, which helps support heart health by reducing total and bad cholesterol levels.
- Raw honey contains phytonutrients that fight cancer-causing agents, and can support normal blood sugar and cholesterol health. The carbohydrates in honey are a good energy source and enhance digestive tract health by promoting beneficial bacteria.
- Vinegar, including wine vinegar and apple cider vinegar, can support normal blood sugar health and increase the absorption of calcium from vegetables.
- Fatty fish – like lake trout, salmon, mackerel, herring and sardines – are great sources of omega-3 fatty acids, which have anti-inflammatory agents, support healthy blood lipid levels, reduce blood pressure and reduce heart disease risk.
- The pomegranate is a “super fruit” because it is rich in antioxidants, and supports heart health, breast health, prostate health and skin health. Nutritionally, a single pomegranate provides roughly 50 percent of our daily fiber and vitamin C needs.
- Lamb is an excellent source of protein, vitamins B3 and B12, selenium, zinc, phosphorous and iron. Lamb is also less high in saturated fat than other meat products, and most of its fats are the healthier mono- and polyunsaturated fats.
- Whole grain breads are a rich source of vitamins, minerals and soluble dietary fiber.
All these nutrition tips are one more reminder of why Easter is another good season for health reflection, too.
But let us always remember to view our diets with the goal and from the vantage point of holistic health – what is good for body, mind and soul. Even Jesus Himself said, “Man shall not live on bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.”
Write to Chuck Norris with your questions about health and fitness. Follow Chuck Norris through his official social media sites, on Twitter @chucknorris and Facebook’s “Official Chuck Norris Page.” He blogs at ChuckNorrisNews.blogspot.com.