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Nutrition against disease in the last fifty thousand years

Recent excavations at the Theopetra Cave of Thessaly, Greece, have disclosed evidence of legume eating nearly fifty thousand years ago, and cereal use from about ten thousand years ago. Earlier excavations at the Franchthi Cave in Argolis, showed testimony of massive tunafishing from the middle of the seventh millennium BC. Cooking pots from the Gerani Cave, a few kilometers from the city of Rethymnon in Crete, revealed the extensive use of olive oil for cooking from the middle of the fifth millennium BC. Other excavations at various sites in Crete and continental Greece, have uncovered indications for the use of wine from the third millennium BC.

Legumes, cereals, fish, olive oil, wine - surely there is no better introduction to the Mediterranean diet. The actual date one may choose as the beginning of this diet is necessarily speculative and dependent on definition, but it must be clear that this diet has been eaten by the inhabitants of the Greek peninsula for a very long time. The question is, is this diet fortuitous, the result of living in an area where the previously named foods were readily available? An affirmative answer to the question seems inevitable. But if one stopped there, he would have a very inadequate view of the role, development, and significance of the Mediterranean diet.
There is ample evidence from Pythagorean times (6th century BC), extending to the Hippocratic, Hellenistic and Byzantine periods, of painstaking research, trial and error, divergent or even inimical opinion, and all the accoutrements of success and failure. An enormous number of ancient Greek physicians chose to make nutrition the principal agent against disease.
In other words, it may be incidental that the ancient Greeks found themselves on the northeastern shores of the Mediterranean, where the olive tree, the vine, and the other plants of the local flora helped provide the inhabitants with a large proportion of the traditional Mediterranean diet. But there is absolutely nothing incidental in the fact thet they chose to make nutrition the principal agent for the prevention and cure of disease. Not as a general priciple or sweeping axiom, but as a matter of practice and experience, the empirical knowledge and first-hand understanding that comes from expertise obtained on the job.
Further, theirs was not some theoretical position that happened to find favor with an often grateful prosperity. An intellectual tour de force like so many others of their endeavors, that surprises with its aptness and vigor. On the contrary, it is important to note that in the field of using nutrition against disease, they were not only the experimenters, but also the experimental animals.

John Phillipson
Institute of Paleonutrition, Greece



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