Page last updated at 12:28 GMT, Tuesday, 13 January 2009

Biblical diet 'not very healthy'

Biblical texts and archaeology suggest a diet low in vitamins and minerals

Ancient Israel was far from "the land of milk and honey," and instead people suffered from the lack of a balanced diet, according to a theologian.

Dr Nathan MacDonald, an Old Testament lecturer at St Andrews University, used biblical texts and archaeological evidence to study the ancient diet.

He has concluded that there were frequent famines and people's meals often lacked vitamins and minerals.

However, he believes the Bible contains important messages about sharing food.

Dr MacDonald feels his study disputes the notion 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 Would Jesus Eat? and The Maker's Diet are bestsellers.

Dr MacDonald explained: "Though many people have thought otherwise, the evidence is that the diet in biblical times was not very healthy.

The Bible has much to say about food that deserves attention, such as the importance of sharing food with those less fortunate
Dr Nathan MacDonald

"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."

By examining human remains from the Israelite period, Dr MacDonald found evidence of iron-deficiency anaemia, consistent with a diet high in flat bread and low in meat and vegetables.

He believes pregnant women and children would have been especially vulnerable to malnutrition.

However, Dr MacDonald, the author of What Did the Ancient Israelites Eat? Diet in Biblical Times, said the bible had messages about food that were still relevant today.

"The Bible never purports to provide dietary advice. Even the biblical food laws serve very different purposes than modern nutritional advice," he said.

"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."

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