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Last Updated: Monday, 23 May 2005, 00:21 GMT 01:21 UK
Americans look to Jesus for diet
By Michelle Roberts
BBC News health reporter

Mark Rylance as Leonardo from BBC's The Man Who Wanted To Know
Jesus ate bread and drank wine at the last supper
Five loaves, two fish and a goblet of red wine could be on the menu for Americans if a new diet takes off.

Don Colbert, a Florida doctor, believes asking yourself "What would Jesus eat?" is the best way to stay fit, slim and trim.

In his book, which gets its title from this question, he explores some of the Old Testament dietary laws and looks at foods mentioned in the Bible.

He says: "If you truly want to follow Jesus in every area of your life you cannot ignore your eating habits.

Some of the stricter religious people have accused Jesus of being a wine bibber and a glutton because Jesus did like parties
Reverend Dr Gordon Gatward, Director of the Arthur Rank Centre

"The health of Americans is going down and it is largely down to our bad food choices.

"We have an obesity epidemic. People eat when they are stressed and eat on the run and everyone is super-sizing their meals.

"A lot of people have no desire to change their foods. Instead, they just go on medication to control their symptoms of obesity-related disease. But it shouldn't be this way.

"By getting them to look at the biblical side it allows them to slow down and make the correct choice about their diet and lifestyle," he said.

So what did Jesus eat?

At the last supper, Jesus is said to have eaten bread and drunk wine.

Luke 24:42 says: "And they gave him [Jesus] a piece of a broiled fish, and of a honeycomb. And he took it, and did eat before them."

Image of fish
Round Lake Tiberias - the Sea of Galilee - fish would also have been significant
Eric Eve, a tutor in theology and a New Testament scholar at Oxford University

While Luke 10:8 says: "Whenever you enter a town and they receive you, eat what is set before you," which would seem to suggest that Jesus was not encouraging fussiness about food.

Dr Colbert said: "Jesus ate primarily natural foods in their natural states - lots of vegetables, especially beans and lentils.

"He would have eaten wheat bread, a lot of fruit, drunk a lot of water and also red wine.

"And he would only eat meat on special occasions, maybe once a month, just like the parable of the prodigal son who ate fatted calf."

Mediterranean diet

Eric Eve, a tutor in theology and a New Testament scholar at Oxford University, said: "The staple diet of a Mediterranean peasant in Jesus' day would have been bread.

"Round Lake Tiberias - the Sea of Galilee - fish would also have been significant, though for peasants perhaps only in small quantities to provide a relish for the bread.

"Grapes and olives were also grown in Galilee, but more as cash crops for the wine and oil trade than for peasant consumption."

He said food was probably scarce. "Many of them probably went hungry much of the time, or achieved only bare subsistence."

But he said: "I can't imagine many modern Americans taking enthusiastically to all the features of a "biblical" diet

Biblical dietary laws

Image of a pork pie
Pork pie would not have graced Jesus' dinner table

"For example Leviticus 11:22 says 'Of them you may eat: the locust according to its kind, the bald locust according to its kind, the cricket according to its kind, and the grasshopper according to its kind.'"

Dr Colbert said: "He did not eat meats that were an abomination.

"He followed the Levitical laws. He would not have eaten pigs and rabbits or fish that did not have scales, such as crabs and shrimps.

"These foods are higher in arachidonic acid, which is an inflammatory fatty acid, as well as saturated fat that predisposes us to disease.

"So, again, it is best if we eat these animals, which were forbidden in the Old Testament, only very rarely and in smaller amounts, I tell my patients."

Gift from God

Dr Colbert said it was also the manner in which people ate in biblical times that was important.

"They would eat for hours and take their time. The disciples would be lounging around and conversing while dining, not eating fast food on the go like we do."

Reverend Dr Gordon Gatward, director of the Arthur Rank Centre, part of the Royal Agricultural Society of England, said: "Some of the stricter religious people have accused Jesus of being a wine bibber and a glutton because Jesus did like parties.

"But what is interesting is that with both Christian and Jewish faiths, the focal celebration and worship surrounds a meal. We say grace before a meal because food is a gift from God.

"But it is about more than just the physical diet. It is also about the spiritual diet. The Christian faith takes a holistic view."

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