Living Like A Monk: Reducing Cancer Risk (The Original Mediterranean Diet)
Updated: Jul 27
Earlier this week, I discussed a study that showed that "one in ten colorectal and one in ten lung cancers could be avoided if people reduced their red and processed meat intake to less than 5 oz a week.
Now, a slightly more austere regime, could also reduce your risk of prostate cancer to 1/4 of the national averages
Since 1994, the 1,500 monks on Mount Athos, in northern Greece, have been regularly tested and their simple diet (no meat, occasional fish, home-grown vegetables and fruit) and low-stress existence seems to be protecting them from cancer. During this time, only 11 have developed prostate cancer, a rate less than one quarter of the international average. In another study, their rate of lung and bladder cancer was found to bezero.
The staples are fruit and vegetables, pasta, rice and soya dishes, and bread and olives. They grow much of what they eat themselves. Agioritiko red wine is made locally from mountain grapes. Dairy products are rare. Breakfast is hard bread and tea. Much of the day is taken up with chores – cleaning, cooking, tending to crops – followed by a supper, typically of lentils, fruit and salad, and evening prayers. All the monks stick to the rigorous fasting periods of the Orthodox Church, in which a strict vegan diet is prescribed for weeks at a stretch.
Haris Aidonopoulos, a urologist at the University of Thessaloniki, said “What seems to be the key is a diet that alternates between olive oil and non olive oil days, and plenty of plant proteins,” he said. “It’s not only what we call the Mediterranean diet, but also eating the old-fashioned way. Small simple meals at regular intervals are very important.”
On holidays and feast days such as Christmas and Easter, when other Greeks are feasting on roast meat, the monks prefer fish, their only culinary luxury. Father Moses of the Koutloumousi monastery, one of the 20 organized cloisters scattered over the Athos peninsula, said: “We never eat meat. We produce most of the vegetables and fruit we consume. And we never forget that all year round, on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, we don’t use olive oil on our food.”
Michalis Hourdakis, a dietitian associated with Athens University, said: “This limited consumption of calories has been found to lengthen life. Meat has been associated with intestinal cancer, while fruit and vegetables help ward off prostate cancer.”
Their diet is simple, a mostly vegan diet centered around home grown fruits and vegetables, with limited amounts of olive oil (which is served on salads when used) regular fasting and a moderately high level of activities of daily living.
Saturday, Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday
Breakfast: Hard bread, tea
Lunch: Pasta or rice,vegetables, olive oil
Dinner: Lentils, fruit and salad, olive oil. Red wine
Monday, Wednesday and Friday: no olive oil
Holidays and feast days: Fish and seafood