Ancient Hebrew Diet & Health

iJupiterimages, Brand X Pictures/Stockbyte/Getty Images

The ancient Hebrews were nomadic, which somewhat limited their diet to mainly what grew naturally in the area. They would travel based on where the rainfall was best at any given time to make sure they had sufficient water for themselves and their livestock.The ancient Hebrew diet also changed throughout the year as different grains, fruits and vegetables became available.

Foods Typically Consumed

The typical diet was heavy on grains, including wheat and barley, bread, cheese, milk, meat and, when available, fruits such as dates, olives, grapes and pomegranates. Meat was more for special occasions rather than an everyday part of the diet. Figs, honey, wild onion and garlic, eggs, lentils and other legumes, herbs and small amounts of salt were also part of the ancient Hebrew diet. As people became more settled, more foods were grown, including peanuts, pistachios, almonds, peaches, apples, pears, citron and carob.

The limited amount of salt and red meat consumed is in accordance with current dietary recommendations to limit heart disease and cancer risk.

Meal Patterns

The ancient Hebrews may have had just two main meals per day - one in the late morning and another in the early evening, according to the Jewish Virtual Library. A typical morning meal might have been bread dipped in olive oil served with figs along with a little watered down wine, and the evening meal may have been more of a hot meal consisting of lentil soup and bread.

Eating just two meals per day may be beneficial for health. A study published in Diabetologia in 2014 found that people with Type 2 diabetes who ate two large meals instead of six small meals with the same number of calories lost more weight and had greater improvements in blood sugar levels.

Dietary Laws

Jewish dietary laws allow the consumption of fruits, vegetables and grains as long as they're free of bugs or worms. As for meat, only certain animals can be eaten and they must be butchered a certain way and drained of blood. If an animal is sick, any milk or eggs coming from this animal are forbidden. Pork isn't allowed, and neither are carnivorous animals or shellfish. Meat and milk shouldn't be consumed together, but can be consumed with other foods.

Some of these recommendations, such as the method for butchering animals according to Jewish dietary law, may help limit diseases. Sick animals or those who die on their own can't be used, which lowers the risk for conditions like mad cow disease, and the meat is immediately salted, which decreases the risk of foodborne illnesses.

Current Applications

Some diet books, such as "The Jerusalem Diet" by Judith Besserman and Emily Budick, and "The Life Transforming Diet" by David Zulberg, claim that following a diet closer to the ancient Hebrew diet may be beneficial for weight loss and health. Among the beneficial recommendations include eating less meat, avoiding overeating, limiting your salt intake and exercising daily.

"The Life Transforming Diet" has you make small changes each week to work up to a healthier diet, starting with replacing one meal with a lower-calorie meal, such as eggs and toast or a fruit bowl for breakfast, then adding exercise the next week. The third week has you trading your typical snacks for fruits, vegetables or low-fat dairy products, and the last two weeks have you transforming your main meal to one that includes a healthy mix of protein and vegetables.