Salt of the earth: The monks of Mount Athos

August 3, 2008

The answer to a life free from cancer may be to live like a monk. Research into one of the world’s most isolated monastic communities has revealed that only a tiny number of brothers have suffered from the disease in the past decade.

The austere existence of the monks of Mount Athos has been notorious in Greece for generations but, until recently, few beyond the peninsula’s monastic walls had considered mimicking their sombre lifestyle.

That may be about to change. Father Epifanios Miloptaminos is sharing his recipes in, “Cooking on Mount Athos” (so far available only in Greek).

“Monks at Mount Athos don’t eat meat,” says Epifanios. “The word butter is never mentioned in the book, and we don’t add flour to thicken sauces. We just let the ingredients boil down.”

Epifanios’ catalog of recipes is divided into seafood – with and without backbones, according to different fasting categories – or vegetables. No desserts at the Holy Mountain.

The main factor in their low uptake of cancers is their diet. The brothers alternate their meals, and ration olive oil, wine and dairy products on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.

Avoiding meat altogether, and subsisting on home grown fruit and vegetables with occasional fish, meals are slow and simple.

“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. Simple meals at regular intervals are very important,” says Haris Aidonopoulos, a urologist at the University of Thessaloniki.

Of the 1,500 monks, only a minute proportion have developed cancer. Since 1994, scientists have regularly tested them for the disease, and found that none developed lung or bowel cancer.

Prostrate cancer, one of the biggest killers of among adult men, only affected 11 of the monks during the 13-year period. That is less than a quarter of the international rate for the disease.

3 Responses to “Salt of the earth: The monks of Mount Athos”

  1. streaker Says:

    Sounds like a wonderfull book. I only wish you had given some examples of recipies or information on when an English translation might become available. There is another similar book that is available in English called – Greek Monastery Cookery by Archimandrite Dositheos

  2. Clement Says:

    I just got back from a stay at Iveron monastery on the Holy Mountain, and I think that I am familiar with this book as the only other Greek monastic cookbook I saw is the one that streaker mentioned. If this is indeed the same book, then an English translation is forthcoming. My friend, a novice there, knows the author of the book and said that he was debating whether to translate it into French or English next. I told him that I vote for English! 🙂

  3. Clement Says:

    Also, I found a recipe that’s a slightly modified recipe from the book, for braised cod with plums (the original calls for salting cod, which is time consuming):

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