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.