Sunday, 16 October 2011

Salubrious Food

Gods of Healthy Eating

There are a number of significant Roman Gods of food including:
  • Ceres, Goddess of agriculture, especially regarding grain – which today we associate with, inter alia, wheat, barley, rye, oats, maize and rice. In ancient times she was mostly associated with wheat (Romans did not eat maize or rice); bread being perhaps the most important food in ancient Rome. Ceres was one of fifteen Roman deities who had an official cult, including a designated flamen (priest). Her festival, the Cerealia, was celebrated in April.
  • Pomona, originally a nymph specific to the Pomonal (an orchard or wood on the road from Rome to Ostia), but subsequently associated with fruit in general, especially orchard fruit, and fruitful abundance. Pomona was one of fifteen Roman deities who had an official cult, including a designated flamen (priest). 
  • Emperor Rudolf II as Vertumnus
    by G Arcimboldo (1591)
  • Vertumnus, God of the changing seasons and cultivated plant growth. A temple for Vertumnus was constructed on the Aventine Hill by 264 BC and there was a festival (Vertumnalia) in his honour on 13 August. He also had a shrine, which included first a wooden and then, in imperial times, a bronze statue of him, on Etruscan St near the Roman forum. This statue was decorated according to the seasons. In Ovid's Metamorphoses Pomona was wooed by Vertumnus after he disguised himself as an old woman and warned Pomona of the dangers of an "unyielding heart".

Other notable food deities include:
  • Salus – Goddess of good health and associated with salt. She had a temple on the Quirinal Hill. 
  • Liber Pater (Bacchus) – God of the vine, wine and mystic ecstasy/freedom.
  • Priapus – protector of vineyard’s, gardens and orchards.
  • Pales and Faunus – protectors of livestock.
Something that is implicit regarding the food of these deities is that all them are healthy and for the most part low to medium GI.

Eating a low GI diet has been scientifically proven, inter alia, to help people:
  • With diabetes (a disease which affects around 350 million people worldwide).
  • Who are overweight (note that the World Health Organization recognises obesity as a modern epidemic, with 1.5 billion individuals over the age of 20 being considered obese).
  • Who are of normal weight but excess abdominal fat.
A low GI diet has been described as “the way nature intended us to eat”, it involves a diet rich in the following foods:
  • Virtually all fruits and vegetables (potatoes, which were unknown to ancient Europe, are the main exception).
  • Wholegrain breads and cereals. Note that in Roman times bread made from white flour (which is high GI) was expensive and would have been eaten sparingly and/or generally by the wealthy; most bread was whole grain – hence low GI. Note also that even though white flour was available in ancient Rome it was “a far cry from the bleached, ultra-refined white flour that pervades our society” and probably did not have a GI count as high as modern white bread. Furthermore, legumes (beans, green peas, chick peas, lentils, etc) were sometimes added to bread which would have brought the GI count down significantly.
    Brita as Idunn (Norse Goddess of apples
    and youth)  by C Larsson (c. 1900)
  • Legumes.
  • Nuts and seeds.
  • Dairy foods.
  • Meat, poultry, fish and seafood.
Unquestionably this describes a diet by and large consistent with an ancient Roman diet, thus we may go so far as to argue that a low GI diet is a diet sanctified by the Gods. In this age of the proliferation of sugar (which was unknown to Romans – although honey was popular, but was not sold as cheaply and en masse as it is in modern times) and highly processed, high GI, low-fibre snacks and ready meals, following the diet that nature intended is one way to bring us closer to who, at our best, we are intended to be.

Ovid, Metamorphoses, Norton, New York, 2005
Dictionary of Classical Mythology, Penguin, London, 1991
K Marsh, J Brand-Miller and P Sandall, Low GI Gluten-Free Living, Hachette, Sydney, 2007
various websites including (2011) and (2011)

Written by M. Sentia Figula; find me at and Roman Pagan on Facebook

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