The Regimen Sanitatis Salernitanum was created, allegedly, by famous doctors for English royalty and disseminated in the form of a poem. It recommends, very specifically, red wine, fresh eggs, figs and grapes. It has little to say about vegetables. In many ways, it’s the antithesis of today’s health fads—it celebrates wheat, emphasizes meat, and involves two significant meals, with no mention of snacking. Water is looked on with suspicion, and juice is nowhere to be found.The author tried it out to see how it worked. The wine, in the ancient way, was diluted -- drinking raw water made it more likely you would get sick from things in the water, but diluting wine with it meant that the harmful effects of the wine were largely eliminated, while the beneficial effects remained.
But from the 1200s through the 1800s, the Regimen was one of the most well known guides to health in Europe, at a time when the stakes of staying healthy were much higher than they are now. Getting sick could be a death sentence; this regimen promised to keep people well.
There are some aesthetic differences:
One giant difference between diet advice of 1200s and diet advice now is that Salerno never mentions losing weight or keeping skinny. In fact, all the foods Salerno smiles on, the poem describes as “fattening.” When you’re liable as not to face a famine, or at least a food shortage, at basically any time, fattening is good.In the end, the author consulted a modern specialist for advice.
How did it stack up from a modern point of view? I asked Andrea Grandson, a nutritional therapist who specializes in metabolic health, to go over the Salerno prescriptions with me. “It sounds very healthy, with eggs, wine, and broth,” she says. Eggs are a complete protein and one of the easiest to digest. Red wine is valuable for its resveratrol and antioxidants. Broths and stews extract the nutrients from the bones and organs of animals. “They were on the right track in terms of looking for nutrient density,” she says.
But, most importantly, she said, how did I feel? Was I sleeping ok? Did I feel an afternoon slump?
The truth is, I felt great eating this food. It was simple, hearty, and filling, but I never stuffed myself.