The Mediterranean Eating regimen Isn’t What It Used to Be

October 4, 2021 – When Vesuvius erupted in AD 79, some residents of Pompeii, Italy, sought shelter in stone vaults on nearby beaches, but to no avail: the lava flows still cost their lives. But molten rock did not erase evidence of how they lived and what they ate. Your bones tell how the Mediterranean diet has changed over time, according to new research.

In a study published in Science Advances, researchers describe the use of proteins obtained from the bones of 17 of these victims to determine the food sources that fed the population of Pompeii.

We are what we eat and our bodies make new material from the protein we ingest. Bones are in a constant state of being put together and broken down, and the proteins they contain will reflect what is in our current diet. In the recent study, the researchers compared characteristics of the protein content of bones with those of fish, terrestrial animals, and food crops from the same time period to determine who was eating what at that point in time.

They found that men ate more fish and women tended to eat more land animal products and locally grown fruits and vegetables. Fish was more difficult to access and therefore more expensive, the authors say, suggesting that the higher social status of men may explain the gender gap in their diet.

For modern humans, the results suggest that the Mediterranean diet, often touted as the healthiest for us, has changed somewhat over the past 2,000 years. At the time of the Vesuvius eruption, the residents of the area probably ate much more fish than the diet includes today, but less grain.

The study’s approach “also provided nutritional data of sufficient accuracy to be compared with food supply ratings for modern populations, and opened up the possibility of comparing ancient diets with contemporary settings where the health implications are better understood,” the researchers said.

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Scientific advances: “High-resolution dietary reconstruction of victims of the 79 Ce Vesuvius eruption at Herculaneum by compound-specific isotope analysis.”

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