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The diet that 5 famous innovators attribute to their success

couscous and vegetables in a pan

As humans, our approach to diet is constantly changing, but if there’s one trend which has endured the test of time, it’s vegetarianism. In fact, it dates back as far as the likes of Plato and Hippocrates. These pioneers were innovative not only in their understanding of the world around them, but also in their approach to their diets!

According to Brian Greene, an American theoretical physicist and string theorist: “vegetarians typically are people who are willing to challenge the usual, accepted order of things. Moreover, they´re often people willing to sacrifice their own pleasures in pursuit of what they believe is right. These same qualities are often what´s needed to make great breakthroughs in the arts and sciences.” This could be true, considering that Albert Einstein, who made huge breakthroughs in science (including his theory of relativity and his development of quantum theory), famously said, “nothing will benefit human health and increase chances for survival of life on Earth as much as the evolution to a vegetarian diet.”

Below we outline what some geniuses ate to keep their brains sharp; from the Ancient Greeks, to the Romantic period and finally through to some of the nineteenth and twentieth century scientists.

1) Hippocrates (460-370 BC)

Hippocrates is considered to be the “Father of Medicine” as he shifted western medicine from the religious to the rational. He and his followers were the first to describe many diseases and medical conditions.

Hippocrates believed that nutrition was one of the fundamental ways to both cure and prevent disease. He famously said: "Let your food be your medicine and your medicine be your food."

He recognised that when people ate a fresh, plant-based diet, they developed fewer diseases and his primary form of treatment was usually improving a patient’s diet.

In general, the Ancient Greeks did not eat much meat for three reasons. Firstly, they didn’t have good pasture land for livestock. Secondly, they considered it to be “civilised”, and part of the evolution of man, to instead farm the land and transform nature. And thirdly, meat would only be eaten at festivals, when an animal was sacrificed to the gods. In total, even meat-eating Greeks would only eat about 2-5 pounds (1-2KG) of meat per year!

Hippocrates’ diet: In “Della dieta nel Corpus hippocraticum” (the Hippocratic treatise on diet), Hippocrates talks about barley and barley bread, “cyceon” (a sacred drink) made from water, honey, milk and mint, and also mentions wheat bread, spelt, oats, beans and legumes (including peas, chickpeas, and lentils), dried and fresh fruits, and seeds (including millet, flax, sesame, and poppy). He placed large emphasis upon vegetables, olives, grapes and figs, which were popular diet staples in Ancient Greece. He also ate a type of porridge called “maza” which was made from barley, flaxseeds, coriander and salt.

close up of fresh figs

The Ancient Greek diet was very grain-heavy. Before eating grains, they would soak them overnight, which would make the grains more digestible for better nutritional value.

It is believed that Hippocrates lived to be over 90 years old, whilst some sources even claim that he lived to the ripe old age of 104!

2) Plato (428 BC – 348 BC)

Plato was an ancient Greek philosopher who laid the foundations of Western philosophy and science. His writings explored justice, equality, politics, mathematics, cosmology and theology. Plato also founded the Academy in Athens, one of the first institutions of higher learning in the Western world.

vegetable and cheese board

Plato believed in a society that based its diet (and lifestyle) upon health, moderation, justice and peace. In his view meat-eating was an unnecessary “luxury” as well as “unhealthy” and “inflammatory.” In the “true city” Plato visualised, people should live on barley, wheat, olives, cheese, and boiled onions and greens.

Plato´s diet: Ovid, a Roman poet, remarks that "Plato, doubtless, reached his great age, because of his moral purity, temperance, and natural food diet: of herbs, berries, nuts, grains, and the wild plants of the mountains, which the earth, that best of mothers produces."

3) Percy Shelley (1792-1822)

fresh organic green vegetables farmers market

A meat-free diet became widespread during the 18th century for two reasons. Firstly, fruits and vegetables (all of which would have been organic) became more widely available. Secondly, adopting a vegetarian diet during this time was seen as a way to distinguish oneself from an increasingly profit-driven, consumerist society. Meat had also become a symbol of the wealthy upper class, so in order to oppose such social distinctions, many opted not to eat it. Vegetarian advocates saw the diet as a way to reconnect with “primitive man”, who consumed a diet closer to vegetarianism.

Percy Shelley is one of the most highly regarded English Romantic poets of the 19th century. He is best known for his classic anthology verses such as Ode to the West Wing and The Masque of Anarchy. He wrote two essays about vegetarianism: On the Vegetable System of Diet and A Vindication of Natural Diet, in which he explores how man can regain happiness through a return to vegetarianism. Unfortunately, Percy drowned in a sudden storm whilst sailing in Italy in 1822. Percy´s second wife, Mary Shelley, the author of Frankenstein, was also a passionate advocate of the vegetarian diet.

Percy´s diet: Percy did not eat any meat or fish, nor did he consume alcohol. According to the biographer Thomas Jefferson Hogg, Percy´s favourite food was bread. He loved “panade” (a mixture of starch and water), and ate this with pulses (such as lentils, chickpeas or soybeans): “when he was walking in the streets and felt hungry, he would dive into a baker´s shop and emerge with a loaf tucked under his arm. This he consumed as he went along, very often reading at the same time. He could not comprehend how any man should want more than bread.” He also ate a great variety of soups, vegetables and fruits: “the finest and best of the kind, dressed with care and skill; either plainly or stewed, and otherwise artfully and scientifically arranged and disguised.” (Percy would have probably enjoyed courgette spaghetti). He would indulge sometimes in cocoa “for variety”, but sugar was off his menu for ethical reasons, as during this time it came from slave plantations. Shelley said of his meals: "The pleasure or taste to be derived from a dinner of potatoes, beans, peas, turnips, lettuces, with a dessert of apples, gooseberries, strawberries, currants, raspberries, and in winter, oranges, apples, and pears, is far greater than is supposed."

4) Nikola Tesla (1856-1943)


Nikola is one of history´s most extraordinary inventors. His discoveries in the field of electricity were way ahead of his time and included fluorescent light bulbs, X-ray and the remote control. Check out this article for The 10 Inventions of Nikola Tesla that changed the world.

Nikola believed “that we can subsist on plant food and perform our work even to advantage is not a theory, but a well-demonstrated fact. Many races living almost exclusively on vegetables are of superior physique and strength. There is no doubt that some plant food, such as oatmeal, is more economical than meat, and superior to it in regard to both mechanical and mental performance.

Nikola’s diet: Nikola’s diet consisted of vegetables, grains, milk, onions, spinach, celery, carrots, lettuce and potatoes. Later in life, Tesla consumed only milk, honey, bread and vegetable juices. He also avoided all stimulants (including coffee, tea and tobacco) as he viewed these as “poisons” which harm the body. He did, however, view alcohol as the “elixir of life.” Tesla is said to have had an “obsession” with health, and would calculate the cubic contents of all the food on his plate before eating.

5) Albert Schweitzer (1875 – 1965)

green smoothie with spinach, banana and strawberries

Albert was a German theologian, organist, philosopher, physician and medical missionary in Africa. He received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1952 for his work, “Reverence for Life.” In which he explored the compassionate side to vegetarianism.

Albert believed that vegetarianism was crucial to a peaceful, harmonious world: “until [man] extends the circle of his compassion to all living things, man will not himself find peace.”

Albert´s diet: before he went vegetarian, Albert was diabetic. Albert believed that the raw food pioneer, Max Gerson, cured him of his diabetes by taking him off his high protein diet, and putting him instead on a regimen of fresh raw vegetables, fruits and fruit juices. After 10 days, his insulin was reduced by half, and after a month, he no longer needed insulin. Gerson commented that it is the pancreas which has to supply most of the enzymes needed to digest protein and since it is the pancreas which is in poor health in a diabetic´s body, a high protein diet only exacerbates the condition. Schweitzer´s diabetes never returned as he stuck to this raw food diet for the rest of his life, and remained healthy and active until his death at the age of 92. James Cameron, who lived with Albert whilst writing a series of articles about him, stated that “The Doctor eats only fruits and vegetables – but considerably great quantities of mango, avocado, and soya bean, and above all, huge amounts of boiled banana.”

These revolutionaries considered vegetarianism to be the optimal diet for human beings - we guess if it’s good enough for the inventor of the remote control and the author of Frankenstein; maybe it’s worth trying a veggie recipe or two?

Check out our In Season Fruit and Veg Shopping List and release your inner vegetarian

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