Dietary advice is ten a penny at the moment. Scientific studies which cannot be replicated are taken as gospel until contradicted and every celebrity has some goopy idea or other. So it is no surprise some are going back to long dead greats to see what their diets were. One of these luminous fellows is the artist, Leonardo da Vinci.

The Leonardo da Vinci diet is based on the principles of moderation, discipline, and savouring your food. He ate fresh, fibre rich, water-rich, and vegetable filled foods. Leonardo kept fat, salt, and sugar to the minimum.

Leonardo da Vinci is widely viewed as a genius crossing many art forms as well as scientific and philosophical thought. It is therefore worth taking some time to explore his ideas a little and perhaps trying them.

  1. Principles of the Leonardo da Vinci diet

The food Leonardo da Vinci ate was based on three core principles. These were moderation, dining discipline and most of all, savouring what you ate. In this the former formed the boundaries which helped make the latter possible. Is it possible to savour something you have every day in great quantity?

Here’s some of his words and some of his ideas:

If you want to be healthy observe this regime.

Do not eat when you have no appetite and dine lightly,

Chew well, and whatever you take into you

Should be well-cooked and of simple ingredients.

He who takes medicine is ill advised

Beware anger and avoid stuffy air.

Stay standing a while when you get up from a meal.

Make sure you do not sleep at midday.

Let your wine be mixed with water, take little at a time

Not between meals, nor on an empty stomach.

Neither delay nor prolong your visit to the toilet.

If you take exercise, let it not be too strenuous.

Do not lie with your stomach upward and your head

Downward. Be well covered at night,

And rest your head and keep your mind cheerful.

Avoid wantonness and keep to this diet.

Let’s break this down:

Eat with moderation

There is an idea that the size of a goldfish depends on the size of the bowl. Often the amount we eat depends on the size of the plate. There are even diets based around the idea of using smaller bowls and plates.

Leonardo da Vinci believed in only eating when you were hungry and then to only dine lightly. That is be moderate in what you eat. There is no good in eating until your stomach feels like it is going to burst. Or desire to eat well comes from a long evolutionary history of want and of famine where it seemed best to eat fully while you could in case crops failed and food became scarce.

Develop dining discipline

Da Vinci’s ideas on discipline relate to how you eat and drink. This included the simplicity of ingredients and ensuring they are well cooked. However it went further in that wine should not be drunk neat nor should watered wine be drunk between meals.

Developing good discipline goes further than that and it’s something I struggle with. Not going to lie. Sometimes I feel like Tilly, the cat I saved from an abusive owner. When I met her, she was skeletal and starved. She’d gobble all her food up like there would be no more, ever, and soon she got fat and content. It’s been seven years now and she’s learned she’s in a good place and has slimmed down to a normal size.

Be disciplined in what you eat and when you eat. This means keeping to a healthy diet which promotes good health and helps prevent the need for medicine. It also means eating so your gut is healthy and your movements are regular.

Savour the smell, taste, and texture of food

As noted above, I believe the use of moderation and discipline enhance the joy of eating. It seems Leonardo da Vinci agreed. Giving in to wantonness and greed dilutes the flavour and enjoyment of food. 

It becomes ordinary and rather boring. We take it for granted and forget why we loved it in the first place. For example, think about chewing gum. Now, I hate this stuff, but at first they taste sweet then they seem to lose their flavour, but they do not. Our mouths stop tasting the sugar. If you took it out, saved it, and then popped it back in half an hour later it would be sweet again.

This means after the first few bits of sugar we get, with the delightful flavour and rush, we are just eating bland sugar and over doing it. A small dose of sugar is far better – as Leonardo says.

Therefore, we should eat small meals we can savour. Mix the flavours well, and the textures too – have food which smells good so you can enjoy its ambience before the first bite. Do not let any one element overwhelm the others or like one person in a chippy in Monmouth – don’t soak your chips in so much vinegar everyone else had to go outside!

Posture and action matter too

In addition to the above key eating principles, da Vinci also gave key advice on how to behave around eating. Leonardo da Vinci believed in standing up for a time after eating – this is something I’ve been doing for a while too after a friend in the Philippines told me she’d been doing it too. For a while I’ve had stomach problems and these ended after improving my posture.

Furthermore he had ideas on moderation relating to going to the toilet and exercising. Clearly he believed in a natural amount of action in these realms and that doing too little or too much will add strain to your body.

  1. The da Vinci diet

These ideas are well and good. Like in my own Runari philosophy, there are principles and then there are actions. Or in this case Leonardo had principles on how to eat and a strong idea on what to eat. Let’s look at the latter.

Fibre-rich food

To avoid not spending the right amount of time on the loo we need to eat fibre rich foods. Naturally this turns people toward wholegrain cereals, breads, and pasta. But you can also gain fibre from pears, berries, melons, oranges, broccoli, carrots, sweetcorn, peas, beans, potato skins, nuts, seeds, oats, and so on.

Water-rich food

As a child I never enjoyed soups. They came from cans and were tomato based. They just did not work for me. And that one time as an adult having a cold french soup – yuck. However, after years in Asia – Japan and China, I’ve grown to love other kinds of soup. 

The Leonardo da Vinci diet requires water-rich foods and this means stews and soups. Naturally he would have gone for Meditarranean ones, but East Asian ones work well too. The world is full of good water-rich foods combining vegetables, egg, meat, noodles, and so on – just make sure there’s fibre and fresh veg.

Fresh fruit and vegetables

Eating fresh fruit and vegetables is boon of the modern age. Well, here in the north of the world anyway where it is cold most of the year and even the summers are not warm enough for many sunshine fruits. 

The best fruits I tasted were strawberries, raspberries, and gooseberries we’d picked at a pick your own fruit farm somewhere between Cirencester and Gloucester (not far off Birdlip if memory serves). You could savour them.

While it is good to have imported fruits and vegetables which offer nutrients and flavours you cannot get locally, do invest in growing or buying fresh seasonal produce. I should have had more as a kid but grew up on a poor family’s diet and I should have had more as a young adult. Now I near 40 and am trying to make up for lost time while training my Aspie self to accept the flavours and textures.

Moderate fats, salt, and sugar

The human body needs fat, salt, and sugar. Leonardo da Vinci understood this. We also need protein too and meat is best for this though it’s never mentioned by Leonardo. His moderation mantra therefore accepted the need for these three things, but that when eating in excess they cause problems – obesity, heart problems, diabetes etc… and so should be eaten in moderation.

III. Was Leonardo da Vinci a vegetarian?

You may have noticed one ingredient is missing – meat. It is therefore natural to wonder if Leonardo da Vinci was a vegetarian or not. Most of the quotes which cause people to lean toward his vegetarianism come from others quills and not his own. 

Andrea Corsali for example, spoke of infidels he called Guzzarati (Gujarati) and who were actually Hindus or Buddhists, who he said allowed no living being to be killed. He likens this philosophy to that of Leonardo. 

On the other hand, Leonardo da Vinci’s shopping lists often included meat such as veal. This could suggest he ate meat, but at the same time he rarely shopped for himself alone. All we can say that of his writings on his own diet he never once mentions meat.