University of Leeds

University of Bradford

Wakefield Council

You Are What You Ate

King Duarte of Portugal's diet for the stomach (early 15th C)

Note: This is a 15th century diet. Do not try it at home!

'According to my own experience, I have found this to be a good regimen for whoever has an upset stomach.

'When you dine, chew your food well and do not drink more than two or three glasses at the most. Don’t put too much into each drink but only as much as is reasonable and ought to satisfy. If you drink wine, make sure it is reasonably watered down, because if it is strong it causes the stomach more work to ‘cook’ and digest it, and it makes you thirsty so that you cannot do with just having a little.
Tomb of King Duarte and his wife Leonor, Batalha, Portugal, photo courtesy of Iona McCleery
'Eat little or nothing of cream and all other milk products. If you do eat them, make sure it is after all other food. Don’t drink after them, or if you have them at the start, wait some time before drinking. I repeat, eat just small amounts of milk products and rarely.

'This goes the same for all other moist foods such as cherries, peaches and oysters and all fat from meat and fish. Eat little or never of such things, and similarly very cold and sharp things, like vinegar, lemon, etc. Concerning eggs there is no fixed rule because they are good for some people, and not for others. With each type of food, eat according to how you feel.

'After eating, do not sleep during the day until an hour has passed. When you do sleep, don’t get undressed completely. Do not have more than a nap, the smaller the better. Once you wake up, get up. For an hour after your nap, do not drink anything. If you can put up with it, don’t drink until the evening meal. Do not eat and drink after exercise when the body is heated; wait until the body is at a reasonable temperature.

'For the evening meal, follow the same regimen as for dinner and if you can excuse yourself from drinking afterwards, do so, and if not, don’t drink more than once. However late you eat, do not go to bed until after an hour has passed. It is good to go to bed at a reasonable hour and get up early. Once you are up, get dressed soon.

'Note that if you ate a lot at dinner, you should eat moderately in the evening, putting between one meal and the next seven or eight hours. If you eat a lot in the evening, watch what you eat more than usual, and eat less at dinner the following day. Avoid the great customary fasts because lack of food on one day makes you indulge the next day. The stomach that is used to eating little on some days, feels stupid (‘ass-like’) when you change your habits.

'If you miss dinner because of travelling or working, eat just a little and wait until the evening meal because one of the things that most disturbs the stomach and the whole body is eating too much after working hard outside of normal mealtimes. If you do dine very late and eat too much, skip the evening meal or  make it so small that you do not feel full.

'If your stomach hurts one time, look at what you ate recently, and if it was cold food, eat some hot things and cover the stomach and warm it; it will correct itself. If you eat too much, eat a little dry food like toast and drink a little of less-watered wine and you will feel better. When you feel full from eating too much food, don’t eat more to correct it because there is no better medicine than letting the food correct itself. Get the body used to reasonable exercise on foot or mule.

'Understand that it is good for such a stomach to have a purge through vomiting twice a year: once after Easter because of the constant diet of fish [during Lent], and once in September because of the summer fruits, if you continue to eat them a lot.

'If you intend to get up at dawn or be up all night, eat little or nothing in the evening before. If your stomach gets out of balance through lack of sleep, it will be corrected through sleep not through eating or drinking or any other medicine.

'The biggest part of a healthy regimen is keeping a good balance in mind and body, depending on your age, temperament and the season. Although all this seems difficult to keep to, if you get used to it, it will get easier to do.'

Extracts from King Duarte, Leal Conselheiro, ed. M. H. Lopes de Castro (Lisbon, 1998), pp. 367-70, translated and adapted by Iona McCleery.

Duarte died in 1438 aged only 47. He suffered from a bout of melancholy in his youth which he treated by manipulating his diet and lifestyle. He seems to have worried that his melancholy would come back and affect his ability to govern. He was also very scared of dying from plague. One chronicler suggested that he might actually have died of sadness, plague or a fever after wounding his hand.

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