Luigi Cornaro was born about 1466, of a noble Venetian family. In consequence of irregular ways of life and intemperance in eating and drinking he became afflicted between his thirty-fifth and fortieth years with “different kinds of disorders, such as pains in the stomach, and often stitches, and spices of the gout; attended by what was still worse, an almost continual low fever, a stomach generally out of order, and a perpetual thirst.” He felt so badly that the only hope he had left was “death to put an end to the pains and miseries of life.”
The physicians whom he consulted, after trying on him “everything that could be thought of to no purpose,” told him that “there was but one method left- a sober and regular life,” which he must begin immediately, for after a few months more it would be too late, and he would have to “resign himself to death.” When he asked the physicians what he should eat, they gave him only the general direction: “Use any food, solid or liquid-generally prescribed to sick persons-and both very sparingly”.
Unwilling to die, Cornaro translated this general prescription into a special one by selecting certain articles which agreed with his stomach and reducing the total quantity of his food to the smallest amount that would enable him to live. He demonstrated the fallacy of the popular notion that what agreed with the palate must also agree with the stomach. He found that “melons and other fruits, salads, fish and pork, tarts, garden stuff, pastry and the like-disagreed,” and also “rough and very cold wines.” He ate such small quantities that he always “rose from the table with a disposition to eat and drink more”.
He thus describes his diet: “What with bread, mat, the yolk of an egg and soup, I eat [daily] as much as weighed in all twelve ounces. The thing I eat are as follows: First, bread, panada, some broth with an egg in it, or such good kinds of soup or spoon meat. Of flesh meat I eat veal, kid and mutton; poultry of every kind, partridges and other birds, such as thrushes; fish, for instance the goldney and the like amongst sea fishes, and the pike and the like amongst fresh water fishes.” He goes on to say that old men who are too poor to buy the variety of foods which he mentions, “may do very well with bread, panada and eggs”.
This diet became very palatable to him. He says: “I had a better relish for my dry bread that I had formerly in my youth for the most exquisite dainties”.
In addition to the twelve ounces of food described, he took daily fourteen ounces of a new wine which he found agreed with him. He was very particular about this wine; it had to be new. By the beginning of July in every year it ceased to agree with him, and from the beginning of July to the end of August he could not drink “any wine of whatsoever kind or country”; it was “disgustful” to his palate and disagreed with his stomach. Deprivation of his new wine (which had gone old on him) during these two months always seriously affected his health, and he became “by the middle of August extremely low”; nor did he get any benefit from “the strongest broth or any other remedy.” By the beginning of September he was able to get some of his new wine again, which restored him “in two or three days to that degree of health and strength of which the old wine had robbed” him.
In less than a year after adopting this regimen, which he perfected gradually, he became entirely freed from all this complaints; and having found that “temperance” had such power to cure his “grievous disorders,” he concluded that it must have still greater power to preserve him in health; so he continued to live strictly in accordance with this regimen. He also observed other rules of health, taking moderate exercise, avoiding extreme of heat and cold, securing regular and sufficient sleep, avoiding worry, and cultivating a cheerful disposition.
He enjoyed extraordinarily good health until his death, which occurred on April 26, 1566, shortly after he had passed his hundredth year. In his seventieth year he was severely injured in a carriage upset; he had a leg and arm dislocated, and his “head and all the rest of his body was terribly battered”; his physicians thought he could not live three days. He refused to be bled and purged according to the regular treatment of the day, trusting to his “sober life” to bring him around; which it did completely; “a thing which seemed miraculous even in the eyes of the physicians.
He enjoyed health of mind as well as body, and was noted for his cheerfulness, urbanity, intelligence and lively disposition. In his ninth and tenth decades the wrote his Treatise on the Sober Life, in which he tells his own experience and pleads for temperance. In response to some who scoffed at his theories of living, he said: “I never knew that the world was so beautiful until I reaches old age”.
In connection with the diet of Cornaro as described by himself, the question arises, what was the special virtue of the new wine which constituted so important part of this diet? This virtue, according to Crnaros statement, went out of the wine after ten months, that is, in the months of July and August;and during those months, while taking the same diet as before, Carnaro became sick and miserable; but he recovered his health in a few days after the ripening of the new grape crop enabled him, early in September, to get this wine again in the new state.
Examining critically Crnaros diet we find that the twelve ounces of food, which constituted diet. He stated outside of the wine, did not constitute a balanced diet. He stated that fruits and green vegetables did not agree with him, and he omitted them from his diet. Only animal food and cereals (bread and panada) are mentioned. Such a diet in the quantities he took is evidently deficient in vitamins, and certainly in vitamin C. It is a reasonable inference that the new wine supplied the required vitamins and balanced his diet.
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