Wise Eating - Top Nutrition Tips From Wartime England
Sarah, a keen participant in our healthy food classes, recently visited England with her family. In a museum she found a great little booklet entitled: ‘Wise Eating In Wartime’. Thanks for sending it to us Sarah! The booklet is a fascinating reproduction publication from the ministry of food during World War Two.
What does food in wartime England have to do with us today?
Quite a lot actually. Rationing and restrictions meant most peoples diets actually improved during the war. In general, people ate more fresh vegetables, ate less sugar, ate less fat, and bread was wholegrain rather than white. Poor people received improved nutrition (on rations), and wealthy people reduced their over-eating habits.
Before the world Wars, many common illnesses resulted from nutrient deficiencies. Since then we have seen the reduction of issues like scurvey and rickets, and the growth of degenerative diseases. These diseases, like cancer, heart disease, diabetes, are often lifestyle and diet related. It seems clear that if we 'turn back time' and learn some lessons from the recent past, we can reduce the risk of both nutrient deficiency and degenerative diseases.
What was normal in 1940 England that we don't do now?
These sensible ideas can be easily incorporated into your own families approach to food.
Homemade and simple – during wartime in England, cooks started with basic ingredients and made meals from scratch. Food was generally wholefood. The food processing and packaging industry was in it’s infancy.
Food was also usually organic – pesticide and chemical fertilizer use only became widespread after the war. Also many people grew their own vegetables as part of the war effort. My Dutch grandmother was not so well educated in self-sufficiency and insisted on growing a flower garden during the war, even though her family was hungry for quantity and variety!
Eco-packaging – Food came in paper bags, or wrapped in a paper package. Packaging was minimal and almost always recyclable.
The author of 'Wise Eating in Wartime', Dr Charles Hill, makes several points – which fit right in to our Wild Health whole food philosophy:
1. “Green leaves make rosy cheeks.”
The ministry of food, through this booklet, recommends people include more raw green vegetables in their diets. Not just lettuce. Dr Hill enthusiastically writes of salads: “For our daily supply of vitamin C we must look to raw vegetables… Go all out for cabbage leaves, water cress, mustard greens, endive, chicory, young dandelion and nasturtium leaves”. It’s not so long ago that people were encouraged, by the government, to eat ‘wild herbs’ in their daily salads. Good affirmation for an enthusiastic weed-collector like me!
2. “Do we eat too much sugar?”
Dr Hill answers “ We do… The first load of sugar came to this country (England) in 1563. Then it was luxury. Today it’s something of a menace.” He explains that sugar is not a helpful food because it contains energy without nutrients. “Other energy foods like bread, potatoes, have got something else, some builder, some vitamins, some salts”. These days Roger and I would use language like “anti-oxidants and phyto-nutrients’, but we mean the same thing… wholefoods give you more nutrients per mouthful. Dr Hill recommends easy ways to increase what we now call nutrient density. For example, serving cooked potatoes with their skins on.
Dr Hill claims that in 1840 people ate a tenth of the sugar they ate before the war in 1939. Pre-war consumption of sugar was approximately a pound per person. During the war it went down due to rationing. What brief relief for the body!
So how does this compare to sugar consumption today? Dr Mercola writes: In the last 20 years, sugar consumption in the USA has increased from less than a pound per week to 2.5 pounds (1.1 kilos) of sugar per person per week. Aside from tooth decay, the exponential growth of diabetes and obesity are sure signs that sugar consumption is too high.
3. "Menu for the Ideal Meal"
As follows according to Dr Hill: "Wholegrain bread, milk, cheese, and uncooked salad vegetables". Dr Hill recommends good quality proteins, (vegetarian like legumes or otherwise including organ meats), variation in your veggies, and he is totally opposed to over-cooked vegetables. Pretty straightforward isn't it?
Roger and I would add to this: gluten free whole grains, fish, eggs, some nuts and seeds, and if you do drink milk try to source unhomogenised and unpasteurized.
Finally a poem - “A matter of taste”
The booklet concludes with this quaint and amusing poem by Hilaire Belloc, about our varying views on nutriment and what tastes good.
“Alas! What various tastes in food,
Divide the human brotherhood!
Birds in their little nests agree
With chinamen, but not with me.
Colonials like their oysters hot,
Their omelettes heavy – I do not.
The French are fond of slugs and frogs,
The Siamese eat puppy dogs.
And all the world is torn and rent
By varying views on nutriment.”
It seems some things don’t change! – There are still many opinions about the specifics of healthy food. One thing that is hard to argue with; whole food makes sense.
See related article: Making less rubbish - Being a mindful consumer.