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Should our diets have a 50s makeover? There may be lessons to be learned from seven decades ago


Daily D Duty

In 1950, just 3% of the UUK population had a rrefrigera­tor, and by the eend of the decade this hhad only increased to 113% of homes. An iimportant part of the daily routine was therefore a trip to the greengroce­r, butcher and other local shops, although milk (full fat) was delivered to the door. Family health benefitted from a diet of fresh, locally sourced food, without the artificial processes and additives that typify modern meals. There were environmen­tal positives too, decades before the “carbon footprint” entered our everyday language.

Se easonal Specials

In n the days before freezers, our diets wwere much more seasonal, using ffoods harvested at the time of year intended i by nature, when they were t he richest in nutrients. In the modern daay, many of the fruits and vegetables on oour plate have been artificial­ly grown out of season or harvested in other parts of the world, then shipped and stored in our local supermarke­t prior to purchase, so they have lost some of their nutritiona­l value.

However, back in the 50s there were plenty of veggies and fruit to sustain us throughout the year – often selfgrown – with seasonal treats such as asparagus in late spring and strawberri­es in the summer. Foraging for blackberri­es to make pies, crumbles, jams and conserves was a late season ritual. Summer also delivered round lettuce, cucumber and tomatoes for salads, although dressing was restricted to Heinz Salad Cream – no calorielad­en, exotic alternativ­es then.

Sugar Coating It

After rationing ceased, sugar returned much more widely to our diets in bakes, to sweeten our cuppas – which gradually started to move from loose tea to tea bags, introduced by Tetley in 1953 – and also eventually, e in the form of products p such as sugarcoate­d c cereals like FFrosties, launched in 1954. Although sugar consumptio­n c increased by b 400% over the decade, d we had full awareness a that we were eating it, unlike the “hidden” refined carbohydra­tes in modern foods, which can impact our metabolism and cause weight gain.

Rational Approach

When post-war rationing finally ended in June 1954 there was much to celebrate. Those restrictio­ns in quantity, choice and availabili­ty meant that food was valued and nothing was left to waste, even when rationing ceased. We were generally far fitter than we are today. Young children, for example, had higher calcium and iron intakes through bread and milk consumptio­n and far less sugar than their modern equivalent­s. Limiting unhealthy “nice to haves” in the cupboard and serving smaller portion sizes are good tactics to help return to the low 1950s obesity rate of only 1%.

Diet Restrictio­ns

Eggs, bacon, kippers,

Weetabix or porridge for breakfast, main meals of meat and two boiled veg (fish on a Friday) followed by a hearty pud with custard, plus lighter meals of pilchards,

“national” wholemeal bread and dripping… 50s housewives worked hard to produce varied and satisfying family meals. Theyey had limited ingredient­s and flavouring­s, no ready meals or modern kitchen convenienc­es, but meals, created with fresh food and comparativ­ely fewer additives and preservati­ves, were generally healthier than today.

Good Practice

There were no sedentary lunches stuck at the desk, in the early e 50s, 60% of men returned home for their midday meal, perhaps liver or rabbit pie. Meals were cooked from scratch, s and eaten at the table. There were no “tv dinners”, unheard u of when only 20% of

1953 1 households could actually a boast of owning a television t set. This meant le ess Gogglebox- style snacking to oo, although snack options were w limited to flavour-free crisps c or a piece of fruit anyway. a

Eating out was only an occasional o treat. Teenagers were especially pleased when the first Wimpy Bars opened in 1954, offering hamburgers and milkshakes.

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