I was inspired to write about this topic because I love grandparents. I love my grandparents – I am lucky to be surrounded by 5 grandparents, 4 who are nearing 90 and one who is 90!
Good genes or good nutrition?
Aren’t grandmothers (and grandfathers!!) full of wisdom?!
I often find myself reflecting on how I don’t have many opportunities to soak up their wisdom with how busy life is and living interstate.
I enjoyed interviewing my grandmothers and hearing additional stories from grandmothers about their thoughts on food, eating and nutrition growing up. I even learnt a few things along the way.
Interestingly, the wisdom shared by these grandmothers form some of the foundational pieces of my nutrition philosophy from which I live and help my clients.
What Was Life Like 70-80 Years Ago?
Here is a quick general history lesson to set the scene and help us to understand the things that grandmothers would say about nutrition:
There was not a lot of money growing up during the war-time. The war made food scarce. It was less abundant and it was not known what food would be available from week to week. This food-scarcity and food-insecurity inspired locals to grow their own food as a way to be more self-sufficient during poorer times.
No food went to waste. Left-over food was turned into other dishes or fed animals and livestock.
Often food needed to last until the next food ration was delivered. For example, milk and cornflour were added to butter to make it go further.
Grandmothers cooked well. They cooked each meal and dishes were made from scratch.
In the United Kingdom (UK) during World War II and for 9 years after, rations were provided by the British Government to ensure food was evenly distributed to all people regardless of their financial situation (Barrow, 2013).
Example of a weekly ration for one adult:
• 50g Butter
• 225g Sugar
• 50g Cheese
• 100g Bacon and Ham
• 1 Egg
• 100g Margarine
• 1800ml Milk (occasionally dropping to 1200ml).
• 50g Tea
Other food items that were rationed:
• Dried eggs: 1 packet every four weeks
• Sweets: 350g (12oz) every four weeks
• Jam: 450g (1lb) every two months.
In addition to the above food, everyone was allowed 16 points per month to use on whatever food items they wished (Barrow, 2013).
Overall, not much food was provided. Fruits and vegetables were not included in the standard weekly ration. People were encouraged to grow their own fruits and vegetables at home. Chickens, rabbits, goats and pigs were reared in town parks and gardens (Barrow, 2013).
The food that was provided on ration alone did not meet the minimum nutritional requirements for adults. Pregnant and lactating women and children received the first choice of rationed fruit and fractionally more food.
The weekly food rations were not even equivalent to one day’s dietary intake for food variety and quantity according to today’s national dietary guidelines. Interestingly, dairy foods that were provided met just over a serve out of the three recommended serves of dairy per day, which was the closest food group to be met under the British Government’s food ration program.
In Australia, food rationing was not as severe. Ration coupons were used for tea, sugar, butter, meat and clothing. Eggs and milk were also rationed during periods of shortage. Offal formed a significant part of people’s dietary intake during the war due to it being more readily available. Fish, sausages, chicken, ham and rabbits were not rationed. Rationing stopped in Australia 3 years after the war after supporting the UK (The State of Queensland, 2014-2018).
The consensus is that food these days doesn’t taste the same or “like it used to”.
Even though food was scarce and didn’t meet today’s dietary guidelines, grandmother didn’t worry about nutritional deficiencies. They didn’t recall becoming ill with any nutritional deficiencies. This made them wonder if we need to all relax around food.
Despite the state of poorer nutrition, grandmothers reported that people generally lived good quality lives. There were memories of people living into their 80s and 90s. It just goes to show that genes, the environment and looking after yourself account for a lot. There is a huge emphasis today on what is eaten as if it is the only factor that needs to be considered for health.
Things Your Grandmother Would Say About Nutrition
• Eat a variety of food. Vegetables, meat, fish, bread and cereals and dairy supply essential nutrients that the body needs for healthy function. There is no need for nutritional supplements whilst ever a variety of food is eaten.
• It’s about finding balance. Eating in moderation. Enjoying sweets in moderation are ok!
• Regular mealtimes are important to fuel the body.
• Rushing meals is not good eating practice. Being mindful of focusing on our eating experience helps us to find the calm to slow down, absorb nutrients well and enjoy food.
• Take-away, processed/pre-packaged foods often don’t resemble food and don’t taste as good as ‘real’ food. These convenience foods are great for when we need to nourish our bodies when life becomes busy and life gets in the way of us preparing our own food. These foods serve a purpose to nourish the body, however, there is no substitute for fresh ‘real’ food.
• Listen to our body and stop eating when we are full. Overeating does not leave our bodies feeling well.
• If we want a particular food, eat it! Restricting food intake leaves us fixated on food and wanting more. If we give ourselves permission to eat all food when we feel like it in the quantity that leaves us feeling satisfied, we would realise that we probably didn’t want that food or needed much less. One grandmother who eats what she feels like said, “I have cake in the freezer. It stays there for ages because I don’t have a desire to eat it every day and then I forget about it.”
• Diets and dieting are not healthy. There are no quick fixes with health despite all the fear-mongering we hear.
• Calm down and relax around food. Sometimes what and how we eat is out of our control. For example, people who ate under the influence of food rations did the best they could to nourish themselves, which was often enough. Another example at the other end of the spectrum includes people who believe they eat ‘perfectly’ (whatever that is) and end up with illnesses that nutrition could not prevent. Nutrition is one piece of the puzzle of health, yes, it is important, however, so are the other puzzle pieces.
Take Away Message
From immersing myself on this topic, I have realised that nutrition has almost come full circle. There were decades (even now with most people) where diets, diet food and dieting were on-trend and was the thing that everyone was doing to try and lose weight under the guise of health.
The essence of what grandmothers are saying is that there are no quick fixes and getting back to the basics of nutrition is what is important, so forget the fad diets.
Here is a summary of the things our grandmother would say about nutrition that is actually right:
• Don’t take nutrition too seriously.
• Listen to your body. Love food. Enjoy a variety of food. Eat food with your friends and family. Nourish your body with food. All the above helps to find our ‘everything in moderation’.
• Move, rest and relax.
Barrow, M. 2013. Primary Homework Help: Britain Since the 1930s. Accessed 5th April 2018 via http://www.primaryhomeworkhelp.co.uk/war/rationing.htm
The State of Queensland (Department of Environment and Science), 2014-2017. Rationing. (Queensland Government Accessed 5th April 2018. https://www.ww2places.qld.gov.au/homefront/rationing
Natalie Thompson is a non-dieting Accredited Practising Dietitian passionate about inspiring positive changes in eating and lifestyle behaviours to help improve health whilst nurturing relationships with food and body.