Tuesday, 18 November 2008

The Old Wives' Diet

So here's the thing. I suddenly realised the other day that everything I know about good nutrition and healthy food habits I learnt from my granny. The advice she would give to us kids over and over again (which we largely ignored) was so timeless it's now seen to be incredibly modern. I've come to the conclusion that we don't need doctors, nutritionists, psychologists (and heaven forbid) "lifestyle gurus" to tell us what is good for us, we just have to listen to our nans! It seems to me that there was a point in time when we began to reject the homespun wisdom of elderly women. What with modern culture's preoccupation with extreme youth, and a kind of unspoken denigration of women's traditional skills (perhaps because these skills are rarely practised in the market place?), and more importantly the break-up of the extended family, these things have left us with an over-complication of what was once simple good sense. Anyway, enough of my cod-sociology and on with the talk about grub! Here's what my granny used to say, coupled with the modern research which backs up her ancient wisdom.

  1. (This is my favourite one). She used to tell us that fish was "brain food".This would make us all laugh...but we were laughing on the other sides of our faces when in 1994 an American research department found that the fatty acids in oily sea fish contributed healthy brain function and optimum eye function. Apparently, they're also linking lack of EFAs to increased instances of childhood depression. For a bit of modern information on what my granny knew all along, go here! Oh, and don't forget EFAs are good for your heart too (granny may have told me this as well, but I can't be sure...I need more brain food to help my memory, lol!)
  2. "Sit down and eat your dinner at the table!" Granny knew that sitting down to eat as a family was good for us kids. We could have time together as a group, learn proper manners, and importantly eat a nutritious meal under adult supervision. There's something of a renaissance in family meal-times going on at the moment. Thank God for that, I say. Here's an excellent article which shows all of the research into why family meals are important to a child's development, both socially and nutritionally
  3. "Eat your greens." We all know that greens are a nutritional power house...your granny told you, my granny told me and now trendy life-style nutritionists are telling us! Go here for the modern take on what we've always known.
  4. "Eggs are the perfect food." Now, granny used to say this right in the midst of the various egg controversies which were going on during the 1980s. "No," she would say, "they're wrong! Eggs are good for you!" For years now, we've seen eggs as packed with cholesterol and riddled with salmonella and therefore something to be avoided...but perhaps to the detriment of our health. Eggs are a good, inexpensive, source of choline which is vital for healthy brain function. They also contain anti-inflammatory vitamins and minerals and are excellent in helping macular degeneration. This is only half the egg story. Go here for a really comprehensive look at why my granny was right!
  5. "Fruit is good for the skin, because it cleans you out!" Yes, my granny thought that because fruit made you go to the loo more often all the badness in your body (which she thought caused teenage spots) would be (ahem) pooped away. Of course, we now know that all the of the vitamins, minerals and enzymes contained in fresh fruit are good for our overall health, but here is an article, especially written for teenage acne sufferers, which shows my granny's take on the "elimination of toxins" may not have been that far off!
  6. "A little bit of what you fancy does you good." Now, I have my own take on this particular piece of good advice. Portion sizes have grown since my granny's time and we've all got fatter. However, my grandparent's generation rarely denied themselves anything; dumplings, beer, cake, pie, mashed potato, fatty meat...they just ate smaller portions of everything and manged to keep their daily calorie intake within the realms of reason. Modern diets are marketed on the "eat as much as you of like" idea. That is, we can eat as much carbohydrate as we like but must cut out fat and eat less meat OR we can eat as much meat and fat as we like but must cut out carbs. This leaves the dieter with a natural craving for the "bad" food, after a few weeks of these punishing regimes, but no idea of what constitutes a healthy portion size. These are the diets of the modern age, where nobody does anything with any sense of moderation...we live in a binge and purge society. But granny knew best. It's good for the soul to eat what you like. It's good for your body to eat a varied diet. However, you just can't be a greedy guts!

Well, there you have it. I'm passing on my granny's wisdom over the very modern tool of the internet! Do you have any good advice your gran gave you? Or, and here's a good question, what other things did granny advise on, which make good sense, but we're still choosing to ignore?


Anonymous said...

Amen Grandma. I totally agree.

~~louise~~ said...

What a GREAT post. I wasn't real good at listening to granny especially when she was encouraging my parents to make me take my cod liver oil. YUck and a big YUCK! Hmmm...omega?

Another of her favorites was chew your food at least 100x. Never liked that one either.

I'm going to have to reflect on what words of wisdom I now inflict on my grandkids:)

monix said...

Brilliant article! I smile whenever 'science' comes up with a recommendation that our grandparents knew to be plain common sense.

Marie N. said...

Pearls of wisdom served up in style!

Mrs Pea said...

This comes from my Nana C, who I never actually met as she died just before I was born - but she was my Catholic granny and I love her especially for that ;o) - and she always said "everything in moderation" - but she also ate slices of butter off the block, and died of a heart attack, so...

Islandsparrow said...

My mother (who if she was living would be 88 now) swore by cod liver oil pills.

And carrots for your eyes.

Cathy said...

Hello there
Great post and I think we shared the same Granny - mine used to comeout with the same sort of things.
Did yours ever mention onions being good for you - cleaned the blood she would say.
Take care

Sarah said...

My grandma served us porridge and homemade wheat toast every morning for breakfast. I recently read a book that said to not eat anything that wouldn't have been available in Grandma's time. I think of that when I'm at the grocery store!

Dulce Domum said...

Hi Sarah
I knew you'd agree!

Hi Louise
My mum tells terrible stories about cod liver oil. My granny used to say that we should brush our hair for a hundred strokes before we went to bed at night. What is it with granny's and the number 100?

I bet your words of wisdom are wonderful!

Hi Monix
You're dead right. You've got to wonder about whose funding all of this research!

Hi Marie
Oh, bless your heart! Thanks for the nice words my friend.

Hi Mrs Pea
Was she Irish? My granny had an Irish father and she just loved her butter too...half a pound in the mashed spuds...yummy!

Hi Island Sparrow
The thing is, cold liver is is still meant to be really good for you. My knees are getting a bit stiff in the mornings, perhaps I should take some! Oh, and carrots, wasn't that a war-time thing? The government wanted more little boys to eat their veg so they started an advertising campaign saying that the RAF pilots all ate carrots because it improved their eyesight. (I learnt that of the telly the other day!)

Hi Cathy
You're not going to believe this but she DID say that onions cleaned the blood!!!!!You don't have family back here in the UK do you?

Hi Sarah (Vermont)
You know, I think that's pretty wise advice. It cuts out conflicting advice on what constitutes healthy eating, *and* cuts out all the vast majority of processed foods.

Anonymous said...

Lol our Assistant Pastor and I have been discussing the merits of lard recently. Although we did agree that we would draw the line at bread and dripping...something my grandparents did eat, but I'm not too sure I want to follow that particular tradition. :)

Nan said...

In the Wodehouse books, Bertie is always telling people that Jeeves is so smart because he eats a lot of fish!

I'm reading a book I feel quite sure you would love - Little Heathens by Mildred Armstrong Kalish. It is all about growing up in the 1930s in the midwestern US on a farm.

Dulce Domum said...

Hi Sarah
I suspect our vicar doesn't approve of lard...but I may be doing a grave injustice here...Now, have you ever dipped a slice of bread in the beef juices whilst the joint is cooking, delicious!

Hi Nan
Yes, fish definitely seemed to work for Jeeves. Thanks for the book recommendation. I shall add it to my list.

Gumbo Lily said...

I especially liked eat a little bit of what you fancy. And I agree that portion size is way off these days, but I also believe that my grandparents and yours worked much harder than we do today and so a portion of bacon to them was well-earned. They burned more calories and needed that extra bit of fat or carb.

My grandma didn't offer much advice to us kids. Instead, she offered brownies for breakfast! (as all Gramma's should!)