Monday, January 7, 2013

The Victorian Diet

How healthy was it? According to the Daily Mail:
Surprisingly, figures show that in the mid-Victorian period, cancers and heart disease were under 10 per cent of the levels we are experiencing today. 'Prior to 1900, fruit and vegetables were cheap, as they were mainly grown in allotments or gardens. With the rapid growth of the rail networks, fresh produce could reach the cities quickly.

'Even in London 4lb of freshly picked cherries or a large armful of watercress was a penny,' says Rowbotham.

A poor man's breakfast would have been two chunks of stoneground bread smeared with dripping, accompanied by a large bunch of watercress - rich in vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients. Bread was always stone-ground, and made daily with large amounts of yeast, and the beer they drank was unfiltered which also contained a lot of yeast. And it's the yeast which was the secret to their strong immune systems. (Read entire post.)


boinky said...

I don't think's probably because so few were properly diagnosed...Remember in 1923 when Harding died of "indigestion"? That was an acute heart attack. Similarly, if you had cancer, you'd probably die of pneumonia or a similar infection before you were diagnosed, unless you had breast cancer or skin cancer.
Or maybe they are right: it's the pollution etc...In Africa, we saw few cancers except for liver cancer, but people died of other things.
Chose your poison: die at 80 of cancer, or die at 55 of pneumonia/old age.

elena maria vidal said...

The diet may have been healthy but the lack of sanitation and antibiotics did many people in, especially all the infections that would occur at childbirth, and the high infant mortality rate.

Brantigny said...

Not a vegetarian myself, I do see that the lack of meat was also a factor. Beef only widely came to been eaten after the War between the States. Steers could be turned into rations, didn't need refrigeration, and needed no transportation. ...and we moved from an argarian culture to an industrial one.

The victorians were notorius for putting all manner of thing into food.

julygirl said...

My grandfather was a farmer, born in 1856 and lived to be 100 years old while his sons got heart attacks at 50 and 60 and died. My father was the only one who lived into his 80's but had 2 heart attacks....the first one at 55. He was a 3 pack a day smoker of non filtered cigarettes. Go figure.

The North Coast said...

I have in my possession a Victorian cookbook, and that, along with anecdotal information from the letters and diaries of the era, tells me that the higher on the socio-economic totem pole a person was, the more unhealthy his diet was. The lower middle classes had to "settle" for fresh garden produce and dairy, while the upper orders gorged on seven-course meals with lots of puddings, sweetbreads, heavy meats, gravies, sauces, and lots and lots of heavy, rich pastries- the perfect diet for heart attacks, strokes, cancer, diabetes, and gout. The diet, and a sedentary life of being waited on by servants, along with a very poor understanding of the role of hygiene and sanitation, played a large part in keeping the average lifespan under the age of 60 throughout the 19th century. I, too, have a feeling a lot of cancer was missed because doctors of the era had nowhere near the knowledge base or diagnostic tools of the present.

elena maria vidal said...

It is interesting that even in the 18th century, peasants were considered healthy. Marie-Antoinette described her youngest son as being as healthy "as a peasant child." And in the 19th century in Normandy,a newborn St. Therese of Lisieux was taken to the countryside to be nursed by a peasant woman, and it saved her life.