War, Sugar, & Small Waistlines

War, Sugar, & Small Waistlines

Ever wondered why your grandparents had smaller waistlines than we have? Why going back in time could remind us where we went wrong with our lifestyle and the modern-day diet, including sugar.

Being very close to my grandmother I have always listened to her stories of the good old days when she was a young girl. I was fascinated to know what she ate back then. She has always been very slim with heaps of energy, much more in fact than many women half her age.

I decided to do some research into the diet she had when she was growing up. As a young girl at the poorer end of society before the start of the second world war in East London, one of the foods that she remembers eating most often was bone broth made with pig’s trotters and vegetables. Compare this to the usual meals of fish fingers and beans that most children get fed for their dinners today and you are comparing a bowl full of gut healing collagen, good fats, vitamins and minerals, to nutrient-devoid processed foods with next to no nutritional benefits.

Once the war began many foods were rationed including sugar, meat, eggs and dairy. My grandmother remembers being allowed one egg per week and mainly existing on hearty stews to fill them up cheaply. A piece of fruit was a real treat and sugar intake was very low. The lack of refrigeration meant that food was bought and cooked freshly every day.

Rations - sugar, meat, eggs and dairyMy grandmother would walk an hour to work and back 5 days a week from the age of 14 and gave most of her wages to her mother to buy the weekly food. No chance of a sedentary existence of playing computer games and eating sweets. Children were outside much of the time, exercising and getting plenty of fresh air, compared to hours spent indoors watching television. A special treat would be home-made bread pudding or rice pudding with full fat milk. Processed foods were non-existent. Bicarbonate of soda was pretty much the extent of household cleaning products and a simple bar of soap was as far as cosmetics went. The whole array of expensive beauty products and antibacterial chemical laden cleaning products was still something unheard of.

In 1945 the war ended and food was no longer rationed. At the same time penicillin became available, this saved many lives but was also a contributor to the start of a new set of health problems we never predicted. By the 1950’s the range of foods available increased, packaged foods were becoming more common and gradually over the next 20 years the amount of processed foods boomed, with frozen foods and ready meals being seen as a luxurious way to eat and favoured by mums who were struggling with working full time and looking after the house and family. The population slowly but surely started to gain weight.

The weight gain seen as a problem was blamed on excessive fat consumption and the ‘low fat’ foods generation was born. For the first time, women had to ‘worry’ about their weight which had an effect on their mental health and enjoyment of life; something which was previously never an issue for the vast majority of the female population, was now the number one subject on many of their minds and the food companies knew it! Here was a generation of women who were switching to a completely different diet from their mothers and their children were brought up to be afraid of fat and exposed to an array of low fat but much higher sugar foods. A diet full of processed foods reduced activity and new medications had a big impact on the health of our guts and our waistlines.

We now know that sugar is one of the biggest culprits of weight gain yet still the supermarkets and television adverts are marketing high sugar low fat foods as healthier alternatives.

Maybe as our mind sets change and we begin to see the benefits of eating more natural foods once again, the obesity epidemic around the world will begin to reverse along with type 2 diabetes, mental health issues and a whole array of other health problems.

Lucy Maskell |
FMT Nutritional Therapist