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So an interesting convergence happened. First, for the past couple of years I have been hearing talk about gut health.  Recently, I signed up for the city employee weight loss challenge that started on March 1st. Last night, I became violently ill with a “thing” and like previous times, I landed myself in the emergency room. This time, it was because I ruptured some vessels in my stomach during my violent purging episode.

 

I am at my cottage now, resting with my dog Beaux and his cousin. I came across an article from the Daily Mail back in 2015 extolling how a Victorian Diet is the latest thing in nutrition, because our forbearers were extremely  healthy. *Sigh* While I would never go that far, there are merits that go along with the current gut-health. The Victorian aspect makes the modern gut-health fixation more appealing to me now.–On the other hand, some times, it is inconsequential what the catalyst is as long as it gets one moving on a better track.

Here is a break down of what the article says, along with my thoughts. Granted, I am not a dietitian, nutritionist, nor a historian of the upmost caliber. . . thus said I really would like to know what demographic sample the study used to come to these conclusions.

  • Victorian had stronger immune system: Eh, this strikes me as questionable right away. Mortality rate was sky high in the past. Germ theory was just coming on to the scene with much skepticism from the international medical field. Vaccinations and preventatives medicine were not widely adapted either. However, if the article today said “If modern Man were exposed to daily x, y, z, of the 19th century they’d surely die at faster rate, than those who grew up in the Victorian era.”–I would find that more believable, as I also can see how the Victorians might perished exposed to some of our more modern diseases.
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    Still Life of Winter Vegetables by Henrietta de Longchamp

    Fruit and vegetable heavy diets: Again, I am skeptical of the data set. In almost every reading I have encountered about urban life in Victorian England, this has not been the case. Now the 19th century farmers might have fared far better when it comes to living off the land. Thus said, the general mentality of the Victorian were to be suspicious of vegetables. There are countless studies that show Victorians would rather have fruit than vegetables. The roughage they did eat was often old and spoilt. I would love to believe the Victorians were huge salad eaters, but I do not believe that to be the case.

  • Ate wholemeal bread with yeast: I agree the Victorians ate large amounts of bread, it was not pure. Time and again, there are reports of how adulterated the flour and bread were. Bakers, to stretch supplies and profit, would often add other powders for fillers. Thus the bread could be sold at a lower cost, but in larger quantities. The nutritional value was never taken into consideration. This dually goes for selling bags of flour. It was not all pure grain meal. So even the mother who always made her bread at home and never went to the bakery was still exposed to toxins and lord knows what else!
  • Avoided sugar: I find this laughable! The aristocracy and “middle class” loved their desserts as much as we Moderns do! They even rolled fruit in sugar to make it sweeter, killing any nutritional value of the fruit! Thus said, I do wonder if the sugar was truly “sweeter” since raw sugar is not sweet at all to the American palate. If the Victorians “avoided” sugar, it was probably only because they could not afford it. If they had the means, I am sure sweets would be had multiple times a day.
  • Did not smoke: Where are they getting this information?! Of course 19th century people smoked! Heck, they even smoked opiates and other items worse then cigarettes. It was the social thing to do. At the time, it was a way to relax and distress and there were not negative connotations with smoking. People did not make the correlation between smoking and bad teeth, nor lung and breathing issues. Even farmer’s smoked. I feel this is a flat out lie. I am under the impression more Victorians smoked than those that did not.
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    Master Brewer at Mealtime in the Cellar of the Cloister by Eduard Grutzner, 1892

    Consumed weak alcohol: Inconceivable. Modern American beer is “lovingly referred by foreigners as ‘piss water.'” The stuff people drink hundreds of years ago is far more potent, more so than modern European fare, I believe. It is widely known Victorians were fearful of water (and rightfully so given how foul their water and waste water system was!) They rarely bathed, washed their food, much less drank it straight from a glass. Hence the prevalence of beer and wine at the tables.

  • Exercised strenuously: I would not call it exercise. I will cede they had a far more strenuous existence. Manual labor, lots of walking as means of transportation, riding horses is a workout in and of itself. Doing every daily chore from cooking, cleaning, and the like took far more effort and exertion. So, yes, they moved and hauled much more than us, Moderns.
  • Ate up to 5,000 calories a day: This depends on the class of the person, I think. I also believe these numbers in part because of the “full fat” foods they ate. Also because they moved so much, I imagine their meals to be larger, but this is not always the case. It is widely known how malnourished the urban population was and farmers were not immune to starvation either, being so dependent on the whims of the weather.

 

The good news! Yes, Victorians ate watercress, onions, cabbage, cherries, herring, mackerel, cod, beets, artichoke, apples plums, yeast and bone. All have been proven to be excellent for health (depending on what ethics and lifestyle you follow). Pesticides, specifically were not as prevalent during this time so the food may have been fresher and more than likely local, since transportation takes time and time destroys the health benefits of many foods if not properly packaged.

Another favorable bit, Victorians ate dirt! Not like spoonfuls, mind, but on the vegetables and fruit they ate. A little fresh dirt did not hurt anyone and it is actually good for gut-health. Before you get the wrong idea, I do not encourage Moderns to go eat dirt because I guarantee you, it is not fresh. There are pesticides and weed killers, and supped-up fertilizers that have enhancements in it that does not bode well for our health! Please think these things through and talk to your primary care physicians before embarking on radical changes in diet.

So I am off to add some of these foods to my grocery list like a good 19th century lady, while assisting my gut-health and decreasing my waist size, like the faddish Modern I can be. Healthy lifestyle changes are good for the planet. Huzzah!

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