The Mid-Victorian Diet: the Healthiest Diet You’ve Never Heard of

The mid-Victorian diet may be the most healthy diet you’ve never heard of. The years between 1850 and 1872 in England may have been a “mini golden age of nutrition”:

Spectator Health: Forget paleo, go mid-Victorian: it’s the healthiest diet

People ate a varied diet, high in nutrients, and there was no famine. Provided people lived through their childhood years – infant mortality was still high – they had almost the same life expectancy as now, around 74 years. And apparently many people lived healthy full lives, with agricultural laborers regularly working into their 70s.

Then something happened and health and life expectancy took a dive, reaching a bottom around the year 1900.

Interestingly this drop in health coincided perfectly with the introduction of vast quantities of cheap refined sugar into the diet.

More

Paleopathology and the Origins of Low Carb

A Low-Carb, High-Fat Diet from 1953

14 comments

  1. Janknitz
    Remembering bits from Dickens, I don't know if I would necessarily agree with "there was no famine" in the Victorian Age. In England I think the upper class probably ate very well, but not so much the poor.

    In Nicholas Nickelby, to save money, the headmaster and his wife fed the boys black treacle--essentially molasses--as their only food. So that is minimally refined, cheap sugar. Nicholas Nickelby was written in the 1830's, so cheap refined sugar was available already in this so-called "Golden Age".

  2. Alan
    Paul Clayton, one of two authors of this study, who published three scientific papers together, consults with Industry as noted in the footnotes (see below). It seems that the marketing-mantra of eating a high glycemic diet within the context of high physical exercise is being pushed here....

    "DECLARATIONS —

    Competing interests PC provides consultancy services to a number of companies in the food and drink, supplement and pharmaceutical sectors, including Coca Cola Ltd, Univite Ltd, Biothera Pharma."

  3. cydills
    Has everyone seen the film " That Sugar Film". Very entertaining as well as being informative.
  4. John
    In the south of England through the fifties, fat people were quite rare. Pop or soda was a treat for Sunday dinner, certainly not every day. Sugar as a sweetening agent in cakes etc was as of today, but not eaten daily. Again cake would be a treat maybe twice a month. Children were not used to eating sweets or candy, as these were rationed, after rationing there was a slow increase in consumption, again not daily.
    Children mainly played outside, games inside tended to be a family events indoors and probably once a week or less. Fathers in the main worked hard and physically. Mothers had only a small twin tub for washing and before that it was a scrubbing board. Tv Was not in every home and the BBC never advertised. Later in the fifties with the incoming of ITV and advertising there was a definite increase in the consumption of sweets. In my memory obesity started more obviously in the late 60s.
  5. Apicius
    I'm reminded of Sue and Gilles' eating experiment. I realize that the following link refers to another period in England, but it does show how eating a vintage diet with lots of animal-based foods and little sugar leads to weight loss. The two "test rats" Sue and Gilles were completely surprised at the end when the doctor told them they both lost weight after one week of eating the diet. Here's the link:

    https://m.youtube.com/watch?list=PLBD975732056866C4&params=OAFIA...

  6. Apicius
    Here's another thought. Harvey Banting published his famous booklet in 1864 on the low carb diet, prescribed by his doctor, that improved his health. This is the same era described in this blog. Coincidence?

    http://www.lowcarb.ca/atkins-diet-and-low-carb-plans/harvey-banting.html

  7. George Carney
    I started the lchf diet on September 19th when the alternative was to start injecting insulin for my type two diabetes. Since then my blood sugar is within range and still going down, I have shed a little over a pound a week in weight and to crown it all my cholesterol which wasn't a problem nevertheless, is reduced. I feel better than I've felt for years and am advised by my GP that I will almost certainly be able to diet the diabetes away altogether.
  8. Leroy
    Sorry, but I don't agree.

    First of all, a source (or sources) of much of this material would have been greatly appreciated.

    "Once those vulnerable childhood years were passed, mid-Victorian life expectancy was not dramatically different from our own. Starting at age five, it averaged 75 for men and 73 for women (reflecting the dangers of pregnancy and childbirth)... "

    Says who? In general, this is true of all cultures. Plus one can add in the gradual recognition of bacterial caused diseases, the introduction of vaccinations, better hygiene, etcetera, ALL contributed to increased life span.

    And then there's this:

    "...shows that the majority of the Victorian urban POOR consumed diets which were limited, but contained extremely high nutrient density. Bread could be expensive but onions, watercress, cabbage, and fruit like apples and cherries were all cheap and did not need to be carefully budgeted for. Beetroot was eaten all year round; Jerusalem artichokes were often home-grown. Fish such as herrings and meat in some form (scraps, chops and even joints) were common too."

    I am going to call out this for what it is.

    A lie.

    This would not even be a diet within the capability of most Middle Class, much less the urban poor.

    Bread was THE mainstay of their diet - and probably (undoubtedly) the cheapest food source available. Potatoes would also be quite cheap. Both very high STARCHY foods! Onions, cabbage, turnips, parsnips, etcetera were still somewhat cheap (but much more expensive than BREAD for crying out loud) and fruits were even more expensive yet WHEN THEY WERE IN SEASON! These "researchers" make the same mistake of all the rest who never lived in a farm nor in the wilderness any appreciable time. Plant foods simply are not ripe year-round. And preservation methods were still quite primitive. No refrigeration being the primary. And no rapid transportation methods to get ripe plant foods from tropical, subtropical areas (and no massive hydroponic factories) to these urban poor - or even the very rich for that matter, although the latter may have had periodic access to some dehydrated fruit - BTW, apples were the primary fruit eaten in England then along with some berries - and some pickled vegetables [dehydrated vegetables mostly being not enjoyed] and in any case, NONE of this available to the middle class or poor and especially the urban poor as simply to expensive and unavailable!

    "

  9. Rhys UK
    What a lot of nonsense. . . .the typical Victorian diet was mainly carbohydrate based. I have studied the Victorian lifestyle to Masters qualification level. Meats were not the preserve of the working classes. So comparing the diet proposed by Diet Doctor to the Victorian diet is rediculous. And the Victorian (those who could afford it) meat eaters suffered from heart disease, gout etc.

    Look at the healthiest nations in the world and studies carried out over decades -unprocessed/ whole/unrefined carbohydrates (no gluten and grain free nonsense), fruits and vegetables, lean meats, fish and healthy oils (olive, avocado, rapeseed [not the gm US kind], legumes and nuts.

  10. Leroy
    As it seems that my edited version was cut off...

    ...Bread was THE mainstay of their diet - and probably (undoubtedly) the cheapest food source available. Potatoes would also be quite cheap. Both very high STARCHY foods! Onions, cabbage, turnips, parsnips, etcetera were still somewhat cheap (but much more expensive than BREAD for crying out loud) and fruits were even more expensive yet WHEN THEY WERE IN SEASON!

    These "researchers" make the same mistake of all the rest who never lived in a farm nor in the wilderness any appreciable time. Plant foods simply are not ripe year-round. And preservation methods were still quite primitive. No refrigeration being the primary. And no rapid transportation methods to get ripe plant foods from tropical, subtropical areas (and no massive hydroponic factories) to these urban poor - or even the very rich for that matter, although the latter may have had periodic access to some dehydrated fruit. This was the era where Clipped Ships, designed to bring tea (dried tea leaves) from the Far East to mainly England was a round trip that took months (the trip one-way, from China to England, took 90-100+ days!

    BTW, apples were the primary fruit eaten in England then along with some berries (when in season other than occasionally for the wealthy) - and some pickled vegetables (dehydrated vegetables mostly being not enjoyed) and in any case, NONE of this available to the middle class or poor and especially the urban poor as simply to expensive and unavailable!

    From a source on Victorian Era and especially Victorian Era children:

    "1: Rich and Poor Children had vastly different lifestyles when it came to food. The rich children would dine on significant amounts of food and waste food too whereas the poor would have limited meals of low quality. A large quantity of the population were living on dripping, bread, tea and vegetables. Certainly not the greatest diet!

    2: Street vendors within the Victorian times would sell a number of ‘different’ foods including Rice milk, Ginger beer and Sheeps trotters. Never a dull moment within the Victorian times!

    3: The diet for those Victorians who were very poor was terrible. Potato pairings & rotten vegetables (i.e., thrown out scraps) were sometimes the dish of the day as at times even very cheap bread could not be afforded - and for children born into this background this was exceptionally difficult for growth.

    4: Those from the farming industry tended to eat much better. A diet of meat, vegetables, fresh milk was commonly available and they were available to feed their children the nutrients they needed for growth and development.

    5: The level of meat ratio at meal times DECREASES through the classes. The wealthy Victorian family would have meat daily and cheese and bacon for supper. Where wages begin to decrease meat would only be on the menu 2-3 times a week with a now increased volume of bread along with some potatoes/vegetables. This would continue to decrease until the lowest rung of the ladder where the poorest would have bread and maybe potatoes as the sole food. The difference in eating habits was substantial... "

    "Poor children had few food luxuries and ate poor food (see above). The rich however would be well fed every morning and would have extra luxuries accessible. The diet within the Victorian era changed dramatically as based on economic class (especially between the wealthy upper classes and the classes below them, with the poor classes especially bad off). Children typically ate what they were given by their parents so whatever was on the menu for the adults was available for the children. Children living on farms would have a far better diet than those within the city. Vegetables could be stored all year round in a root cellar whereas in the city you had to consume what was in season..."

    This is clearly nothing more than an attempt to SUBVERT the principles of LC (and especially LCHF) with the Straw Man approach of throwing the blame on strictly refined white sugar (which in fact WAS highly available back then) and pursue the scam that Starch Foods (I'm surprised that they didn't try to throw beans in there also - excepting the fact that the Victorian Era Brits simply never were into beans, even the poor).

    Additionally, it seems to be an Anglophone effort to establish a "native diet" as a "healthy diet" similar to the Mediterranean Diet and the Okinawan Diet (both of which - like this - were fictional later inventions of non existent native diets and in fact, as presented in fiction are NOT healthy).

    I am actually quite surprised to see this article here. A small amount of thought, a little reading, and a little research would have set off major warning bells!

    A little bit of thought...

    Remember William Banting? (1796 - 1878)

    And Dr. Harvey?

    And the Banting Diet?

    And Mr. Banting would have been considered to have been upper Middle Class to lower Upper Class for his era.... so are much, much better than the "urban poor"!

    "In 1863, Banting wrote a booklet (still in print through a 2007 printing) called 'Letter on Corpulence, Addressed to the Public' which contained the particular plan for the diet he followed. It was written as an open letter in the form of a personal testimonial. Banting accounted all of his unsuccessful fasts, diets, spa and exercise regimes in his past, then described the dietary change which finally had worked for him, following the advice of a physician. His own diet (as given by Dr. Harvey) was four meals per day, consisting of meat, greens, fruits, and dry wine. The emphasis was on avoiding sugar, saccharine matter, starch, beer, milk and butter (the good doctor obviously slipped up on the butter as cream was allowed, but there may have been incorrect thoughts that butter still contained lactose - or possibly hygienic concerns). Banting’s pamphlet was popular for years to come, and would be used as a model for (many) modern diets.... Banting was publicly vilified (back at this time) for advancing a low-carbohydrate diet and false rumours were spread, claiming his diet had destroyed his health. Banting's work influenced contemporary (present day) physicians and scientists investigating low-carb diets. The attacks on Banting prefigured similar rumours spread about Robert Atkins, and the Atkins Foundation maintains Banting's works on its website. Gary Taubes' recent study of carbohydrates, Good Calories, Bad Calories, begins with a prologue entitled 'A brief history of Banting" and discusses Banting at some length."

    And the commentary by Rhys UK is equally as ridiculous and without ANY merit.

    It sounds like the completely fictitious Mediterranean and Okinawan, etcetera, diets are being referenced. Diets that are neither historically accurate nor healthy (as published, which isn't anywhere near the native diets).

  11. Victor in Aus
    You know Mr Leroy,... I would like to shake your hand,... I could then say I met the oldest living man in the world,.... You seem to suggest that you lived in the Victorian age,... You are really quite rude my friend. You open a previous feedback with the comments that no references were made to the information given, and then you waffle on in your own importance without specifying any references to the material which you write as being fact. How the hell would you know what happened in the British Victorian age,...? That's right, I forgot - you were there weren't you - being the oldest living man in the world. Before you start condemning the authors of this site and the information they give you, ensure you read it properly, and have the resources and facts to back up what you sprout about. Your information Leroy is no more credible and with less substance than than a fart in the wind.
  12. Rhys uk
    Well said Victor in Aus. Mr Leroy. . .a fart in the wind. . .and verbal diarrhoea!
  13. Leroy
    Actually, I didn't post links become many blog sites don't accept them, or delete them... but if it is links that you want (many from UK sources), then it is links that you will get.

    And I would bet that neither one of you lived during that era either. Nor the fairly unknown authors of this "study" (and I am sure that neither of you put the time that I did into checking resources).

    As the two of you clearly believe in this "study", I find it very interesting that - once again - low fat / high carb proponents are trolling a website such as this!

    (The Banting Diet is well known worldwide and was used by Mr. Banting in countering his severe obesity from the typical Victorian Era diet... yet both of you conveniently ignore that data... oh, wait, how would I know the information about William Banting? After all, I didn't live back then! And reading and REAL research has yet to be invented... ).

    And Rhys uk, you clearly need your mouth washed out with soap.

    Diatribes as such from the two of you just highlights your ignorance.

    And ignorance in this Age of Information is so offensive as to be an Abomination!

  14. Carol Kent
    I believe food that is fresh, seasonal, locally produced (such as apples, cherries, plums, cabbages, onions, leeks) and oily fish such as herring have to be better than the highly processed crap we find in supermarkets now. Whether or not the poor people of the mid Victorian era afforded/ate them or not, one cannot deny that those foods that were REPORTEDLY eaten then, would be of great benefit to our health today. Supermarkets have ruined small businesses. Perhaps if people were to adopt this way of eating today, obesity, diabetes and other diseases would decrease. I personally cannot see what is wrong with eating seasonal, locally produced food.

Leave a reply

Reply to comment #0 by

Older posts