Body & Fitness

Grandma knows best

Lessons in healthy living from the past

These days we know so much more about what makes us healthy and what doesn’t.

We understand the importance of good nutrition and exercise, and medical advances mean we’ve got powerful drugs and incredible surgical techniques that can help save and prolong lives. So we should be much healthier than our ancestors, who didn’t have any of this – shouldn’t we? You’d think so, but when we make comparisons to how our grandmothers lived 50 years ago, it’s surprising to find that we don’t necessarily have the upper hand in the fit-and-healthy stakes.

Were women healthier in the 1950s?If they did get seriously ill, people of the 1959s probably had less chance of recovering as quickly or surviving as long as we do today – we can thank modern medicine for that. However, rates of diseases like diabetes and heart disease were lower and obesity wasn’t the major problem it is today. A lot of that is down to the fact that our grandmothers’ diets tended to be much better and they were much more physically active.

our grandmothers had to prepare everything they and their families ate from scratch – they couldn’t open a packet or jar or pull something precooked out of the freezer. That meant they ate a lot less salt and fewer preservatives. A large portion of their main meal was often vegetables, which could be bought cheaply or grown in a vege patch in the garden. Homegrown veges were naturally organic and sometimes not even exposed to pesticides.

However, their diets were much higher in saturated fat than many of ours are today. Foods were cooked in butter or lard rather than healthier fats like olive oil and there was no such thing as low-fat dairy products. oany people ate a cooked pudding after their main meal every day – tapioca, jam sponge, custard and rice pudding were popular. Treats were home-baked biscuits, cakes and those delicious slices.

Despite all this, our grans consumed fewer kilojoules than most of us do today, according to one UK study. That’s partly because they didn’t have the huge range of easily available and jumbo-sized snacks that tempt us today. Nor did they eat as many takeaways or drink the same amount of and flavoured coffees, alcoholic beverages and soft drinks we knock back now – all of which are laden with kilojoules.

We’re far more sedentary today than our grandmas were too. While 1950s women would have scoffed at the idea of going to a gym to lift weights or leap around in lycra, and very few people walked or ran purely to keep fit, they were generally a lot more physically active just while getting on with daily life. And activity is good for your health.

The UK study found that the labour-saving devices we have today mean we burn only half of the kilojoules our grans did 50 years ago. Back then, women often washed clothes by hand and pushed them through a mangle to wring them out, lugged around heavy metal vacuum cleaners and got down on their hands and knees to scrub floors.

Fridges were luxuries for many people so women often had to go out for fresh food every day and that usually meant walking to the local shops rather than driving. They had to go to individual shops – the butcher, greengrocer and so on – to buy what they needed, rather than getting everything at a supermarket and all that pavement-pounding added up!

Why our grandparents hardly got sick oany of our ancestors of a century or so ago were hardly renowned for glowing good health – for example, in Victorian England, infant mortality was high, many women died in childbirth and diseases like cholera, typhoid and influenza wiped out whole families.

But a recent study shows that Europeans who lived in the 1850s mostly had much stronger immune systems than we do today. While that’s partly to do with the fact that they ate more vegetables and got more exercise, it’s also down to yeasts found in the bread they made themselves.

These yeasts contain compounds called beta glucans, which can help the immune system to fight off bacteria and viruses, according to research published in the UK in September. Beta glucans are considered to be so effective in boosting our natural defences that they are being included in several cancer drugs currently being developed. These days, most yeast-based foods like bread don’t contain beta glucans because they’re removed during the refining process.

Dr Paul Clayton, who headed the study, says, “Beta glucans are a great breakthrough in improving immune function, protecting us against cancer, infection and allergies.”

Because we can’t get beta glucans from mass-produced bread, he suggests that people take beta glucan supplements (as long as they don’t have a gluten problem such as coeliac disease) and eat around 10 servings of organic fruit and veges a day to boost our immune systems.

** 5 things to improve your health

1. Try cooking as many meals as possible from scratch, using fresh ingredients and no processed foods.

2. Grow some of your own food, even if it’s just a few vegetables. If you live in an apartment, there are veges that can be grown in pots, such as tomatoes, lettuce, carrots, peas, beans and capsicums.3. Take the stairs when you can. 4. Don’t circle the carpark trying to find a space as close as possible to the shops. Park in the furthest corner and walk! Better yet, walk to the shops. 5. **Read the labels on all processed foods. And if it contains ingredients your gran would never have heard of (such as preservatives and additives), don’t eat it.

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