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What To Eat

Good Nutrition Advice ... from 150 Years Ago

The only thing that has fundamentally changed in the world of nutrition in the last century and a half? Junk food. (And we don't use the word "farinaceous" much anymore.)


I'm at a meeting in Washington DC of the American Society of Nutrition. At the exhibits, David Schnackenberg, who runs a website on the history of military nutrition, gave me these dietary guidelines from 1861. They are from a monograph by Dr. John Ordonaux, "Hints on the Preservation of Health in the Armies: for the Use of Volunteer Officers and Soldiers."

  • Soldiers should be fed a mixed diet of animal and vegetable substances.

  • A variety of foods are needed to avoid monotony and increase assimilation.

  • A healthy diet must conform to the physiological requirements of the season with less animal fats in the summer dietary, and more starch, vegetables, and fruits.

  • Fresh fruits are always preferable to dry or preserved ones.

  • Farinaceous vegetables are more nourishing than roots or grasses.

  • The best soldiers in the world are fed on dark colored bread.

  • French army dietaries provide nutritious soups made with meat or vegetables.

  • The woody fibre of the vegetable provides bulk as well as nourishment.

  • Each company should have at least one educated cook.

  • Beans, unless thoroughly cooked, are only fit for horses. When half-cooked, they will provoke indigestion and diarrhea.

  • Ardent spirits are not necessary for health and the soldier is better off without them.

  • Soldiers must be well fed to bear the fatigues of marching, to encounter unaffected the changes of climate, and to develop a high muscular tone.

As I keep saying, basic nutrition advice has, in fact, not changed much over the years. The big change in the last 150 years is the invention of junk foods. Dr. Ordonaux did not have snacks and sodas to contend with, nor today's extensive obesity among army recruits.

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Marion Nestle

Marion Nestle

Noted author Marion Nestle is a Professor in the Department of Nutrition, Food Studies, and Public Health at New York University. She is the author of What to Eat.
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