Episode 5: The WWII Diet

The theory: A low-fat diet influenced by war-time rationing is beneficial for a healthy lifestyle.

Obesity was rare during the ration days of the 1940s. The low-fat diet is thought to have played a part in the era’s low incidence of heart disease and diabetes.

The history: Australia’s role in the victory of the Allies during World War II was greater than military might - Australia was also considered the Allies’ food arsenal.

For eight years Australians faced strict food restrictions in order to provide nourishment not only for themselves, but for British and American troops. With Australian men fighting far from home, Australia’s women were encouraged to grow “victory gardens” containing fruit and vegetable staples. They also became experts in conservation – learning how to barter and cut down on waste.

According to the National Museum of Australia, the population in 1938 was 7.5 million. By 1941, Australia had committed to feed 13 million people.

Do you fancy trying the World War II diet? Have a look at the ration book:

Food Weekly Ration
Meat 900g
Butter 225g
Sugar 450g
Tea 90g

Other foods typically eaten (but not rationed) included potatoes, cabbage, tomatoes, parsnips, apples, bananas, strawberries, custard powder, peanut butter, dripping, sardines and honey. Occasional indulgence is permitted – specifically a fish and chip dinner once a week – usually on Friday. 

The experiment: Is the World War II diet one we should consider re-adopting (albeit voluntarily)?

The Heptinstall family volunteered to try the World War II diet for one week (with advice from Food Investigators’ dietician Geraldine Georgeou). The Heptinstall family realise the diet will present them with several challenges. Anne wonders how she will able to fit in part-time work, looking after the children and cooking meals from scratch. The kids wonder whether they will miss their favourite foods (pizza, chips and pie). And they all wonder whether they will go hungry when dietician Geraldine Georgeou delivers their fruit and vegetable allocation.

The results: After one week on the World War Two diet the Heptinstall family expresses mixed feelings about the experience.

Chris has thoroughly enjoyed the ‘going back to basics’ menu but Anne has missed eating chicken (chickens were valued for their eggs rather than meat) and found meal preparation time-consuming. Thomas missed the school tuckshop, Patrick missed spicy food and Michael refused to eat cabbage. And Anne swapped brown bread for white in Sarah’s sandwiches.

Still, the children say they valued the experience and by the end of the week were rating Anne’s cooking on homemade ration cards!

Anne believes the family benefited from including more fibre and iron in their diet while cutting down on preservatives, salt and additives. Anne also thinks the family learned an important lesson - “we do not have to be eating all the time”.

The Heptinstall family reckon they will include a few dishes from the World War Two diet experience in their regular menu.

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