Monday, February 8, 2016

Eat Like Your Grandmother?

"Eat like your grandmother" is a mantra oft repeated in nutritional blogs and on websites. But does it make sense?

My grandmother was a big fan of Crisco. That's the creamy white stuff that's full of trans fats. Unhealthy,  yes, although it sure made tasty pie crusts with half butter (for taste) and half Crisco (for texture). So should I go out and buy a huge container of Crisco?

What's silly about the statement about your grandmother's eating habits is that the eating habits of your grandmother depend on your age and how old people in your family were when they had children. I'm assuming about 25 years between generations, so if you're 20, your grandmother was probably born around 1945. That means she grew up with lots of frozen and processed food, including TV dinners, which were considered hot stuff in the 1950s.

But if you're 70, your grandmother was probably born in the 1890s, when eating habits were very different from what they were in the 1940s and 1950s. And obviously ages between 20 and 70 would have grandparents with birth dates varying to match. If generations in your family were 40 years instead of 25 and you're 70, your grandmother might have been born in the Civil War era.

That makes "Eat like your grandmother" pretty meaningless, except for the idea that her ethnicity, as well as her era, would have influenced her cooking and eating habits. I do think that if most of your ancestors ate a lot of rice, you probably have genes for processing carbohydrates, but if your ancestors ate mostly caribou, you probably have genes that mean you'd do better on a high-meat diet.

What most people mean by "Eat like your grandmother" is probably "Don't eat packaged and fast foods." But then why don't they just say so?

Maybe I'm just in a grumpy mood because I'm doing bookkeeping in preparation for taxes, but I just heard this imprecise mantra one time too many.


  1. Gretchen, you were on BrainFood from the Heartland - The Louie b.Free Radio Show, re :

    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. your book, Stop Diabetes. ..we'd love to have you back!

  3. Oh, some time ago. You can contact me at

  4. My Gran was born in 1885 and lived to be 90. I've actually ended up eating much like her - but without all the pastry and bread and jam - grass fed meat (there was no other kind then) and game, except I now have access to a much wider range of veggies and eat fish more often than on fridays.

    I eat a bit like my mother too (born 1915 and lived to be 95), we grew a lot of our own veggies and bought mostly local meat, but it was her generation that was hit with the stuff like Crisco. Here in the UK our margarine was made originally from beef fat and milk - and in fact most "processed" food was actually still made from Real Food rather than petrochemicals.

    It was the following generation who like me was suckered into "low fat" and "heart healthy" Omega 6 seed oils laced with trans fats, and the wheat and milk which has been substantially changed by breeding long before GMO came on the scene who have been hit by the "epidemics" of obesity and metabolic diseases.

    I lucked out on not eating many Manufactured Foodlike Substances but I did like all my hearthealthywholegrains and fruit juice, which have not dissimilar results.

    What's really interesting is to see younger people - and their kids - who have also reverted to fresh food and avoid the Low Fat!!! aisles in the supermarket and don't go to McDonalds. I won't live long enough to see if they avoid the consequences of Conventional Wisdom but I suspect they will. Looks like I won't live long enough to see dietary policy change but I suspect there may be more outliers - ie. slim fit healthy folks - among the elephants.

    Perhaps the mantra should be "eat like someone else's grandparents"?

    Whatever you do, don't eat like these two

  5. Maybe "eat like they did in the 19th century"? One problem is that even if everyone did, the world has changed and even grass-finished beef is eating pesticides and breathing polluted air and drinking polluted water. Yes, less water polluted with pathogenic bacteria, but more water polluted with toxins.

    Many of those "healthy" fresh veggies we can buy in the winter come from other countries where we have no control over what they were sprayed with.

    My family is about the same age as yours, and when I once served some "grass fed" beef to my mother, she said she had a flashback to her childhood. She also remembered how wonderful it was when they got the first peas around July 4 because they hadn't had fresh veggies all winter.

    1. Oh yes, my mother had a fetish for not eating strawberries until Wimbledon. One year I bought some at Christmas but the quality wasn't a patch on local stuff.

      Modern pesticides are much less toxic than the previous generation (many of which are still lurking in the environment) and are also ridiculously expensive so farmers use far less of them than in the sixties. The corollary though is that many crops are bred not only for yield but for "pest resistance", ie. toxicity, and there is no way to tell them humans are not pests and shouldn't be poisoned.

      There's much less obvious pollution from coal fires and the like but far more subtle stuff, have you seen what goes into shampoo or cleaning agents, and all the drug residues that go into the water supply via our kidneys?

      Many chemicals may be individually less toxic but no-one has tested the effects of them in combination.

      The other side of the coin is that crops and animals bred for yield don't get the chance to pick up enough micronutrients than older slower growing varieties, and "low fat" meat breeds lack even more in the way of fat-soluble nutrients, probably one reason heirloom varieties and old fashioned breeds taste so much better.