Healthy eaters are often willing to spend a fortune on expensive ingredients and trendy superfoods in their pursuit of a nutritious diet.
But it seems they may have all been wasting their money, as researchers have found the eating habits of Victorian peasants were perhaps the best.
Simple wholesome foods such as fresh locally grown vegetables, potatoes, fish and a little meat is the best recipe for staying healthy, a study has concluded.
Researchers compared the eating habits of people living across mid-19th century Britain by region and socio-economic class.
They found that those living in more rural, isolated, regions in England, some areas of Scotland and the west of Ireland had the healthiest diets.
These places also had the lowest death rates from tuberculosis, a disease typically associated with poor nutrition.
Records showed that although many people in these regions had been infected, most did not die from TB in contrast to richer people living in the cities.
The simple diet was most comparable to today’s Mediterranean diet, the research said.
Numerous studies have shown the Mediterranean diet may reduce our risk of developing conditions such as type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure and raised cholesterol, linked to heart disease.
Researchers at the University of Leicester said peasants would often get paid with cheap food –such as potatoes, vegetables, whole grains and milk – rather than money. By contrast, the wealthier classes were able to be more selective over what they ate, generally leading to poorer nutrition. Limiting people’s choice to these basic foodstuffs meant they unwittingly ate a nutritious diet, researchers said. In turn, this meant they were more able to fend off diseases, such as TB.
According to Cottage Cookery, a cookbook written by Esther Copley in 1849, recipes that would be included in a rural peasant’s diet included potato pie, stirabout [an Irish porridge] and stewed ox-cheek.
Dr Peter Greaves, who led the study which was published in the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine, said: ‘If you take the diets in Britain in that era, they would nutritionally be akin to the Mediterranean diet today.
‘The rural diet was often better for the poor in more isolated areas because of payment in kind. Unfortunately, these societies were disappearing under the pressure of urbanisation, commercial farming and migration.
‘If you walk into a supermarket you will still find cheap vegetables so people could still eat like this. I think the problem today is that people have too much choice.’