Rationing: Could the WW2 diet make you healthier?

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1. The diet of a lifetime

Food rationing started in January 1940, four months after the start of World War Two. It ran for the next 14 years and changed our eating habits for more than a generation.

Throughout the war each person was allocated a scientifically devised weekly provision of specific foods.

We often think of rationing as a 'starvation diet' but the daily calorific value was around 3000 calories. This is up to 1000 more than we are recommended today – so was it still good for us?

2. CLICKABLE: 1945 weekly ration

Click on the different foods to discover more about rationing in World War Two and its nutritional benefits.

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During rationing, men and women had the same quantities of food. Everyone needed a ration book in addition to money to buy weekly goods. Supplements including milk, concentrated orange juice and cod liver oil were given to pregnant women, children and the elderly. Some manual labourers, such as miners and Land Girls, received extra rations. Although amounts of each foodstuff fluctuated over the war, this is what an adult’s typical ration might have been in January 1945.

3. The shop of horrors

An assault on the taste buds

As the war progressed, housewives on the ‘kitchen front’ were bombarded with ingenious ideas designed to land a direct hit on ration fatigue.

Carrots on sticks

Carrots were used as alternative to fruit in cakes and tarts due to their natural sweetness. They were even stuck on sticks and given to unimpressed children instead of lollies.

‘Mock’ recipes

'Morale boosting’ concoctions were developed to replace rarely available luxuries. Mock crab was a shell-shocking mixture of powdered egg, cheese and salad cream. Sausage meat and potato or breadcrumbs formed an unlikely ‘mock duck’.

Ersatz coffee

Coffee was virtually impossible to buy and numerous imitations surfaced, much to the horror of resident American GIs. Not quite the Forties ‘flat white’, one was a resourceful blend of roasted chicory and dandelion root.

Liquid paraffin

As cooking fats were rationed, oil-based liquid paraffin was used as an alternative in pastry making, frying and cake baking. Its well-known laxative effect was an accepted hazard of the wartime dining room.

4. Could rationing improve your diet?

A 2011 study from the Office of National Statistics suggests the ‘golden cohort’ who grew up with rationing could be enjoying a longer life as a result.

Bone up on calcium

Schoolgirls enjoying milk in 1944. (IWM/Getty Images)

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Milky way

The average young person in the UK doesn’t get enough calcium. They would if they stuck to the WW2 dairy recommendation.

Ration your sugar

A boy celebrates the temporary end to sweet rationing in 1949. (Popperfoto/Getty Images)

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Sickly sweet

Excess sugar consumption has been linked to obesity – a typical teenager's weekly intake today is over twice the wartime weekly sugar ration.

Get your five a day

Children eating carrots on sticks in 1941. (Getty/Ashwood/Stringer)

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Go bananas

Only 30% of us eat the recommended five daily portions of fruit and veg, far less than our wartime counterparts.

Make your fibre regular

Cycling to a harvest festival in 1941. (Hutton/Picture Post/Getty Images)

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Fibre providers

The WW2 daily diet of porridge, wheatmeal bread and lots of fruit and veg delivers nearly double the fibre we consume per day.