Keep Dallas Observer Free
| Lists |

Five forgotten health foods

Before the food industry figured out how to leech fat from snacks and pump up beverages with added caffeine, eaters who wanted to lose weight or gain energy had to craft their diets from what they found in their pantries. Here, a guide to forgotten health foods from a century ago.

1. Buttermilk

In the years before World War II, almost every menu included a tall glass of cool buttermilk. Buttermilk believers said the drink made them strong, energetic and healthy. Perhaps they were right: Earl Cruze, the celebrated Tennessee buttermilk maker, claims men worried about their virility wouldn't need pills if they drank more buttermilk.

2. Corned beef

Corned beef was a staple of early 20th century diets: Health guru Bernard Macfadden, an outspoken advocate of cold plunge baths, long walks, natural childbirth and carrots, sold a 12-cent corned beef plate at his health food restaurant in 1910. Amelia Summerville, author of "Why be Fat?", published in 1916, urged her readers to breakfast on corned beef hash, a dish she defended as lean and nutritious.

3. Sarsaparilla soft drinks

Sarsaparilla, extracted from a tropical trailing vine, still shows up in some root beers, but the flavored oil was the main attraction back in the nineteenth century. A popular syphilis treatment, sarsaparilla sodas were also promoted as pick-me-ups. "That tired feeling can be totally overcome by taking Hood's Sarsaparilla," an 1885 newspaper ad promised.

I Support
  • Local
  • Community
  • Journalism
  • logo

Support the independent voice of Dallas and help keep the future of Dallas Observer free.

4. Stale bread

Anti-obesity crusader Summerville was a fan of stale bread, which presumably saved dieters the trouble of toasting. "That perhaps does not sound like a strikingly inviting repast," a writer for a South Carolina newspaper conceded in an 1892 story entitled "Getting Lean: Helpful Hints for Men Who Carry too Much Flesh." But, he added, a dinner of cold meat, poached eggs, stewed fruit, stale bread and tea "will reduce the weight of a stout man."

5. Mutton

President Taft in 1916 dispelled any notions that he'd lost 75 pounds by playing golf, instead attributing his weight loss to a restrictive diet of beef, fowl, mutton and vegetables (other than potatoes). "Above all, you ought to be examined by the best physician you can get," he advised fellow fat men interested in replicating his strategy. "Don't get a quack."

Keep the Dallas Observer Free... Since we started the Dallas Observer, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Dallas, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Dallas with no paywalls.

We use cookies to collect and analyze information on site performance and usage, and to enhance and customize content and advertisements. By clicking 'X' or continuing to use the site, you agree to allow cookies to be placed. To find out more, visit our cookies policy and our privacy policy.


Join the Observer community and help support independent local journalism in Dallas.


Join the Observer community and help support independent local journalism in Dallas.