Our Pledge To You

Eat Well

Kids take note: Vegetables weren’t always seen as healthy

Mari Scheer works on a vegetable art creation at the Glenview New Church farmers' market held on Nov. 15, 2014. | George Edwardson/for Pioneer Press Newspapers

Mari Scheer works on a vegetable art creation at the Glenview New Church farmers' market held on Nov. 15, 2014. | George Edwardson/for Pioneer Press Newspapers

Avoid eating fruit and vegetables and, under no circumstances, bite into a peach — it may lead to depression.

That’s what a healthy person, particularly one who exercised regularly, might have expected to hear from a physician in Renaissance Europe.

“They were really afraid of peaches,” said Ken Albala, a history professor at the University of The Pacific and the author of numerous books about food. “If you had peaches at the end of your meal, [they thought] they would kind of float on top of your stomach . . . . And they would go bad, and send fumes up to your head and cloud your thoughts.”

Meat and wine were preferred over fruit and vegetables to avoid a cold, Albala said.

He points that out to put the latest research on eggs and cholesterol into context. He’s not a big fan of nutrition studies.

Professor Ken Albala, a historian and author of numerous books about food, cautions against reading too much into nutrition studies.

Professor Ken Albala, a historian and author of numerous books about food, cautions against reading too much into nutrition studies. | Provided photo

“I don’t think we have the ability to discern what is really good for us and what isn’t,” he said. “I don’t think we know enough about human nutrition to suddenly say, ‘This food is bad. Take it out entirely.’ — as happened with bacon.”

Vilifying or glorifying foods has been a common practice, particularly in America, he said.

“Bread was always the ideal food: the perfect nutrient, digestible, perfect for babies,” he said. “And now it’s vilified because of gluten, and suddenly people don’t want to eat carbohydrates — carbohydrates are evil. People just kind of internalize that, and they think: ‘Oh, I’ve cut out carbs. I feel so much better and I’m happier.’ I’m certain, given another decade, people will switch back again.”

People didn’t quite know what to make of chocolate when it arrived in Europe from Mexico in the 16th century, he said. Was it food or medicine?

“In the long run, people just started taking and selling it,” he said. “They didn’t care whether it had medicinal qualities or not. They just liked the flavor.”

As for his own eating habits, Albala, 54, subscribes to the eat-everything-in-moderation approach. Thursday morning he made a toasted sandwich of bacon, boiled egg, tomato, seaweed flakes and dandelion greens.

“Sublime,” he said. “It really blew me away.”