The Tudor or Stuart reader of these books may well have been as confused and bemused as to what he should and should not eat for the good of his health as we are. He probably found it equally dificult to follow a diet. However he had the advantage that most of the books were in broad agreement with each other. Ultimately all period dietary advice was derived from the classical and Arab medical authorities. 16th and 17th century writers, many of whom had no medical training, might put their own slant on received opinion, occasionally even voicing disagreement, but they never sought to innovate. Dietary beliefs were firmly based on the theory of the four humours, and were not to be seriously challenged until the later 17th century. Even today these beliefs are not completely dead. We are still told that hot bread is indigestible, that beans give you wind, that eating late at night will keep you awake or give you bad dreams. We may start a meal with an aperetif and conclude it with a sweet dessert, we will accompany the main course with wine and we may have a cheese course. On the few occasions when nuts are eaten on their own, it is almost invariably at the end of a meal. Medical theory to some extent rationalised observable effects: beans do cause wind, and many consider it pleasant to end a meal with something sweet. However sweet things were considered warming, and heat enhanced the process of digestion. Wine was drunk with meat as an aid to digestion, it also being heating. It is still not regarded by some as quite acceptable to drink wine on its own. An oil and vinegar dressing may seem the ideal accompaniment to a green salad, but the warmth of the oil and the dryness of the vinegar corrects the cold dampness of the lettuce. Mint sauce may be very tasty with lamb, but it also tempers the phlegmatic nature of the meat. There are doubtless many more food combinations which are both delicious and medically sound according to the theories of the past.
I have sought to set out these dietary theories together with the recommendations made from them as to what one should and should not eat, and discussions of the various benefits or otherwise of different foodstuffs. I have also looked at other advice concerning health contained in the dietaries such as exercise and sleep. I have tried to give some
indication of whether dietary and other advice was heeded, but this isa subject that requires far more research than I have been able to do, and may well be virtually impossible to discover. When detailing the advice in the dietaries I have used the present tense, but comments on this advice are in the past. All quotations from original sources have been given in modernised spelling, but book titles have been left in the original
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