My food history # 4 – critical moments – my father

Oils and fats

There are some defining moments in my life that have become etched so vividly in my memory that I can feel the events exactly as if I was still there. Where I was. The time of day. The clothes I had on. The colour of the wallpaper in the hallway. The shakiness in my mother’s voice. Such was the night my father had his heart attack and was rushed to hospital by ambulance. The slow-motion event was replayed four years later after his stroke. That time my father did not come home. It was January 1974. My father was 49 years old. I was one month shy of my twentieth birthday.

My father’s death was devastating for my family.

My mother, who had been a homemaker, became a single parent rearing my two younger brothers through their teenage years. They grew up without a father and with my mother, by necessity, now at work. This had a huge impact on their lives.

A year after my father’s death I married, travelled, moved to Tasmania and raised four children. However, forever etched in my memory is the image of my father being rushed to hospital – twice. I have another image of my father. He is sitting at the breakfast table, talking, laughing and slicing butter thickly – as if it were cheese – to spread on toast.

My Dad loved food. He ate large servings at every meal and often had a second or third serve. He had a love of fatty meat and deep fried foods: roasts, sausages, bacon.  The main meal (and second serves) was often followed by dessert (and second serves). He became overweight in his forties, and developed uncontrollable high blood pressure.

After his heart attack our family diet changed. My mother taught us dietary concepts she had learned at the hospital. She explained to us about three types of fats. Solid fats found in foods such as butter, dripping and meat. She told us these fats could clog blood vessels and lead to heart disease. Liquid oils such as safflower and sunflower oil could improve blood flow. Fish and chicken had what she described as ‘soft’ or ‘neutral’ fats. This new diet concept, as told by my mother, was a crude explanation of the ideas postulated as the diet-heart hypothesis (2).  I will explore this in more depth in future posts.

The message hit home. Gone forever were fatty sausages, fatty chops, marbled meat. We now ate more chicken and fish. Butter and dripping were out. Vegetable oil, which we had never used before, and soft margarines were in. Cream and full-cream milk were off the menu. Cakes, biscuits and pastries disappeared from the larder. Potatoes and bread were portion-controlled for my father for weight loss. Snacks and puddings were restricted. There was advice on grilling instead of frying meats. We were instructed on hidden fats, such as in pastries. To be honest, we did not need a lesson on the fat content of pastry. When you have been the cook or watched this process as a child, you know exactly how much butter goes into these foods. A lot. Short-crust pastry is one-third butter to two-thirds flour. Puff pastry is half and half.

This new diet was a radical change for us and included different messages on nutrition than those I had grown up with. Up until that time, there had been an emphasis on getting enough food; foods high in protein such as meat, fish, eggs, and milk; and foods from each of the five food groups to ensure adequate vitamins and minerals. At the time the five food groups were fruits and vegetables; bread and cereals; milk and dairy; meat, eggs and alternatives; and fats. The new dietary concepts had messages of restrictions. Restriction of fatty foods. Restriction of salt. Restriction on amounts and types of food.

My father initially followed the new diet and lost a lot of weight. The following year though, he received a promotion at work and became managing editor of our local newspaper. He was very influential in our local community. We were all very proud of him. Life became very busy for him and his diet began to slip away. However, as is the monster of heart and cardiovascular disease, there was no real indication as to how seriously ill he had become until that fateful day in January 1974.

Through the grief of my father’s untimely death, something stirred within me. I began to think differently in regard to health and disease. Previously believing heart disease only happened in old people, I now knew that was not true as my own father had been taken so young. Before I believed heart disease was a natural part of aging and you could not do anything about it. Now I believed it could be prevented by a healthy diet and lifestyle. In the year of deep grief after my father’s death, I made a pact with myself. I determined his death would not have been in vain, if I were to benefit from the nutritional messages given to my parents, if I applied them for life and avoided or delayed heart disease.

The resolve I made was deeply empowering. Although straying from the straight and narrow on occasions, I have largely kept to my word. Now that I am fifteen years older than my father’s age when he passed away, still in excellent health and medication free, I am extending that determination as a resolve to pass my knowledge and experience on as a legacy to my own children and to future generations. I am finding my voice and speaking out. This is my message.

Young people were dying in the 1960s and 1970s. Struck down in their prime.
A healthy diet and lifestyle followed for life can help in prevention of heart disease. There are several eating patterns advocated by authorities that can be followed (3).

In future posts in I will examine my resolve of 1974, the changes I personally made over the years, the evidence in the literature of recommendations made then and now, and what I choose to follow today for my own health and wellness.

But firstly … moving on to my twenties where I deepen my resolve.

This is a series of posts on my food history from my childhood up until 2013.

This is a series of posts on my food history from my childhood up until 2013.
My food history # 1 – My childhood diet – Late 1950s, early 1960s
My food history # 2 – Mid 1960s – First nutrition lessons
My food history # 3 – Late 1960s – Times are a-changing
My food history # 4 – Critical moments – my father
My food history # 5 – Fit 1970s – fibre – fruit – free of sugar
My food history # 6 – 1980s – Critical moments – a health scare – hypertension
My food history # 7 (part 1) – 1980s – Food Sensitivities – shattered ideals of healthy food
My food history # 7 (part 2) – 1980s – Food sensitivities – proving the culprit foods
My food history # 7 (part 3) – 1980s – Food sensitivities – hypertension & biogenic amines
My food history # 8 – The 1980s Healthy Eating Pyramid
My food history # 9 – The 1990s Nutrition studies – low GI – lipoproteins
My food history # 10 – 1990s combining ‘friendly’ with ‘healthy’ – a bland yet healthy diet
My food history # 11 – The 2000s – slow ticking time bombs
My food history # 12 – Critical events and life catastrophes

Disclaimer: Nothing in this article or on this website should be taken as medical or dietary advice. Anyone reading any information provided within should seek advice from their own medical practitioner for any issue, disease, illness or health-related problem they may have. Always seek your own advice from a medical practitioner or dietitian before changing your own diet.


(1) Fats and oils. Image Leonie Elizabeth January 2018.

(2) The traditional diet-heart hypothesis predicts replacing saturated fat with unsaturated fat will diminish deposition of cholesterol in artery walls and slow the progression of atherosclerosis. Ramsden, CE et al BMJ 2016:353:i1246


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