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Old 01-27-2017, 07:21 PM
Broomstick Broomstick is offline
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Originally Posted by Kimera757 View Post
Instead of artificial preservatives, modern carcinogens, growth hormone and "empty calories", they had to face a lack of food sanitation, ergot rye, even sometimes malnutrition or outright starvation. Peasants may have eaten more fresh fruit than today's first world people, but ... what fresh fruit would they be eating in the winter? (We didn't hear about winter attacks of scurvy, probably because they preserved fruit.)
Actually, by spring a lot of people were showing signs of at least mild scurvy. One reason early greens like dandelions were popular is that they did show up early and helped alleviate many deficiencies that cropped up during the winter.

I would have been especially worried about the lack of refrigeration, and many "preservatives" (such as pepper) were more about preserving taste (masking the taste of rot) rather than actually fighting off decay.
Peasants wouldn't have had much access to pepper and their main preservative was salt, with some drying and smoking as well. Keep in mind, though, that meat for them was scare and likely eaten before it went bad.

What about what they drank? The water couldn't be trusted, so people had to drink light beer, whose alcohol content would kill at least some of the bacteria. Not very alcoholic, but it's literally homebrewed beer. Moonshine. I wonder if people often went blind as a result of accidentally consuming methanol. (We don't hear about plagues of that, though.)
Methanol poisoning is a problem when you're distilling liquor as opposed to home-brewing beer. Distilling of spirits didn't get started in Europe until really post-1300. While beer and wine have trace amounts of methanol (especially fruit-based wines) these are extremely small amounts. Distilling concentrates certain chemicals, such as various alcohols, methanol as well as ethanol. In fact, it raises the amount of methanol from innocuous trace amount to dangerous or even lethal amounts

Bottom line, home brew beer and wine don't have enough methanol to cause methanol poisoning.

Peasants would not have understood a lot about nutritional deficiencies. For instance, what if phenylalanine was poisonous to someone? Or they had diabetes? (I suspect incidences of both were less in those days.)
Problems with phenylalanine like PKU are genetic and would have occurred at the same rate in Medieval populations as modern ones, but because little to nothing was understood about the disorder such children would have been much, much more likely to die in infancy or childhood, and at best would grow up to be a "village idiot" due to neurological damage. Some people postulate a sensitivity to phenylalanine that isn't PKU or otherwise as straightforward. Well, it's a bit like saying you're allergic to salt - too much salt might cause a health problem, but so will too little. Phenylalanine is one of the essential amino acids and "essential" says a lot - you have to have at least some. Some of the top sources in the diet are things like chicken and beef - you know, that meat stuff peasants didn't get a whole lot of. (Also eggs and soybeans - but wait, those are Asian and probably not seen in Medieval Europe - and spinach, but it IS an essential amino acid so it's good they had some sources.)

Diabetics were a HELL of a lot less common - if you had Type 1 you'd be lucky to survive two years, if that long. Prior to artificially produced insulin that could be injected into the body Type 1 diabetes was 100% lethal. Peasants were unlikely to have Type 2 because they were active enough, and suffered food shortages often enough, that being overweight and/or obese was unlikely and that's the highest risk factor. It probably did happen, but mainly to the elderly and the more well-to-do. Even nobility and royalty lived pretty active lifestyles for the most part compared to today.

The lack of food sanitation would result in lots of people infected with tapeworms and the like.
True. And the general lack of sanitation made other, potentially lethal diseases like cholera more common. Which meant more deaths from them. Use of fresh, untreated human feces as fertilizer could make eating fresh vegetables hazardous - might be why boiling them to death, or pickling them in strong brine, became popular options.\

In some ways the Medieval peasant diet was healthier, and for those that were resistant to disease spread by bad water and human/animal waste and could tolerate a bunch of parasites in their gut might contribute to a relatively healthy old age - but that was a distinct minority of people at the time. Our diet is better due to nutrients being available year round, better preservation methods like freezing that preserve both quality and nutrition, and modern concepts of sanitation.