Jack Sprat

Jack Sprat


Jack Sprat could eat no fat, his wife could eat no lean,

so betwixt the pair of them, they ate the platter clean.

That’s all I could remember from my childhood, but the lines crept unwanted into my brain as I sat across from John and his wife, whom I choose to call Joan.

This was the third time they had come into my office, and they were bringing me up to date with their progress.

They had come in shortly after John had been diagnosed with a slow-growing prostate cancer.  While neither of them was unduly fat, neither of them could be called slim, and they obviously ‘ate well.’

During John’s first consultation I assessed the questionnaires he had supplied along with his diet diary.

The couple had married while still at college and it was clear that they were very close, they thought alike and could even finish each other’s sentences.  No problems there, however, the problems surfaced when I assessed their diet.

Joan assured me that she was a careful cook, and John confirmed that Joan was a very good cook. They said they ate little or no “junk” food, or takeaways. I often wonder about the term “takeaway.”  It seems to mean a meal that you purchase and take away to eat, either as you walk, drive, get back to work or home. I see no reason why good “takeaway’ Indian curry should be less nutritious when eaten at home than in the restaurant.

None the less, I checked out the dietary information they had given me.  Breakfast could vary from cereal and toast, to porridge, and to eggs and bacon or fruit pancakes with cream on the weekends.  Lunch was from his canteen at work, a combination of vegetables and some protein dish, not too bad, but being kept hot under heat lamps. No dessert, though he usually had a biscuit with coffee in the afternoon.  Dinner was home cooked and usually consisted of two courses, one savoury and one sweet.

“I have changed that somewhat,” said Joan. “I’ve read that if you have cancer you should eat an alkaline diet consisting of fruits and vegetables, and no meat so I have tried to stick to that.”

“But I really don’t like it, I’m always hungry and I’m also getting fat!” John was quick to protest.

“I don’t understand why he is gaining weight on this new diet. I decided that to help him I would follow the same diet and I seem to be losing weight,” explained Joan.

They both looked puzzled.

Looking at his questionnaires it was clear that, this near-vegetarian diet was not suited to John’s metabolism. It was also probable that he was too alkaline, not too acidic, and that an acid residue diet would serve him better, even when he had cancer.

I suggested that he went back to his diet of choice, or at least a version of it. He should eat eggs, but also meats (red), poultry (the dark meat) and fish (salmon and other coloured or strong- flavoured fish). He should include root (and similar) vegetables, but make sure that they were brightly coloured, such as carrots, beetroot and deep orange pumpkins or sweet potatoes that have lots of carotenoids and other phytonutrients, and have less of the leafy vegetables.

“Well, that’s a relief, he said. “I have never liked them, and I do enjoy the meats.”s

However, it was not all smiles, not when I advised him to have no sugar at all or sweet foods and to give up all grains and cereals.

“What can I have instead of desserts? I’m not a big fan of them but I do usually have a chocolate mousse when we eat out.”

“How about organic cheese? I asked. “And before you complain that it is not the same without bread, consider having it with vegetable sticks, celery, carrots and red pepper slices”.

John said he would give it a try.

As they left I heard her saying, “Don’t worry dear, I’ll eat the same as you and we can still enjoy our meals together.”  She was clearly in strong-support mode, was hardly surprising after nearly fifty years of doing most things together.

The next consultation showed more changes, but the results did not surprise me.

John had stuck strictly to his diet of heavy protein foods, with fats, cheese and root vegetables. And he was looking all the better for it.  He came in with a greater spring in his step, saying he had more energy and better yet, he was losing weight and could get back into the clothes he had worn when he was younger.  He even forgave me for depriving him of his chocolate mousse, saying that he barely missed it.

“I don’t understand it,” said Joan. “Here I am, following the same diet as John and he is losing weight and look at me! I am gaining weight and feeling awful, heavy, lethargic and just overall not good!”

I encouraged John to stick to his diet and Joan to go back to her near-vegetarian diet, but with fish and white poultry meat, that she had enjoyed when she first changed John’s diet.

Did it mean cooking two different meals each time?  No, not at all.  I suggested that she go back to her old way of cooking, but divide the meal, appropriately, between the two of them, such as:

Chicken casserole:           breast for her, the dark meat for John

Mixed vegetables:            root vegetables for John and the above ground vegetables for her

Dessert:                           fruit for her, cheese for him (preferably organic goat or sheep)

They agreed that this would be possible, and from then on things improved. They both lost weight, gained energy and looked much more alert and happy.

I just had to change the nursery rhyme slightly:

Joan Sprat could eat no fat, her man could eat no lean,

and so betwixt the pair of them, they licked the platter clean.


Although the rhyme is commonly thought to refer to foods, there are several other suggestions as to its origin.  In one of them, it is suggested that Jack Sprat was King Charles I of England (1625-1649) and his wife was Queen Henrietta Maria.  When King Charles declared war on Spain, parliament kept him financially lean.  This stimulated his wife to impose an illegal (fat) war tax after the angry King dissolved parliament.

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