Monday, July 1, 2013

Sugar as Diet Food?! (Domino's Sugar, 1954-1956)

Good morning!

Another outta-town weekend means another Monday that has crept up on me like the night! We had a great time in St.Louis with Matthew's Memaw. Our visit included a marathon of politely cutthroat Yahtzee games (i.e., my true idea of heaven on earth, endless's THE MOST ADDICTIVE GAME), chats-a-plenty with one of my favorite soon-to-be-relatives, and a couple stops at Midwest thrift stores and antique malls on the way to and from the Show Me state. I managed to make a good haul, and some surprising bargains, but I was so sleepy from all the in-the-car time yesterday that I pretty much flopped upon arriving home. I'll do some photo posts later in the week to show you, but meanwhile...

I have GOT to show you these ads I found for Domino's Sugar, circa 1954-1956. I don't know if it's the coffee I've been slugging or just the sheer amazing bravado of these ads, but I about hopped out of my seat at work when I saw the first one in a 1955 copy of Life. Domestic scene at the kitchen table, where both members of a married couple are trying to lose a few pounds to fit into the those sharp, tiny 1950's  clothing silhouettes, no doubt:

Am I seeing things? Is this REALLY an ad extolling the health virtues of CANE SUGAR ITSELF? Take a look at the fine print:

I feel like the crows in Dumbo crooning "When I See an Elephant Fly" here....WHAT. A DIET BOOKLET BY DOMINO SUGAR? You can see some of the scans of a real-life copy of this book here at the Nickadizzy blog. I am all out of words, dude. As another blogger mentioned on another site (I can't find it now! They know who they are), with reference to this manual, it's essentially encouraging you to replace one diet item from your already meager diet food portions with a cup of coffee and sugar.


It's Mad Men era advertising spin at its most dervish-like....wait, I mean....what are you even saying? They're different kinds of sugar! I can guaran-damn-tee you just because 3 tsp of sugar has fewer calories than a grapefruit, its consumption will not aid your weight loss one iota. Retraining your mind to think of sugar and coffee as "good" and fruit as "bad"....well, I could not be more incredulous if I tried. I remember reading that no less than my idol Joan Crawford followed a strict dieters-diet of LOTS of coffee and very little food. See this excerpt from a 1936 Vanity Fair profile:
Except for six or eight cups of coffee a day and about a package of cigarettes, her diet is spartan...When she is working on a picture, she drinks a cup of hot water when she is called at six o'clock, has fruit juice and coffee for breakfast, a salad for lunch, and dinner without white bread or potatoes. She drinks wine now and then, but no hard liquor.
Sure, that near-anorexia gave La Crawford her signature racehorse sleek physique in the thirties', but I do not see Domino's sugar included anywhere in that regime! ((tuts to self))

Here's another spot for Domino's signature "Energy Lift":

I love that the husband is chiding the wife. No one on a diet at any time ever forgets that they are on a diet! Reminds me of that hall-of-fame bad-boyfriend quote from Love Actually, "No one's gonna fancy a girl with thighs the size of big tree trunks." 1955 housewife to spouse: "Thanks for the reminder, husband! I forgot about how fat I am...I really should cut down on the sugar. PSYCH! I SHOULD DRINK SUGAR COFFEE WITH EVERY MEAL!" ((totally flips out in throes of sugar psychosis))

Being a lifelong on-again, off-again dieter, never able to peaceably eat a piece of chocolate cake or fried-anything without cringing and thinking of the consequences, I think about how much harder it must have been to keep on a diet in pre-1980's America. It would be a shot in the dark to cut out x in favor of y, because for all you know that information may completely made up or the result of a passing fad. If you think being told carbs are bad in all forms is wrong (as many dietitians bemoaned after the last Atkins craze of the early 2000's), think about if you were being told sugar, like granulated sugar, was better for you than fruit. What in the heck, people.

What are your thoughts? Could you believe the gall on Domino's behalf, claiming "up was down" in the name of selling more sugar packets, even to dieters, in 1955? What crazy diet have you gone on or almost tried? What regimen did your mother or grandmother stick to when wanting to drop a couple pounds? I'd love to hear you chime in on this craziness.

That's all for today, I gotta get back to work, kids! Have a great Monday, and I'll see you back here tomorrow.

PS: Need to see this with your own eyes? Etsy seller rarefinds4u has one for sale here. I'm tempted!


  1. I have lots of old diet books from my grandmother and sometimes when opening up one of her cook books, a 'diet menu' will fall out. She was forever on some random diet!

    To be fair, three teaspoons of sugar in your coffee was about all the sugar you'd get back then, unless you had dessert at din-dins. The food they ate wasn't over-processed and over-preserved. There wasn't a ton of sugar and salt in every single food or drink item. And the pure stuff is better than all the cancer causing, metabolism shifting fake junk I reckon.

    But yeah, to tell people to have a cup of coffee and sugar (THREE teaspoons??? I thought I liked a little coffee with my sugar and I only use 1 and a half!!!) instead of an apple or grapefruit (ok, truth is I SMOTHER my grapefruit in sugar!) is just crazy to me. I can just see Don pushing this ad campaign!! HI-larity!

    1. I've noticed like 90% of the health/diet regimens I've seen in midcentury pamphlets are pretty harsh-- most are like "cup of bullion for breakfast, half a grapefruit and a quarter cup of cream cheese for lunch, lettuce salad and one quarter of a chicken breast for dinner" sounds like you'd starve to death before you actually lost any weight!

  2. I had a few underweight friends who lived off of nothing but coffee, candy, and milk. One ate two packets of Skittles for breakfast, 3 cups of coffee for lunch, and a cheese danish for dinner. She never weighed over 100 pounds. Drinking nothing but sugared tea and coffee is not healthy, but it would have worked as a diet. Domino seems to be playing up the "liquid diet" craze that popped up in the late 50s and early 60s. Sugar has 4 calories per gram, the same as a gram of protein, and much less than the 9 calories in a gram of fat, so they aren't lying about 3 teaspoons of sugar (48 cal)having fewer calories than an apple (95 cal). But while sugar is necessary for the human body to function, it's not the healthiest way to lose weight. Focusing on calories alone is not enough for a good diet, vintage or modern!

    1. That one girl's regimen...yeeks. That's one way to stay thin and still get to eat what you want, but I think that much sugar in the morning would actually kill me. And you're right about counting calories not being the only path to successful dieting! Can you just imagine being an Aunt Bee sized housewife, though, wanting to get into capris like Laura Petrie in the midcentury? The frustration of some of these old diet pamphlets is palpable!

  3. Oh my goodness, this is too much!
    I've seen some pretty crazy vintage ads before and I know that back in the day they didn't know too well about the dangers of consuming too much sugar; hence why even many cereals used a lot of sugar. It always scares me a little to see the ads again and just think of how much sugar that people would consume!

    1. I think about how I get guilty having one this a day or one that a day and then realize, oh Good Lord, look at what other "diets" were hawking back in the day! I'm lightyears better than that even on a bad day! I still can't get over the "have sugar instead of an apple" byline of these ads, it just blows my mind.



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