Dick and Dom reveal the genius of food expert Elsie Widdowson, who helped to devise wartime rationing. Under her diet, Britain was the healthiest it had ever been.
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This is absolute genius.
So, sit down, buckle up and get ready for take-off!
Each show we'll introduce you to a different genius.
An amazing person who had a genius idea which shaped the world.
And they will inspire us
to come up with our own genius idea at the end of each show.
But will it be any good?
Will it be any good? It will be Absolute Genius!
And on today's show, we'll be exploring the power of food!
Look at that!
And finding out what fuels our sporting champions.
So sit back, and enjoy the ride!
Can I take this awful thing off my face?
Today, we're going to introduce you to a scientist who had a real
appetite for experiments, a genius who helped us to understand what's
in our food, and also what food to eat to stay fit and healthy.
In fact, her recommendations helped this country to become
the healthiest it's ever been.
Ladies and gentlemen, we give you... Elsie Widdowson.
Ah! Time for lunch.
Inspired by Elsie, we're going to be coming up with our own genius
challenge later on in the show...
..when we put the power of food to the test by joining the Army cadets.
Keep going. What are you made of? Do more.
But first, let's learn a bit more about her.
Widdowson was born in 1906, in the days
when food was something people just ate! They didn't know too much
about what's in it and how it affects our bodies.
These days, we all know that you're supposed to eat your five a day,
things like apples, carrots, your greens.
And you can see everything that's contained in food
just by looking at the packaging.
But in those days,
accurate information like this didn't always exist,
so it was hard to work out what you should be eating to stay healthy.
Our genius did something about it.
She worked out the nutrition of food.
What's in it, and how it affects our bodies.
For the first time, people had accurate information about what
they were eating, all in one book!
Widdowson's genius idea was to write a book that told us
what's in our food.
It listed things like how much energy all our foods were giving us.
She wrote it with her partner in science, Robert McCance,
and it was called The Chemical Composition Of foods.
-And she didn't just look at energy.
The book also listed important nutrients like the carbohydrates,
protein, fats and minerals that we find in all our foods.
To find out more, we've come to King's College in London,
where Widdowson studied nutrition - the science of food!
And to tell us about her genius work and experiments,
we're meeting up with CBBC resident food expert, Stefan Gates.
So what exactly is Elsie's book about?
Well, it's basically about lots of numbers.
-I mean, it looks really boring.
-I can confirm that.
-It really does look dull.
-Like a maths book.
-Lots of numbers.
But what's inside it is absolutely amazing. World-changing stuff.
She took foods, and basically ripped them apart,
and tried to understand what was inside them.
This piece of Cheddar cheese. One piece of cheese.
Now, she's found out that in this Cheddar cheese
there are 416 calories. You've got everything in here.
A bit of chocolate? Do you like chocolate?
-It's all right.
-So we can find out what's in chocolate.
Again, lots of energy, protein, a lot of fat.
Once you know what's in food, then you can tell what you need to eat.
Would you like to be bigger, better, stronger, faster, cleverer?
-All of the above.
-You're fine as you are, but yeah...
-Well, me too.
One of the most important things we need from food is energy,
which is measured in calories.
The average adult needs from 2,000 to 2,500 of them a day.
Widdowson's genius book told us exactly how many calories
and other nutrients were in all the different foods we eat.
This information became essential during the Second World War.
Food was scarce, and the government rationed supplies.
Widdowson helped work out the basic foods each person
needed to stay healthy.
So we're going to do an Elsie. We're going to take some food,
and recreate the experiments that she did.
So, really common food here. Pizza, pizza.
-A little pepperoni pizza there. And some other stuff.
Carrots, broccoli and beans, good for you.
The thing is, all of these foods would have been very familiar
to Elsie. I wanted to try something that she wouldn't have tested.
So maybe we'll take her work and move it forwards.
-And look at a food of the future. Want to have a look?
Lift that lid.
-Oh, my goodness, look at them!
-It's got maggots in it!
-These are mealworms.
-'Yes, we're going to experiment with these -
'here's some Stefan prepared earlier.'
-Now, these are ready to eat.
-Don't look, lads.
There's some of your mates over there. They're looking a bit crispy.
'Time to give them a try.
'But, as I'm vegetarian, I'll leave that to the others.'
After three, ready, lads?
One, two... Hang on, wait.
-What's that long kind of brown line?
-Oh, that's just its intestines.
One, two, three, go.
-Weirdly, they're quite nice.
-I mean, they're basically crisps.
-They taste very much like crisps.
-They're actually pretty tasty.
Now, you can mix them with a little bit of smoked paprika,
-it makes them taste like smoky bacon.
-Smoky bacon maggots!
-They've already got a bit of flavour to them, though.
-It's not bad, is it?
So we're going to do one of Elsie's tests
to find out how many calories there are in it.
-How do we do that?
-Come follow me.
We already know how many calories everyday foods contain.
Carrots - 35 calories per 100 grams.
Broccoli - 33 calories.
Baked beans - 84 calories.
Pepperoni pizza - 250 calories per 100 grams.
But how many calories are in mealworms?
To help us do our own experiment,
we've turned to genius assistant Rosie.
She's used a nifty bit of kit called a bomb calorimeter
and worked out exactly how many calories there are in mealworms.
Now, a little guesstimation.
I reckon, calorie-wise, they're going to be really light.
Something like a carrot.
Healthy, good-for-you worms.
What's the final calorie content of those lovely little worms?
It's not as low as you think. It's 421 calories...
-..per 100 grams.
-That's almost as many calories as in a big bag of crisps!
-That's quite a lot.
-Nothing like a carrot.
-So, there you go, no more mealworms for you.
-No more for me.
Just stick to pizza.
Just like Elsie, we've measured the calories in our food.
Anyone for a bowl of mealworms?
'The pages of Widdowson's book are full of calories, and we want to
'learn more about what a calorie is and how much energy it contains.'
Time to meet chemist and genius helper Professor Andrea Sella.
-Hi, Andrea, how are you doing?
-Hey, good to meet you.
We're trying to understand the science behind food a lot more,
and one thing that Elsie had in every single one of her charts
is the amount of calories in food.
But we don't actually know what that means. What are calories?
They're a measurement of how much energy is in food.
Now, if we were to take something like this olive oil here,
either we can eat it and burn it inside,
use it as a fuel for ourselves, or alternatively do what
the Greeks did, which was to actually use it in a tea light.
'To show us the energy in food, Andrea is going to
'burn 75 calories' worth of olive oil in this tea light.'
'Scientists work out the calories in food by burning it
'and measuring the heat that is produced.'
So, when we ingest the olive oil,
it does a very similar thing to what it is doing to the water -
-it gives us energy and it gives the water energy, right?
The only difference is, we don't have a flame inside us,
so our bodies process the fuel much more cleverly.
But the end result is the same,
and the interesting thing is that you run warm, right?
-Of course. Thank you!
-Where do we go from here?
-Come on, chaps, there's work to be done!
But those 75 calories don't look like they're doing much.
I mean, it's heating the water, which is great,
-but there's not much effect.
-I know, it's not really that dramatic.
-If you want dramatic... You want dramatic?
Then what we have to do is speed it up.
'And to speed up the process, Andrea is going to take 75 calories' worth
'of digestive biscuit - the same energy as there was
'in our olive oil tea light - and mix it with liquid oxygen.
'We're doing the same thing our bodies do - using oxygen from the air
'to get energy from food,
'but we're going to massively speed that process up.'
OK, now take the biscuit and put it on the tabletop. Just here.
-'Don't go setting fire to biscuits at home!
-'We've got an expert to help us.'
-Shall we stand back?
I think you might. We'll see. You'll tell me in a second.
Whoa! Look at that!
Ooh, nice, toasty. That's amazing.
'So, that's what calories do.
'Widdowson was onto something powerful here.'
Yes, food is powerful, but I'm not sure about the worms.
'Later in the show, we'll be
'using the energy in food to fuel our own genius challenge.
'But first, how exactly does our body turn that food
'and all those calories into energy?
'Who better to tell us than our resident genius, Fran...
'..who has a habit of popping up just when you need her most?'
Fran, what's this?
Well, this is going to come later, but we know, right,
that food's got energy in it, with calories?
And how do you think you get that energy from the food?
-What do you do to it to begin with?
Yeah, and all the digestion does
is break the food down into the smallest bits it can.
But then, with the smallest bits of food, it makes energy parcels.
'We're using these bottles of lemonade
'and some mints to create our own energy parcels.'
Not firmly wedged.
So we've made these little energy parcels.
This is a representation of what you've got in your body.
So when you digest food, it's broken down into those really small
bits, then they react with oxygen to make little energy parcels that can
then be moved around your body and used whenever your body needs to.
'Energy parcels ready, time to release that energy!' Here we go!
-Right, put it back. That's it, that's it.
Give it a bit of a jig.
Release your cork, release your cork! Release your cork!
Oh, yours isn't quite going, let's get yours going. Ready, ready?
It's brilliant! Fran, it's the best thing I've ever seen!
Just to recap what's happened, we tried to do an experiment,
and it went a little bit wrong.
So this is mark two, trying to make it work.
-Pretend you never saw the earlier thing.
-Are you ready? Are you ready?
-They're dropping in, dropping in. OK, all right.
-Leave it a bit. Go on, go on, go on.
-And that's how you get the energy from food.
-She did it.
Ladies and gentlemen, Fran.
'So, that's how the body releases energy.
'Any extra you don't use is stored as fat.
'We've seen that food contains energy through calories,
'but we want to find out what the best food is to power our bodies.'
I think to do that, you need to go to one of the top sporting teams
-in the world.
-What, like the New Zealand All Blacks,
or maybe the home of the Olympics, Athens?
-No, no, I've got just the place.
I love Manchester!
'We've come to the Manchester velodrome,
'the home of British cycling,
'to learn what the top athletes eat to power their performance.'
Well, one in particular is genius Paralympian Dame Sarah Storey.
She's won an incredible 11 gold, eight silver and three bronze medals
in both swimming and cycling across six Paralympic games.
So, Sarah, why is food so important in your profession?
Well, in any sport,
it's really important to have the right food, because if you put the
wrong fuel into an athlete, they're not going to perform very well.
It's about getting the right balance of food.
Athletes need more than the recommended five a day
because you're burning so many vitamins and minerals.
And then you also need some good fats, as well,
so we're not talking about saturated fats that you find in a fry-up.
We talking about the fat you might find in oily fish,
yoghurt, the dairy products, that kind of thing.
So, before a race, do you have to have a massive meal to get all
those carbs and energy in, and then go straight out onto
the racetrack, or do you stop eating a few hours before?
On actual race day, you'll eat probably two or three hours
ahead of the race, depending on the sort of race that it is.
If you're in road racing, you'll eat during the race,
because you may be on the bike for four or five hours during
the race, and you need to get that sugar inside you
so you have instant energy.
How do you eat when you're riding in a race, and what do you eat?
Sometimes we wrap up tiny pieces of jam sandwich,
because the bread is really good for filling your stomach
and the jam is really good for simple sugar.
So what would happen if you put your hand in your bag
and pulled out a slice of pizza during your race and ate that?
Well, you'd tell the person who put it in the pocket off, to start with.
They should never have given you pizza in the first place.
But you should never have those bad foods that aren't going to digest
quickly before an event.
But that's not to say that if you got to the top of a mountain
and you're absolutely exhausted during a six or seven hour ride
that you wouldn't have a can of cola and a bar of chocolate to give you
that instant sugar hit, because if you're bonking out
and you've got no energy at all - you're about to collapse -
that gives you the instant hit you need to be able to carry on.
What's it called, "bonking out"?
Is that the professional term for when you collapse from no sugar?
It is, cos you've got nothing left in your body.
Best get some fizzy drinks and some chocolate.
Yeah, otherwise we'll bonk out.
Top athletes like Sarah eat a balanced, healthy diet.
They burn so much energy they can get away with the odd sugary treat.
And here are some other foodie facts about sports stars.
It's the Genius Top Five.
At five, Arsenal footballers' favourite treat is banoffee pie.
The bananas and sugar provide a great energy boost on the pitch. Love it.
At four, Tour de France champion Bradley Wiggins fuelled up
for the big race by eating a bowl of porridge at bedtime.
Three, at the 2008 Olympics, the world's fastest man, Usain Bolt,
won three gold medals while eating a diet of chicken nuggets.
Can I take your order, please?
Fact two, Paralympic swimming star Ellie Simmonds
eats loads of seafood to help her swim like a fish.
Just kidding, we made that one up!
And at number one, the world's most successful Olympian swimmer,
Michael Phelps, eats more for breakfast
than most people eat in a whole day.
So far, we've discovered that Elsie wrote a genius book telling us
all about what's in the stuff we eat.
And we've seen for ourselves how the calories in food give us energy.
Now it's time to see how our bodies
can use that energy through exercise.
To get us going, it's genius sports scientist Dr Howard Hurst.
-All right, Howard? Nice to meet you.
-Good to meet you.
So, we want to find out how much energy
I am going to use on the track.
OK, no problem. What we're going to do,
we're going to fit you up with this gas analyser.
You don't want to analyse his gas. Blimey.
We're going to look at how much oxygen you're using,
how much carbon dioxide you're going to produce,
and from that we can look at what your energy expenditure is
as you're cycling around the track.
So if you want to pop that over your head...
It does have to be quite tight, so...
-Am I going to be able to breathe in this?
-How does that feel?
OK, so what we need you to do now is just put this final piece in.
-Oh, lovely(!) Just to top it off.
-It monitors your oxygen uptake.
Brilliant. Right, let's go and burn some.
-Ready to go?
While Dick's doing four laps of the track -
that's one kilometre in total -
Howard can monitor the amount of calories he's burning.
Faster! One last lap!
Give it some welly!
Just when you think you've seen your mate
in every possible situation, something like this pops up.
Time for the results.
Can I take this awful thing off my face?
So, Howard, am I going to wake up looking like David Beckham tomorrow?
Um, highly unlikely. Sorry to disappoint you.
How many calories did I burn?
OK, so during that one kilometre, you did 21 calories.
-21... That doesn't sound like a lot.
-Well, it's about four crisps.
-Not four packets, just four crisps.
All that exercise. He was absolutely exhausted at the end of it.
Around one crisp a lap.
So to burn off that packet of crisps I ate earlier,
all 180 calories of it, I'd have to do 36 laps of the track.
That's nine kilometres.
That seems like a ridiculously large amount of exercise
for a very small... Something that we all do in everyday life
and you don't even think about it.
Well, you're burning energy all the time,
so just standing here now we're burning energy.
Brushing your teeth takes about two minutes,
which is about the same amount of time it took you to do that, Dick.
That's about six calories, so in terms of burning the energy,
exercise is far more efficient than just sitting around doing nothing.
And while I recover,
here's a not-so-clever way to experiment with food.
Time for the Not So Genius Idea!
In the summer of 2005,
there was an attempt to make the world's biggest ice lolly.
At 25 feet high and weighing 17 tonnes,
it would have been a record-breaker.
But in the hot summer sun, the kiwi and strawberry-flavoured giant lolly
melted before it could be pulled upright.
People were sent running from the sticky torrent,
and firefighters closed streets
as they tried to hose away the gooey mess.
A not-so-genius way to experiment with food.
We've discovered how different foods can give us energy through calories.
Yes, even mealworms.
And we've learned how Widdowson helped Britain survive wartime
with her genius knowledge about what foods to eat.
Now, inspired by Widdowson's discoveries
about the energy food can give us,
we are ready to reveal our own genius idea.
We've decided to test out our physical fitness
by joining the Army Cadet Force.
Boots left! Left turn!
By the front, quick march. You two, get a move on!
For our genius idea, we're going to attempt a tough physical challenge
inspired by Widdowson's wartime experiments.
She tried living off rations to see if she would still have the energy
to climb hills and mountains. So we're going to do the same.
Well, we don't have mountains,
but we do have a gruelling assault course and shouty instructors.
-Come on, you two, let's go.
Move! Move! OK, recruits. Come on.
It's hammering it down with rain.
Well, you better get on with it so you can get inside.
Hurry up, boys. Your inner is flying away.
Putting up the tent is the easy part.
Time to get ready for the challenge itself.
Here's the plan -
our genius idea to fuel up on World War II inspired food rations.
Our challenge - to complete a series of physical tests,
including battling an assault course and scaling a 12-metre wall.
Hopefully, our rations will give us enough energy
to run across the countryside all the way to the finish line.
Oh, it's raining!
But before we get started,
let's see what our cadets fuel up on for their training.
This is better, isn't it? Nice and warm in a very well put-up tent.
Yeah, better than ours.
But we've got to eat some food for energy for our genius challenge.
What kind of food do you eat in the cadets?
Well, typically a British Army soldier would have to live
for 24 hours off the contents of one of these ration packs.
-This box would last for 24 hours?
-24 hours, that's correct.
A British Army ration pack has got 4,000 calories
and it's got your three main meals of the day that you need,
-and also you've got snacks, as well.
-That's a lot of calories.
Is that because you do a lot of physical activity?
There's actually a meal in this bag?
Chicken, pasta and mushrooms in there.
Mm, Jess, Joe, I bet you're looking forward to this, aren't you?
Well, I don't fancy a boil-in-the-bag for my tea.
Let's see what we've got in our tent.
Is that it?! A vegetable pasty?!
Yup. There wasn't much meat around during the Second World War.
Widdowson's advice was to eat loads of fresh veg,
like cabbage and potatoes, to stay healthy and full of energy,
so we've got a meat-free pasty.
There are lots of veg in there, a bit of potato. Pastry, loads of carbs.
About 500 calories-worth.
How are you feeling about the genius challenge?
Well, it's a lovely day for it, isn't it?
Come on, eat it up!
Fuelled up and ready to go,
it's finally time to put those rations to the test
-with our challenge.
-If our genius is right,
we should have enough energy to get us to the finish line.
-'And we're off.'
-Get a good grip of that container. Let's go!
20 star jumps. Count them out, count them!
THEY ALL COUNT AT ONCE
Get your containers, let's go! Keep going!
'Oh, I'm exhausted already.'
'I hope not - its press-ups next.'
That wasn't a proper one. Do that again. Wait for your team-mate.
'Come on, pasty. Give us some energy!'
Get a grip of that. Straight under it.
Come on, come on. Drag it, keep moving.
Keep going. Count them out.
Come on. Come on!
What are you made of?
-Two more! Two more, come on!
'Yeah, the shouting really helps(!) Cheers, mate.'
One, two. Come on! Three, four, five.
'Man down!' To the finish line!
Four, five... Come on, Don.
Come on, Dom. Up you get, burn those rations.
'And we've made it.'
'Our rations have given us the energy
'to battle the first part of the challenge,
'but it's not over yet.'
I'm wet, I'm exhausted, my muscles are aching.
And we're only on part one.
And I'm wearing a silly hat.
'Hold on to your hat, because this next challenge is the 12-metre wall.'
'The rain's coming down. We have to go up.'
'And I'm afraid of heights.'
Stand by. Go!
Come on! Look where you put your feet.
Well done, keep going.
Well done, we've got one at the top almost.
Considering he's scared of heights, he's doing a really good job.
Come on, mate! That's it.
'The energy from our genius rations
'are still powering us on, right to the top.'
'You can laugh. Let's see how well you do trying to get down again.'
Well, that's one way to save energy.
'That was harder than I thought.
'Good luck, Dick. Don't look down.'
-Tell me when.
-Yes, away you go. That's great.
That's really good. Both hands on the rope.
Oh, yeah! That's it, yeah!
It's a long way up.
Well done, Dick.
But the thing is, just when we think it's all over,
we've done the assault course,
we've climbed up this and come back down,
I think we've still got one more thing to do.
'Yes, the final part of the challenge is a run to the finish line.'
Let's hope we have some energy left.
-Are you ready?
-Yes, sir. 'Come on, pasty. Not far now.'
OK, let's go.
Come on, keep up. Take care to watch yourselves over the stile.
Well done, let's go.
Watch where you put your feet. Well done.
-Loads of energy being used now.
'Half a mile to the finish line,
'and it feels like we've just about used up all our energy.'
'But with a bit of luck,
'the energy from our genius rations will see us through.
'Hang in there, Dick. We are almost there.'
'I can see the finish line!'
'Think of Widdowson - we're doing it for her.'
Straight through, it's the finish, let's go!
'We've done it! Absolute genius.'
Well done, boys.
'That's right. We battled the assault course,
'scaled the climbing wall
'and made it to the finish line.
'We've had a blast learning how our genius Widdowson
'uncovered what's in our food...'
'Tested her genius experiments on these tasty morsels...'
'And we've even seen how our bodies turn it all into energy.'
Well, Elsie, it was because of your discoveries
that we as a nation were able to survive through the Second World War
and become the healthiest our nation has ever been.
Not only that, but we were also able to complete the genius challenge.
Elsie Widdowson, you are an absolute genius.
Oh, thank you, boys. You're very kind.
Right, double cheeseburger, triple-battered chips...
It went right through me.
-Don't wobble it.
-I'm not doing anything!
-Just stand still then.
Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd
Dick and Dom reveal the genius of food expert Elsie Widdowson, who helped to devise wartime rationing. Under her diet, Britain was the healthiest it had ever been. Inspired by Widdowson, Dick and Dom come up with their own genius idea, involving rations, army cadets and a gruelling assault course.