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Elsie Widdowson

Dr Elsie Widdowson (1906 -2000)


Joint author of the nutritionist’s bible

McCance and Widdowson’s The Chemical Composition of Foods (1940) details the nutritional content of thousands of foods and is still considered the standard reference for chemical data on food – the nutritionist’s bible. The scientific partnership between its authors, Dr Elsie Widdowson and Dr Robert McCance, was formed in the kitchens of King’s College Hospital in 1933.

Elsie Widdowson (1906 – 2000) was a postgraduate student of dietetics at King’s when she met Robert McCance (1898 – 1993), a clinical scientist and head of the hospital’s biochemical laboratory. They worked together fruitfully for 60 years, contributing to the successful planning of food rationing during the Second World War, studying the effect of diet on infant growth and development, and nutritional principles such as the relation between disease risk and nutrient intakes and the effect of early nutrition on health later in life.
McCance and Widdowson often used themselves as guinea pigs for their nutritional experiments. They lived on their proposed wartime diet - based on ingredients in relatively plentiful supply such as bread, cabbage and potatoes – for three months before going to the Lake District to test their physical fitness on long walks. The experiment was successful and the diet was subsequently promoted by the Ministry of Food. As a result of McCance and Widdowson’s work, Britain’s population was at its healthiest in the years of food rationing.