While national obesity rates depend on many factors, they probably have a lot to do with lifestyle and culture, including what people eat and how they eat it. The good news is that everyone can borrow healthy eating habits from countries around the world.
Courtesy of Greatist
The United States doesn’t have the highest obesity rate in the Americas (that dubious honor goes to Mexico), but over one-third of US adults are currently obese, and that number isn’t dropping. It’s a pretty eye-opening statistic, especially when compared with data from countries like Japan and India, where obesity rates fall below five percent.
Why the difference? While national obesity rates depend on many factors, they probably have a lot to do with lifestyle and culture, including what people eat and how they eat it. The good news is that everyone can borrow healthy eating habits from countries around the world — and leave some less-wholesome practices on foreign soil. Keep in mind that these habits come from traditional diets found in these countries — with globalization, some foods and eating habits have migrated around the world (for better or for worse). For example, les steaks hachés sounds like a typical French food, but it’s actually the meaty part of Le Big Mac (and hardly part of traditional cuisine).
- Set the stage: It’s all in the presentation. One unexpected habit to steal from Japanese eating culture is the emphasis placed on food’s appearance.
- Skip: Fish high in heavy metals. Mercury, an element that can cause nervous system damage, is particularly prevalent in predatory species like tuna, king mackerel, and swordfish .
- Pick up sticks: Chowing down with chopsticks can help slow eating speed, which may ultimately decrease the amount of food eaten.
- Skip: MSG (though maybe not for everyone). Monosodium Glutamate has been linked with a number of negative health effects, including headaches and numbness, in certain people .
- Please your palate: One study found that while the French associate food with pleasure (as opposed to health), the country has lower rates of obesity and cardiovascular disease than the US.
- Skip: The daily pastry. A chocolate croissant, like many buttery breakfast pastries, is loaded with simple carbohydrates, sugar, and fat (aka not a great start to the day).
- Put teff to the test: Injera, a traditional Ethiopian flatbread made of teff flour, is high in fiber, vitamin C, and protein.
- Skip: Family-style meals. This style of eating makes it hard to control portions, so put individual servings on a plate to make it easier to visualize how much you’re eating.
- Spice it up: Indian cuisine features tons of spices, which add yummy flavor, appealing color, and surprising health benefits.
- Skip: Creamy and/or rich sauces to limit saturated fat and calories.
While every geographic region and cultural group around the world has its own pattern of eating, there is no one, universally “healthy” (or “unhealthy”) diet. Regardless, the traditional diets of countries with lower rates of chronic diseases tend to have a few standout elements in common. All of these diets emphasize eating a variety of fruits and vegetables, legumes, and healthy fats, as well as simply savoring meals. Look to international cuisines for recipe inspiration, new flavors and ingredients, and different eating practices. Mix-and-match elements from these different diets to create your own personalized version of healthy eating.