Wellness Wednesday: Eating Habits From Around The World

Learn healthy eating habits and traditions from around the world and how to adapt them to your life on today's Wellness Wednesday!

Healthy Eating Habits from Around the World

Happy Wellness Wednesday! It’s my last day out in California and I can’t wait to share a recap of the trip. For a sneak peek, head over to instagram.

If you couldn’t tell from my last post, I’ve got a serious case of wanderlust brewing. My usual daydreams about what I’m going to cook for dinner have been replaced with what street food we’re going to try in Vietnam and whether I should get tortas or enchiladas at Rick Bayless’ restaurant in Chicago.

As I mentioned on Monday, I firmly believe traveling makes you a healthier person. Writing that post got me thinking more about how food and eating is valued differently in other countries. Here in the States, our unique history has brought us many great things. A deeply engrained food culture is not one of them.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned from my travels that affects me most as a dietitian, it’s how odd our eating habits are compared to others. So, I thought it would be interesting to share eating habits and beliefs from around the world and ways we can incorporate their healthy habits with our own!

FRANCE // The French are known for their ability to stay slim while savoring triple crème cheese, crusty baguettes slathered with butter and my personal favorite, flaky croissants. All while us Americans load our grocery cart with low fat cheese, whipped margarine and artificially sweetened sandwich thins. There are many reasons for this. For example. the French eat much smaller portions and don’t graze between meals or scheduled snacks. But my main theory is that in France, food is eaten joyfully. In the US, food is eaten fearfully. When you savor, appreciate and aim to obtain maximum pleasure from your food, there’s no need to overeat, binge or mindlessly much of junk food.

Try it at home: Next time you’re craving something in particular, seek out the best possible version of that food – a cookie from a local bakery, a wedge of really good aged cheese – you get the point. Make it a point to savor it without guilt. Notice how you’re truly satisfied with a smaller amount.

Healthy Eating Habits from Around the World

JAPAN: In Japan, there is a saying that goes “hara hachi bu” which translates to “eat until you are 80% full.” This is in stark contrast to the American tradition of eating until your pants are about to bust.

Try it at home: Before, halfway through and immediately after eating, rank your hunger on a scale of 1-10. Aim to stop at 8. With time, you’ll be able to recognize the subtle differences between hunger levels and be able to stop when you’re satiated.

LONDON: When I went to London for the first time as a child, I expected a steady diet of mushy peas, tea and crumpets…whatever a crumpet is. While I was there, we ate food from all over the world. More so than anywhere else I’ve been, London embraces food from other cultures and in many ways, makes it their own. I love this open mindedness to new cuisines, because being open to new cuisines helps you discover new healthy foods you love!

Try it at home: Pick up a few new cookbooks that explore other countries cuisines. Some of my favorites are listed in the nutrition shop. 

TURKEY: I ate more delicious (and healthier) food in Turkey than I have anywhere in the world. I was overjoyed by the amount of vegetables served with each meal, each dish bursting with flavor. A typical meal came with 4 or 5 different vegetables, making it easy to eat plant based meals, even for my notoriously carnivorous dad who said “I could eat like this every day!.”

Try it at home: On the weekend, prepare protein and starch for the week. Keep it simple – stew beans, cook brown rice in the pressure cooker and roast a chicken. This will give you time on the weekday to cook 2-4 different vegetable side dishes and spend some time making them flavorful.

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SPAIN: In Spain, people linger over their food. Shops close every day for a leisurely lunch. Dinner is spent hopping from tapas bar to tapas bar, socializing and savoring small bites of food. Eating slowly allows you eat more mindfully, feel satisfied with smaller portions and enjoy your food more.

Try it at home: Try serving dinner tapas style! Instead of putting the entire meal out at one time, make a few simple plates of food and stagger them so you can linger at the table. Keep cooking simple with fresh, seasonal ingredients that don’t require a lot of work to make them taste great. This intricate looking tapas meal I made recently took only 30 minutes.

ITALY: Italy holds on tight to their food traditions. Some countries embrace culinary change, but in Italy, the right way is the way it’s been done for centuries. It’s fun to experiment and change, but when you don’t value culinary traditions, it leaves room for cheap, processed foods to sneak their way in. Remember when they rioted in Rome to prevent a McDonalds from opening?

Try it at home: Dig up old family recipes. Try to back a couple generations – depending on your age, chances are your parents may have been that first generation raised on Betty Crocker and Stouffers.

Now, I’d love to hear from you! What are eating habits and food traditions you’ve noticed in your travels? Or maybe healthy food traditions from your hometown? Would love to hear about it!

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