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Healthy Eating Tips From Around the World

Posted by on Apr. 13, 2011 at 10:49 AM
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Healthy Eating Tips From Around the World

From the French eating habit of portion control to the Japanese emphasis on fish and the heart-healthy Mediterranean diet, world cultures can inspire healthy eating here at home.

When it comes to healthy eating, Americans can learn a lot from the eating habits of people from other countries. Those who follow what’s called the Mediterranean diet, for example, have lower rates of heart disease. The French enjoy all foods, some quite rich, but they tend to stay thin by practicing portion control. The Italians eat more slowly to savor food (and therefore eat less), and the Japanese eat more fruits, vegetables, and fish.

Healthy eating in other countries

"Americans tend to eat on the run, eat more than they need, and eat more processed foods than in many other countries," says Joan Salge Blake, RD, clinical associate professor at Boston University and author of Nutrition & You: Core Concepts to Good Health.

Learning about various eating habits that are practiced in other countries can give you the inspiration you need to make healthier lifestyle choices.

Healthy Eating From the French: Portion Control

If you’ve eaten in a fine French restaurant, you’ve probably noticed that the portions are smaller than in a typical American restaurant. "That's because the French know that the best bites are the first bites,” says Blake. “After that, the taste and the pleasure of eating start to decrease. Americans consume 300 more calories now per day than we did in 1980, and much of that is due to poor portion control."

Here are some ways you can practice better portion control:

  • Serve smaller amounts. Studies show that people feel obliged to eat more if more is on their plate. Make smaller portions at home, and try splitting an entrée when you go out to eat.
  • Use smaller plates. Your grandmother's plates were quite a bit smaller than today's plates. Try serving meals on smaller plates to help keep portion sizes under control.
  • “Ruin” your appetite before the main course. Start with a cup of soup or a salad and you won't need to supersize your portions.

Healthy Eating From the Japanese: Focus on Vegetables and Seafood

Why do Japanese women have the lowest rates of obesity among modern cultures? "The Japanese diet features fruits, vegetables, fish, small portions, and quality over quantity," explains Blake. Dairy and bread are rarely included in the diet.

Here are lessons we can take from the healthy eating habits in Japanese culture:

  • Eat fewer processed foods. The Japanese rely much more on fresh seasonal ingredients for their dishes.
  • Use colorful fruits and vegetables to add eye appeal. The Japanese concentrate on smaller portions that look beautiful and are as appealing to the eye as to the stomach. They tend to eat more for the experience than to feel full.
  • Favor seafood over red meat. When meat is eaten in Japan, it is rarely a main ingredient.

Healthy Eating From the Italians: Eat Slowly

Watching a family sit down together for a main meal in Italy is a lesson in how to enjoy eating. "The Italians can make a meal last a long time. They have discovered the secret that when you take your time eating, you eat less," says Blake. Here’s how you can do the same:

  • Watch the clock. "It takes about 20 minutes for your stomach to tell your brain that you are full," explains Blake. Make sure you eat slowly enough to know when you feel full and avoid overeating.
  • Eat your largest meal for lunch. If you can, even if only on weekends, enjoy a leisurely meal early in the afternoon and then just have a light meal in the evening.
  • Eat mindfully. "When you eat mindlessly on the run or in front of the TV, you are more likely to eat more than you should," says Blake. Put aside other distractions during meals.

Healthy Eating From the Mediterranean: Healthy Fats

The Scandinavian diet includes a lot of heart-healthy coldwater fish. The Indian diet is heavy on vegetables and low in fat. But one diet that gets a lot of attention is the Mediterranean diet. There are about 16 countries around the Mediterranean Sea where forms of this diet are followed. Among the variations, these are the common healthy eating habits you can pick up:

  • Focus on fruits and vegetables. Mediterranean diets include plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables, plus lots of fish and beans as protein sources.
  • Switch to monounsaturated fat. Instead of cooking with butter, people in the Mediterranean rely on olive oil, a monounsaturated fat, the healthy type of fat.
  • Sip some wine. People in Mediterranean countries drink a moderate amount of wine with their meals, which may benefit your heart health.

Healthy Eating: The Final Course

The lessons we can learn from the healthy eating habits of other countries extend to dessert. "In many countries, including Mediterranean countries and Japan, a heavy dessert is rarely part of the cuisine," notes Blake. You can cut back on a load of calories and fat by substituting some fresh fruit for that ice cream sundae or pie a la mode.

Once you change your mindset, it’s easy to cut fat and calories from your diet. By picking up tips from other cultures, you can learn new ways to enjoy your meals and become a healthier eater overall.

Last Updated: 03/03/2011
This section created and produced exclusively by the editorial staff of © 2011; all rights reserved.

by on Apr. 13, 2011 at 10:49 AM
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