Even before the book “French Women Don’t Get Fat,” Americans have noticed that other cultures have healthier statistics, longer lifespans, and the ability to stay fit without joining a gym! We sometimes exaggerate, however some other cultures with longer incidences of breast cancer, heart disease, or obesity, do have some practices that we could learn from.
The French diet includes many rich foods that don’t compromise with healthier alternatives to butter and heavy cream. They also consume more wine as a culture than we do. The secret is much small portions and a much more active lifestyle. In France, meals are eaten much slower, over the course of an hour or more, and the portions are much smaller than ours in America. Gas is more expensive, so more people walk to the store or to work when possible, and many buildings are historic and do not have elevators, so there are many more opportunities to use the stairs.
Okinama, Japan, has the highest concentration of people over the age of 100 in the world. The region also boasts of a low rate of heart disease and dementia. As a culture, the Japanese abide by “hara hachi bu,” or the 80% full policy. They also include prayer and meditation into their daily schedule, as well as an increased focus on family bonds and remaining active even into your late 90’s. The sense of belonging, spirituality, and the value of elders lowers stress, which may decrease heart disease risk.
The Mediterranean diet has become very popular in the last couple of years. The basics are to eat a diet rich in good fats (from olive oil, nuts, fish), lean proteins, fruits and vegetables, and wine–in moderation. This coupled with an active lifestyle is proven to reduce the risk of heart disease, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, obesity, and cancer. This culture also has a focus on enjoying food in moderation.
In order to apply some of these healthy habits from other cultures, here is a manageable list of small changes to make in the coming months.
1. Reduce portion size by 20%
— Our culture generally has a very skewed idea of a healthy portion, and could probably cut about 20% off of our daily portions during meals. Try serving your food from the counter or stove rather than keeping the serving dishes on the table. Also consider downsizing to a smaller plate or bowl. We usually eat whatever is put in front of us, and the increased effort to get up for seconds may prevent mindless eating.
Eat more plants–
An average plate in Japan includes about 1/5 of the calorie-density of an American plate of the same size. Don’t consider your meat or pasta as the main event, and instead fill most of your plate with beans, salad, vegetables, and fruits.
Retrain your tastebuds. —
If you are craving carb-rich foods, or foods high in fat, salt, or sugar, then maybe it is time to start subbing in more wholesome foods into your diet. Studies show that the more healthy foods you consume, the more you will begin to crave them.
Take the time to eat your meal at the table where you can really concentrate on the flavor, and how much you are eating. Try to stretch out your meal to at least 20 minutes if possible.
Enjoy being active.–
Instead of only clocking in time at the gym, which you may come to dread, find ways to incorporate activity into your daily life that is enjoyable to you. Add in a walk after dinner, a bike ride, or time to play a favorite sport on the weekend.
Cultures that are famous for their longevity value family and community bonds, which lower stress. Make time for your family, and get plugged in to your community.