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What can other cultures teach us about healthy living?

By Senior Editor
Food Pyramid -

For the most part, when Americans think about healthy living, the first thing that comes to their mind is diet and exercise. The second thought that follows may be all the ways to potentially avoid those two things. In the wake of a nation-wide fight against obesity, we’ve found ourselves drowning in excessive fad diets, medications, 12-step programs and liquid meals and still we struggle on.

So how do other nations stay healthy? While obesity is not a purely American epidemic, we seem to struggle significantly more than others as we try to survive in the homeland of fast-food chains and deep-fried delights. It’s not as if other countries don’t savor their share of calories. The French have their cheese and baguettes, Central and South Americans have their corn-based and starch-saturated tortillas, Asia proudly produces an endless number of sweets and salts—yet none come close to America’s damage on the scale. What’s their secret?

Can every American establish a healthy lifestyle?

Some might argue that the economic imbalance in America would make it impossible for everyone to make healthy choices. After all, if you are worried about simply feeding your family, you are necessarily going to count calories first. Our international counterparts might disagree on this point. Whereas Americans have a tendency to think that what we eat is the most important factor; those in other countries focus more on the method.

When you eliminate questions of what and instead focus on how, you discover a world of affordable health plans that anyone and everyone can manage. Let’s take a look at some of the strategies implemented around the globe for staying healthy and living long, prosperous lives.

The French factor

While we might not include their take on tobacco, the French have a unique and effective perspective when it comes to healthy living. Instead of gulping down cheeseburgers and fries while driving children to a million activities, the French see meals as a time for pause and reflection. Not only does taking the time to taste your food give your body the opportunity to smoothly digest your intake, it also calms you down. Studies have shown that multi-tasking while eating usually leads to greater consumption. Taking time to chew slowly and taste each individual flavor will not only cut down on calories, but it will clear your mind and help you put tasks for the remainder of the day into perspective.

Additionally, the French are famous for eliminating snacks and replacing sugary sodas with water (or wine). Cutting the excessive snacking calories and replacing them with nutritious calories strictly at meals can actually boost energy and metabolism. Americans consume many “hidden” calories in sugary drinks. Water is not only a more affordable solution, but its health benefits are monumental!

While many Americans dread the gym, the French have found a way to largely avoid it and still stay trim. Instead of treadmills, the French take to the streets and walk. Simple movement throughout the day can add up to big health benefits over time. Not only does walking eliminate the hefty cost of a gym membership, it doesn’t require anything extra to accomplish!

The Asian alternative

Our fellow weight watchers to the Far East have their own system for staying in peak condition. The Chinese in particular have forged a path into health that few have surpassed. In China, meal times are a set and regular event. Having a pre-determined time to eat helps avoid irregular snacking that adds unnecessary calories to your diet throughout the day.

The Chinese also believe in the health benefits carried in a warm meal. Dinners are often steamed or stir-fried in order to promote healthy digestion and still maintain the health benefits of the food. The Chinese have also jumped on the walking band wagon and regularly stroll after meals. This works to promote digestion and increase overall energy.

Taking up tea

On the beverage side of health, we may do well to take note from our English compatriots who are notoriously dedicated to tea. Tea time is usually a social encounter, which gives you a set window of time during the day to clear your mind and release the stress. In addition, black tea has been shown to offer some substantial health benefits that shouldn’t be ignored. It contains a significantly lower amount of caffeine than coffee and many people believe that tea contributes to overall heart health.

Portion control

It’s not a secret that portion-size in America is out of control. Over the past several years meals served at restaurants that were meant for one, could now feed several with left-overs at the end. Our philosophy of bigger-is-better becomes particularly dangerous when mixed with our eating habits. In the end, our health ends up taking the brunt of our culinary excess.

When it comes to portion-size, most other countries see the benefit of the smaller plate. Across the globe, people are eating less per meal than we are in the United States. Portion-size is usually a domino-effect. When we come to expect larger-than-life meals at restaurants, we begin creating similar-sized portions at home. By eating smaller portions on a daily basis, we could begin to cut down on our overall view of a “full” meal.

Easy and accessible solutions

While the points listed here are only a few of countless healthy methods world-wide, they are examples of how steps toward healthy living can be both affordable and accessible. Walking to and from the store can improve your health and won’t break the bank on gym memberships. Eating smaller portions could save you money at the supermarket and improve your heart health. Replacing soda with water cuts out unnecessary sugars and is cheaper to access on a daily basis.

In the face of weight loss struggles and fears of associated health risks in the U.S., do you think that we have something to gain by looking to other cultures and how they approach healthy living?

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