When I've gone out to dinner with friends from other countries, they're always astounded by our portion sizes. "Is that entire pan of lasagna just for you?" one friend asked when my one-person serving hit the table. Yes, that heap of lasagna was intended just for me, and if I was hungry enough, I probably could've eaten the whole thing without too much regret. It's the American way, after all.
Fast food, double cheeseburgers, "extra" whatever, restaurant glasses of soda big enough to bathe in, processed everything, and other striking aspects of food have unfortunately become the norm in America. When compared with other countries that don't necessarily demonstrate such a widespread obesity epidemic, it doesn't take long to figure out why waistlines are expanding faster than the McDonald's menu.
But fast food and restaurants aren't the only problem—it's the way in which we eat and prepare food ourselves that's also cause for concern. Just to drive home even further how poor our eating habits have become, we researched the dieting standards of other countries and how they do "healthy eating." Keep scrolling for more info!
The Chinese typically treat eating as a wellness practice, focusing on small portions and good-for-you ingredients that will better your system. Overprocessed, chemical-fortified foods aren't a part of the Chinese diet. Instead, bone- and vegetable-based soups are the norm, especially because the warm temperature aids in the digestive process—cold temperatures constrict blood vessels, thus hindering digestion. Cold fluids also increase mucus production, decreasing your body's immune system function.
As such, cold drinks aren't typically served with meals—instead, tea (specifically green) is enjoyed especially for its ability to support enzymatic activity. The Chinese often also eat colorful rice (combinations of black, red, purple, and brown rice are much more nutritious than white and brown rice alone), seafood, as well as a greater ratio of vegetables to meat.
The Chinese diet also greatly focuses on portion control; individuals choose to eat out of small plates and bowls and use chopsticks to eat their food, which results in smaller bites. (Note to self: If I don't throw away the wooden chopsticks that come when I order takeout, maybe I'll stop eating by the heaping forkfuls.)
France also focuses on portion control (which is probably why they're able to enjoy those yummy pastries and cheeses without the guilt). But speaking of cheese, you won't find chemically produced yellow squares of cheese or bricks of processed cheddar in France—instead, they eat full-fat cheese in small servings, which was found to cause less weight gain than low-fat cheese. The French also eat plenty of fresh fish and very little processed and fried foods.
You've heard of the Mediterranean diet before, and there's a reason it's gaining traction and spreading to other continents. This diet—no—lifestyle focuses on plant-based foods and good fats like olive oil and omega-3s (bye, butter). Grecian people (and other Mediterranean countries) also use spices instead of salt to season their food, and they eat very little red meat, focusing instead on fresh fish, vegetables, and whole grains.
Much like the Mediterranean diet, the Nordic diet emphasizes fish, whole grains, and oil, but instead of olive oil, their oil of choice is rapeseed (not to be confused with grape-seed). Swedish people also eat a lot of berries and veggies like lingonberries, bilberries, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, turnips, and beets in place of dairy, alcohol, and sweets. This way of eating helps promote a flatter tummy too, as scientists have discovered that this type of diet turns off genes related to inflammation.
Stephen O'Keefe, MD, a professor of nutrition at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, conducted a study in which 20 individuals from Pittsburgh switched diets with 20 South Africans. They traded in their fast-food and high-fat diets for the typical South African diet, which consists of high fiber, low meat, low fat, and corn porridge. Over the course of two weeks, the American participants had less bowel inflammation while the South Africans' intestines worsened. Both groups saw positive and negative changes to their gut health (respectively) as well. The results of this study are interesting but certainly not too surprising (and a definite wake-up call for Americans with poor, processed diets).
While a large portion of Brazil's population is obese, the country's health officials have instituted dietary guidelines applicable to all social classes, bearing in mind the cultural and social implications of food choices. For starters, they suggest eating in the company of others, which encourages people to eat regularly, healthfully, and in appropriate environments. They also encourage preparing fresh ingredients instead of gorging on ready-to-eat meals (we're looking at you, fast food) and avoiding fats, oils, salt, and sugar.
India is a largely vegetarian country, which greatly contributes to its healthy diet habits. The typical Indian meal consists of two vegetables, bread, and rice, which balances various rasas, or the important energies that define a set of emotions that belong to the same "family." If a meatless dish sounds bland to you, know that Indians typically cook with a bounty of spices (a masala sauce can have anywhere from five to 10 spices). People from India also tend to drink very little alcohol and instead choose from a wide variety of drinks like chai, masala milk, and other yummy, flavored beverages.
Want to know which type of diet is best for weight loss? Check out this new survey.
Hong YH, Jung EY, Park Y, et al. Enzymatic improvement in the polyphenol extractability and antioxidant activity of green tea extracts. Biosci Biotechnol Biochem. 2013;77(1):22–29. doi:10.1271/bbb.120373
Kolehmainen M, Ulven SM, Paananen J, et al. Healthy Nordic diet downregulates the expression of genes involved in inflammation in subcutaneous adipose tissue in individuals with features of the metabolic syndrome. Am J Clin Nutr. 2015;101(1):228–239. doi:10.3945/ajcn.114.092783
O'Keefe SJ, Li JV, Lahti L, et al. Fat, fibre and cancer risk in African Americans and rural Africans. Nat Commun. 2015;6:6342. doi:10.1038/ncomms7342
Ministry of Health of Brazil. Dietary guidelines for the Brazilian population. 2015