Sure, America might be known as The Land of the Free, but we’re also known as The Land of Fatty Fast Foods and Obesity. But fear not! Despite the staggering obesity rates our country has ("above 20 percent in all states" as of September 2016), there's still hope.
Check out some eating tricks followed by countries around the world, and get on the track to healthy.
France: Sugary Breakfasts are a No-No
Forget about Count Chocula and the Trix Rabbit. In other parts of the world, the first meal of the day is more hearty and nutritious.
In France, breakfast usually consists of some fruit and maybe a croissant. Be sure to incorporate some kind of healthy food with the most important meal of the day, be it a banana atop your (non-sugary) cereal or an apple and peanut butter on the side. It might take a little more effort than grabbing a Pop-Tart on the go, but you’ll be happier in the long run.
France: No More Eating Feelings
While a pint of Ben & Jerry’s may ease the sting of a breakup, the extra weight it leads to just makes things more difficult.
Despite the "bread, chocolate, even rich sauces made from real butter and cream" that the French eat so frequently, their bodies don't suffer the consequences. The key is portion control. Instead of gorging on three chocolate bars, maybe have a third of one and save the rest for another day. You'll still get the taste, but you won't stretch our your jeans in the process.
Italy: Decrease Your Pasta Intake
As most carb-lovers know, pasta and associated foods—despite how delicious they are—aren’t exactly the best things to gorge on. It’s a shame, we know, but rarely does something that tastes that good end up being entirely good for you.
While it’s fine to indulge on occasion, you might want to be wary of a diet rooted in pasta. There’s, sadly, a study from 2009 that concluded, “In a large healthy Italian population, non-predefined dietary patterns including foods considered to be rather unhealthy, were associated with higher levels of cardiovascular risk factors…” as well as other risks. On the other hand, “A ‘prudent-healthy’ pattern” displayed the opposite.
So while this means you should be careful about how much real pasta you eat, Greatist suggests trying spaghetti squash as a substitution for your pasta—it even looks like it! If you’re more of a zucchini person, zucchini noodles are also gaining popularity.
Japan: It Looks as Pretty as It Tastes
Sushi is perfect for chic date nights and quick, healthy meals on the go, but have you ever wondered why your portions look so small compared to other cultures’ meals? Well, for one, the sushi we know and love today was developed “in the early 19th century … [and] was sold from stalls as a snack food, and those stalls were the precursors of today’s sushi restaurants.”
Though we’d all like to get larger portions, especially since sushi is among the more expensive meal choices, there’s a benefit to relying on these smaller sizes. It’s been suggested that a smaller portion will actually make a person crave less food to be satisfied.
The Japanese capitalize on their compact portions by focusing on the visual aesthetic of what's being served, which could account for the "bright veggies [which] provide a range of healthy vitamins and minerals," rather than just serving as pretty filler.
Ethiopia: Know What You're Eating and How Much
While Italy might be known for its family-style meals, you probably shouldn’t try it in Ethiopia. As noted above, injera is popular, and according to Greatist, a typical diet includes “shared dishes scooped up with injera.”
While that sounds delicious, it can make it difficult to know exactly how much you’re eating of what. Try taking your portion first and keeping “individual servings on a plate” to better help you in keeping track.
Ethiopia: The Heartier The Better
If you're a fan of beans and the like, you might want to take a lesson from Ethiopia, as the cuisine emphasizes root vegetables, beans, and lentils. Vegans and vegetarians would be welcome too, since the diet is “light on dairy and animal products.”
Want to try your hand at a traditional Ethiopian meal? Start with Injera, a flatbread known for its high fiber, protein, and vitamin C. Greatist suggests using it as an alternate for rice.
Mexico: Pick the Right Beans
If you don’t already opt for black beans over refried, you might want to start. In case you don’t know what those reddish brown refried beans are, well, the name says it all. Though the exact process of making them varies, you might very well be eating something that was "[fried] in lard or oil [which] significantly ups the calories."
It kind of defeats the purpose of your "healthy" burrito bowl, right? (We're not even going to get started on how many calories you're consuming at Chipotle.) Other, non-fried beans are a healthier alternative, given their "high levels of protein, fiber, and vitamins."
Mexico: Focus on Lunch
There's a motto often thrown about when people are discussing a healthy lifestyle, and it's along the lines of "Breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince, and [dinner] like a pauper." Like the French, Mexicans are also very focused on a meal that isn't dinner. (It isn't breakfast either though.)
In fact, Mexicans are focused on lunch, known to them as almuerzo, "a mid-day feast that's the largest meal of the day." The idea that food consumed later on in the day might lead to more weight gain than if it had been consumed earlier, despite equivalent calories, isn't entirely far-fetched.
So you might want to think about downing those tortillas and guacamole with the chimichanga before the sun goes down—if you can't be persuaded to have a balanced meal of vegetables and lean protein, that is, or fajitas without the tortillas.
Sweden: Healthy Bread Exists
Remember when we discussed Italy and pasta and mourning the reality of the impact of consuming an excessive amount of carbohydrates? Us too. Well, there is one silver lining we can point you to here.
Take note of the Swedish diet, in which bread is a prime component. No, not all bread—put down the ciabatta—but rye bread for sure. Hailed for the amount of fiber it contains, rye is a great fix for those of us who will never be convinced that whole wheat bread is anything more than "edible"—and we use that term loosely—cardboard.
According to Livestrong, getting more insoluble fiber from rye can also help to normalize your cholesterol levels, in turn "reducing your risk of heart disease." Opting for whole grain rye can also help with lowering your risk of type 2 diabetes. We don't know about you, but we're going to give rye bread another look.
China: Chopsticks Aren't Just For Fun
It isn't just about what you eat, but how you eat. Similarly to the theory that a smaller plate leads to less consumption, the Chinese custom of eating with chopsticks could also help you to eat less.
It actually has to do with the fact that utilizing chopsticks takes longer than eating with a fork. It takes about twenty minutes to digest your food, and so if it takes you longer to eat it, the easier it is to curb overeating.
According to a Japanese study, “eating rate is associated with obesity and other cardiovascular risk factors and therefore may be a modifiable risk factor in the management of” both.
China: Avoid Takeout Consequences
While takeout is the ultimate argument for staying in on a Friday or Saturday night (aside from Netflix, of course), and Chinese is the default choice for those who do takeout, be careful with what you order.
Plenty of Chinese restaurants will use MSG, which "has been linked to a number of negative health effects, including headaches and numbness" in certain people. Greatist advises picking a restaurant that doesn't use it—or better yet, learning how to make authentic Chinese dishes on your own.
Greece: Plants Matter
While plenty of Greek food is marked by the use of cheese, meat, or oils, Greatist notes that each of these is eaten in moderation. In fact, Mediterranean cuisine is rooted heavily in plants—no pun intended.
This doesn't just mean vegetables either, but fruits and legumes as well; the rest is only used a bit in comparison. According to a Tufts University study, "Greens boast the highest vegetable intake in the world." In fact, a single meal could consist of anywhere from "three to four servings of vegetables."
It's probably safe to say that most American meals are nowhere near that healthy.
Greece: Nutty Habits
If you like having something to snack on when you're on the go, try eating more nuts. They're common in the Mediterranean and, aside from being tasty, they contribute healthy fats to your diet. Seeds are another good option, as is olive oil—though again, all of these should be consumed in moderation.
Good luck eating like a European!