Much has been said about the health differences between European and American diets, is it the bread? the fat? the wine? Keep reading to find out!
I had the opportunity to travel through 4 different countries and experience 4 contrasting diets. What was interesting to me is that even though these diets were predominantly carbohydrate and fat based, most people consuming these type of diets were far from being overweight or looking unhealthy. So, what’s the BIG secret here? How do people in other parts of the world stay healthy and happy despite their “unhealthy diet”?
Here is how. Through my cooking experience in Rome I was reminded of a few basic principles that we have a tendency to forget when it comes to health and wellness. We have turned into accountants of our own diet; we count calories, value daily percentages, measure ingredients and get penalized for “over eating”. Isn’t that so true? I am not encouraging to over eat or stop reading labels, but I would suggest to put math equations on the side and focus on what’s truly important, which is to live happily -of course-.
Below are the 6 most important tips I learned from my culinary experience in Ancient Rome last week. Warning: This IS NOT new information, this is information all of us already know and that we fail to put into practice!! The Romans were kind enough to remind me what I have forgotten and I am kindly reminding you of what you might’ve forgotten as well.1. REASON FOR THE SEASON
Something that was brought up constantly during cooking school is that you eat what’s in season. Mother nature will provide you with the nutrients that your body needs by allowing certain crops to grow throughout the year. With the current easy access to food (for most of us), it is so tempting to go to the store and buy bananas from Peru, avocados from Mexico and Kiwis from New Zealand. While eating a variety of nutrients is great, we also have to stop and think about this… Most fruits and vegetables in the market are outsourced from other countries, which means that they probably left the field before they were even ripe or full of nutrients. The problem? You are eating food that although it may appear healthy, it has little nutritional value. Eating the ancient way requires you to buy what’s local and in season.
2. FIND THE RIGHT FOOD AT THE RIGHT STORE
In Europe there are very few “convenience stores”, meaning people don’t go to stores like Target to buy apples nor they go to stores like Big Lots to buy Advil. If you need fruit you go to the fruit stand and if you need medicine you go to the pharmacy. Well that makes sense.
The point is that when you buy food items at a specialized store you are not only supporting small and local businesses, you also have a greater chance to get better food. I believe the fruit stand guy will pick the best fruit available to sell at his store since that’s all he sells right?
3. EAT “AL FRESCO”
Dining Al Fresco really means dining in the “cool air”. I thought about this for a minute. How can eating outside make a difference in your health? Well, eating outside means a good dosage of natural Vitamin D (thank you Mr. Sun); fresh air is a natural mood booster (I can always benefit from some of that); research even shows that eating outside makes your food taste better because you are more connected to your senses when you are close to nature! And last but not least, when you eat outside you are forced to get up and move more than if you eat inside… Who would’ve thought?
If weather permits, dine outside, eat picnic style, have coffee in the front porch. If you live in a place with extreme weather, at least sit by the window and get some sunshine.
4. BYE BYE PACKAGED, CANNED, FROZEN FOOD
In Europe you eat fresh, and when I say fresh I mean fresh -from your backyard, your barn or the neighbors fruit stand-. It is THAT simple. If you want pasta, you mix semolina, eggs and water. If you want red sauce you blend fresh tomatoes, basil and olive oil. If your sweet tooth is getting a little bit out of control then you grab dark chocolate, real cream, and sugar to whip up that yummy gelato from scratch… This was so good for me to see as I allow very minimal processed food in my kitchen -and my friends think that’s crazy-. Canned organic coconut milk is the only can I own. If you open my freezer you will find ice cubes and coffee (to preserve its natural flavors and oils). It is possible, it takes time, but living this way is totally doable.
5. THE MORE THE MERRIER… AND HEALTHIER
Welcome to the table my friends, family, neighbors and strangers! Yep, according to ancient Rome, the reason why people in European countries stay healthier is because there’s always more than one plate on the table. Eating together is not about the food, it’s about sharing and spreading the love for cooking and making the meal.
First, when you interact, share, laugh, cheer, and have a blast with other people during dinner you learn to relax, which activates the part of your parasympathetic nervous system that is in charge of digestion. Woohoo! Second, when you eat in a group, dinner time becomes a conversation, a bond, and experience, not “just a meal”. Third, when you eat with others you improve your self-esteem as spending time with others gives you a sense of belonging. In a few words, eat with a few friends and family rather than alone.
6. LITTLE BY LITTLE IS HOW YOU NIBBLE
In contrast with the way of life we have in North America -rushed, fast-paced, production based-, in Europe leisure time and siesta are the ways to go. This is extremely important when it comes to health in general, but especially when it comes to the way we eat. I’ll be honest, sometimes I catch myself devouring my meal, not just eating it, but eating it so fast that I practically swallow whole pieces of food. Not good. I learned through cooking school that little by little is how you nibble. Small bites and lots of chewing are the best way to break down nutrients. This also helps with absorption and digestion of nutrients. Next time you are eating, take a deep breath before your start eating and make it a point to chew your food until you puree it in your mouth… Yes, you have to chew that much.
Taking action is the first step to make significant changes in your health and life. I hope you were reminded of the simple things we can do every day to improve our well-being. Cheers to that!
Yours in Health,