If you’ve vacationed in another country, you know that learning about it’s food is one of the best ways to become familiar with a new culture. But in recent years, Australians have also taken a greater interest in global cuisine because of the health benefits attributed to certain lifestyles and foods. Books like French Women Don’t Get Fat, by Mireille Guilliano, and Japanese Women Don’t Get Old and Fat, by Naomi Moriyama, plus ongoing nutritional and lifestyle studies of Meditteranean and Asian foods continue to inspire and motivate new interests. The secret is: Making small changes in the way you eat can bring big health benefits, and more enjoyment to your table.
Healthy Habit # 1
Eat plenty of fresh vegetables, fruit and whole grains
Countries most known for this habit are Greece, China, Japan and Okinawa.
In many countries, meat is a garnish. The traditional Chinese diet, for example, consists primarily of vegetables, fruits and whole grains. In Greece, vegetables and legumes are main meals, not just side dishes. Research has found that three or more servings of this food group a day can lower the risk of heart disease, stroke and some cancers. One US study of 85,000 women over 14 who ate mostly fruit and vegetables found they had a 20% lower risk for heart disease.
What can you do?
When you prepare meals, try to fill two thirds of your plate with vegetables and whole grain foods, and the remaining third with fish or meat. Challenge yourself to put as many colours as possible into your meal also. Or go on a fruit exploration: try one new type of fruit from your local market each week. In summer, freeze some of your favourites for a frosty after-dinner treat or for smoothies.
Healthy Habit # 2
Savour leisurely dining
Countries most known for this habit are Italy, France, Spain, Greece and Okinawa.
A meal in these countries often lasts several hours. One of the Greek dietary guidelines is to ‘eat slowly, preferably at regular times of the day, and in a pleasant environment.’ Sharing a meal is so important that Greeks call someone a friend ‘by saying we have shared bread together’. For the French, Italians and Spanish, meals provide quality time with family and friends, a practice that encourages healthful bonds. Eating comfortably and slowly discourages overeating and fosters relaxation, which aids digestion. The body processes food more easily and efficiently when it’s calm.
What can you do?
Take time to savour the scent, texture and flavour of food. A traditional Japanese tea ceremony, for example, includes a role for each of the senses – watching and listening as the tea pours from pot to cup, picking up the cup, feeling the heat, smelling and finally tasting the tea. Another way to savour your food: divide it into separate courses. Instead of bringing everything to the table at once, have a salad course, then fruit, entrée and dessert, with at least 10 minutes between each course to digest, chat and relax. Whether you’re dining with a spouse, family or just yourself, set the table and sit down, rather than grazing in the kitchen – and enjoy!
My partner is Korean, and traditional Korean food is all about a main dish accompanied by many small side dishes. It’s probably the same foods that would go into a stir fry or another meal, but by separating the different foods into small side dishes, with one main focus meal, like meat or noodles, the meal always seems more enjoyable, longer and more interesting, as you take a little of this and a little of that to enjoy with the main dish. Korean side dishes are usually made up of kimchi (spiced, fermented cabbage), pasta, noodles, various vegetables (most commonly, but not limited to, zucchini, cucumber, a kind of coleslaw, potatoes and seaweed.
Healthy Habit # 3
Practice portion control
Countries most known for this habit are France, Japan and Okinawa.
We have an abundance of delicious and nutritious food available in Australia; we just need to pay attention to portions. An average meal in France is 25% smaller than in Australia or the US. A typical carton of yoghurt sold in the US is 82% larger than one in Paris and softdrinks are 52% larger. In Japan, foods also come in smaller sizes and are often eaten out of bowls, rather than large plates or platters.
What can you do?
Japanese and Okinawans, who enjoy the longest lifespan in the world, practice hara hachi bu (stop eating when 80% full). To adopt this concept, put your eating utensils down the moment you start to feel full and stop eating. Take a break. If you’re still hungry after 10-15 minutes, eat a little more. If not, stop eating. You can also use smaller plates and bowls when setting the table, eat smaller portions, and opt for filling, fibre-rich foods such as lentils and vegetables.
Healthy Habit # 4
Eat a variety of unprocessed, fresh foods
Countries most known for this habit are Italy, France, Greece, Japan and Okinawa.
The first thing visitors comment on when they visit these country’s markets and supermarkets is how much choice is available. Many of these outlets feature interesting varieties, including produce from all over the world, as diverse as wild Alaskan salmon, olive oil from Greece, grains from Italy and a lot of organic foods.
Shopping in countries such as France and Italy may also involve several stops – the butcher, the green grocer, the baker – which not only increases the shopper’s activity level, but also results in meals made with more unprocessed ingredients. Fresh foods provide more fibre, fewer calories and saturated fats, and less added salt and sugar.
What can you do?
Skip the prepared and processed food aisles at the supermarket and choose fresh, whole foods. Also, indulge in salads. With so many fresh vegetables and fruits available these days (a lot of them pre-washed)you can put a big, colourful salad together in minutes. Combine baby greens, sliced mushrooms, cherry or tomatoes or sweet grapes, fresh peppers and red onions. Drizzle with a good olive oil, some vinegar, some low-fat croutons and a handful of soaked, softened whole grains. You can also lightly steam some vegetables and toss them through pasta with roasted nuts and grains.
Healthy Habit # 5
Spice up your plate
Countries most known for this habit are India, China, Thailand and Korea.
Herbs and spices add delicious, attractive and healthful flair to your plate. In addition to being low in calories and virtually fat-free, herbs such as garlic, thyme and rosemary, and spice such as cinnamon, clove and turmeric, may fight disease. One study of 60 people with type 2 diabetes found hat eating half a teaspoon of cinnamon twice daily significantly lowered subjects’ blood sugar and cholesterol levels.
What can you do?
All over the world now we have many ethnic restaurants and food choices where herbs and spices take centre stage, and there are still more ways to add them to your diet. Make sure fresh, delicious herbs are available year-round for your use by growing them in your own garden or on your windowsill. You can also experiment using unfamiliar spices on familiar foods. if you like roast chicken, try cooking it with paprika or curry powder. Or dip pieces of chicken or other meat into curried chutney or mixed with lemon or lime juice. Sprinkle nutmeg, cinnamon, cumin or coriander over rice to add a bold flavour and aroma. You can also ass fresh herbs such as basil, tarragon, oregano or mint to salads or pasta for a flavour boost.
The internet is now a magical place with so many wonderful sites about every food and cooking style in the world. Have a play online and visit some of the many great recipe and cooking sites for some fresh ideas about using more herbs and spices and other foods in your daily diet.