The results are in and the facts about the American diet are not good. Data from 2009-2010 concluded that 78 million Americans are obese. By 2030, more than half of all adults will be obese. Americans are in the midst of a crisis of diet and exercise. In remaking the American diet, we should consider the three regions of the world where people live longest, are not obese and have healthy hearts. These three regions have important lessons for Americans on how to improve their diet.
Japan – Portion Control
The Japanese live longer than anyone on earth, which most researchers ascribe to the benefits of their fish-heavy diet. The Japanese also have the lowest incidence of obesity in the world, so considering their diet is a must for Americans who want to rethink the way they eat. The Japanese eat about 25 percent fewer calories than Americans, thanks to their propensity for creating beautifully arranged foods. The small portions thoughtfully arranged on the plate encourage people to enjoy looking at their food as much as they enjoy eating it.
Portion size is the main area where Americans seem to struggle. The Japanese make small plates, like sushi, that encourage you to eat and then pause while your stomach catches up with your brain. Practicing this kind of eating, where you emphasize slowing down the experience, has unexpected benefits. More often than not, you will realize you are full much sooner. In Japan they serve many foods in small plates and bowls rather than piling the food up on one plate. Again, this tricks your mind into feeling full sooner, since you are getting little tastes of everything and don’t feel pressure to “clean your plate.”
Mediterranean – Heart Healthy
The Mediterranean diet is one of the heart-healthiest you can eat. A large research project of over 1.5 million healthy adults concluded that the Mediterranean style of eating was linked to a lower risk of death from heart disease and cancer. It also was associated with lower risk of Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s diseases. Why? The diet emphasizes mostly plant-based foods, like fruits, vegetables, and herbs. It includes consumption of whole grains and legumes, limits the use of sugar and salt in favor of spices and herbs and includes meat and fish sparingly. The diet relies on heart healthy fats – unsaturated fats found in food like salmon, olive oil, and nuts – for flavor rather than butter, with its higher sodium content. Best of all, the diet includes red wine, which has been linked to heart health in many studies.
Nordic – Anti-Inflammatory
The benefits of the Nordic diet were once ignored, but now the evidence is mounting that the Scandinavian diet is one of the world’s healthiest. In the Nordic countries, they focus on eating rye bread, oily fish, vegetables heavy in beta carotene and fermented milk and cheese. The diet stays away from processed foods, heavy meats and sugar, which are all food that can pack on the pounds and stress the heart. A study published in “The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition” revealed that the diet was comparable to a Mediterranean diet. Most importantly, the diet was found to reduce inflammation, which is linked to many chronic conditions and a higher risk of colon cancer.
When it comes to meat, the Nordic countries tend to substitute red meat like beef for game and fish. That means people eat things like bison rather than ground beef, and fish rather than pork. The Mediterranean diet relies on olive oil, the Nordic countries use canola oil, which is the best oil for your heart. When it comes to vegetables, the Nordic people eat cruciferous veggies, which are known to fight inflammation and cancer. That means cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower and Brussels sprouts are frequently on the menu. They also eat berries, beets and leafy vegetables like spinach.