Everything in America is known to be bigger than in Europe: the country, the cars, the highways, and the portions are no exception. Small in America does not exist. Go big or go home. Is that why we tend to be bigger ourselves? Is this why we have more health problems along with higher rates of heart disease? Is this why we suffer more from depression? Let’s look at the eating habits in Europe. Science has shown most of our health problems start in the gut.
Here’s what we can learn from our friends overseas – you may reap some health benefits by following suit:
- Take your time when preparing food. People in Europe simply seemed to care more about their foods and spend more time preparing them. From collecting ingredients to chopping and cooking them patiently, careful food preparation was a point of pride. Americans are known to live faster than Europeans. They are always in a hurry, do everything quickly, and eating is no exception. When Europeans will spend hours at the dinner table (think of the French who can spend up to three hours having lunch), Americans prefer fast food and big chains where you are fed in 10 minutes tops.
- Eat smaller portions. Scientists including Paul Rozin have documented the significant differences in portion sizes between France and the U.S. for over a decade. But this concept comes to life when you see croissants that are half the size of what we’re used to in the U.S. The tarts are tiny and the glasses seem even smaller, but their contents are high quality. In America, the thought process is grabbing it fast, try everything prepared, eat it all, and then go get something sweet.
- Take more time to eat. A slow meal – especially one that’s broken into courses of small portion sizes –has benefits, since it allows your brain to get the message that you’re full before you’ve overeaten a super-sized portion. It is also beneficial to digestion and helps you enjoy the experience. Americans tend to get upset when waiting for their food wherever they are eating. They want it now and swallow it whole. Our culture reinforces speed-eating, just as it encourages rushing through everything else. The problem is that faster eating leads to eating more. It takes an average of 15 minutes for your brain to get the message that your stomach is full, which means that eating slowly makes it more likely you’ll stop at a point where you’re “satisfied” as opposed to “stuffed.”
- Eat with others and have fun. Americans often pick up a quick dinner at the end of a busy day. Sometimes, the family even eats in the car. Indeed, in America, food can feel like a burden – even something to be feared. But, on our trip abroad, it became clear that this was not the way that our European counterparts view meal time. Eating there is all about enjoyment – talking, relaxing and socializing. Conversing with family or friends keeps your mouth busy talking instead of chewing, allowing you time to realize you’re full. To reap the benefits for yourself, set a regular time for dinner where you turn off the TV and the computer. If you’re dining alone, enjoy the company of a good book or beautiful music — both will help you relax and slow down.
- Eat real food. In America, there is a common thought: Why cook and mess up when we can order in or go out? You will hard-pressed to find margarine and artificial sweeteners in Europe. What you will find are real butter, whole milk, and sugar. If you venture to a French market, everything you see is homegrown, organic, and all-natural. There are lower rates of obesity-related illnesses like cardiovascular disease. This so-called “French paradox” demonstrates that enjoying food may be conducive to health and fitness. It’s possible that none of us need to give up our Belgium chocolates or croissants.
We just need to take care in their preparation, eat them slowly, enjoy them sociably and keep the portion sizes modest. Bon appetit!
Ref. U.S. News & World Report, MSN/lifestyle, spoonuniversity.com, webmd.com
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