Why You Should Eat Like a Foreigner

There are a multitude of cultural styles when it comes to eating. We hear arguments all the time saying, “The Mediterranean diet is the healthiest.”  “No, if you eat a Japanese diet you’ll live longer.” The truth is that in general, they all make good points. Cultures around the world find the healthiest ways to eat what is made available to them. It is based on geography, climate, availability of resources, and energy needs. For instance, island cultures tend to have more seafood on their plate. Rather than what they eat, it is often how the foods are eaten that make them healthy or not. Long-standing nutritional traditions provide valuable insight on best practices when trying to eat better. The lessons of slowing down, choosing quality ingredients, and portion control are built right into the social structure of sharing a meal around the world. So the next time you are seeking something a little exotic for dinner don’t just follow the recipe–follow the tradition.


“Presentation, and Variety” 

Small portions of multiple, colorful, foods create a beautiful and healthy plate. These smaller portions help keep calories in check, and veggies provide a wide range of vitamins and minerals.  An Asian diet in general prioritizes rice, noodles, whole grains, fruits, vegetables, legumes, seeds and nuts.

In addition, the Japanese are in touch with the passing of each of the four seasons and dishes are prepared to take note of this by highlighting whatever produce has come into season.  Using seasonal (inedible) tree leaves and branches as plate decor is also common.



“The Pleasure Principle”

The French are known for eating lots of rich food,  but know how to do it in a way that actually promotes good health. The portions remain small, and spend time eating slowly. Their cultural attitude toward food helps too. They associate food with pleasure, savoring each bite.

The French generally don’t snack and graze, they walk a lot, and enjoy a low stress lifestyle.  The French have lower rates of obesity and cardiovascular disease, and higher life expectancy than the US does.

In contrast, Americans are more concerned with the health aspects of food and get less pleasure from eating.



“Spice it Up” 

Adding bold and unique spices boosts overall flavor, can make the meal beautiful, and provide health benefits. Spices like turmeric, ginger, and red pepper have been shown to help lower cholesterol. Onions and garlic can lower blood lipid levels, which can lower risk of cardiac disease.  

Indian dining etiquette varies across the country but typically Indians eat without cutlery using just the hands.  In this manner Indians are involving all senses in the eating experience by using touch along with taste, aroma, and visual enjoyment.  The fingers feel the foods’ temperature and are used to combine the foods’ flavors by tearing off a piece or Indian flat bread and shaping it into a pocket and then scooping food into it.



“Practice Portion Control” 

Although Mediterranean dishes can contain olive oil, cheese, and meat, these ingredients are used in moderation. Traditional Mediterranean cuisine actually uses more fish and plants (fruits, vegetables, grains, and legumes) than meat, dairy, and olive oil.  When meat is used, it is not necessarily the star of the show and the main item of the dish but rather, incorporated into a well balanced plate.  A “normal” size portion of meat is about the size of a deck of cards.



“Try Some Rye” 

Rye bread is a staple in a Sweden. Rye is high in fiber, and the unique taste can keep you fuller longer than other breads. Try using rye on a sandwich for a change.  Another thing that is uniquely Swedish is making soup out of fruits, especially rose hip and blueberry.  Theses soups are served hot or cold as desserts or drinks.   Also,  Swedes eat out less often because of cost.  It’s more common to have pot lucks at friends or family’s homes.


“Linger Longer”

The Spanish linger over their meals with the art of good conversation, mindfully enjoying their food practicing a custom called “sobremesa” which means “over the table”.    Stores typically close at noon daily for up to two hours.  During this time of Siesta, its is rare that anyone naps anymore (like in the old days of farm workers needing to rest to digest their food,) but Spaniards will often take advantage of the time to return home to dine time with their families and rest.    


About the Author

Diana Garcia

Diana thinks things through for us. She likes to be organized. She helps maintain the order and calm in a busy place. Before joining Balance, Diana was a health educator and health program coordinator for a large multi-specialty medical group. She is always looking for (and finding!) the lessons and opportunities life has to offer. With a degree in Psychology, she is the ideal person to lead our mindfulness classes and support groups.