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Diet Secrets from Around the World

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Diet Secrets from Around the World
Diet Secrets from Around the World

We’re told that French women don’t get fat, that Okinawans live extraordinarily long and healthy lives (it isn’t unusual for them to celebrate their 100th birthdays) and stay slim throughout, and that people living in countries bordering the Mediterranean have lower rates of heart attacks and cancer than we do.

Is there something in the water that keeps people lean and healthy in those distant places? Probably not. A better question might be ‘what are we doing wrong?’ given the U.S. obesity epidemic and all of its associated health problems – heart disease, diabetes, cancer, to name the biggest risks. Here’s a look at diet (and lifestyle) secrets from around the world that make the difference:

 

  • France: The French have the second lowest rate of heart disease in the world despite a diet that features butter and cream, a zillion varieties of sumptuous high fat cheeses as well as loads of other high-fat foods. What’s more, on average, they’re also pretty slim. The amount of red wine they drink may help explain why the French are so much less likely to develop heart disease than Americans – it’s thought that resveratrol, an antioxidant in red wine may be partly responsible for the reduction in heart disease associated with red wine. But the biggest French dietary secret may be this one: portion sizes are much smaller than they are in the U.S. Add to that the fact that the French do a lot of walking and as a rule, don’t snack. And consider this: French cars don’t have beverage cup holders because no one drinks anything while driving.
  • Okinawa: Residents of these Japanese islands are the leanest, longest-lived people on the planet. The secret to this success is their traditional diet – tons of vegetables and fruit (at least seven servings daily), plus grains, soy foods, green tea and, several times a week, fish that provide plenty of healthful omega-3 fatty acids. Credit also goes to a cultural tradition of calorie restriction called “hara hachi bu” (only eating until they feel 80 percent full.) They’re also physically active well into old age. Not only are they long-lived but Okinawans also have enviably low rates of cancer, heart disease, diabetes and obesity.  

 

  • Mediterranean: The Mediterranean way of eating – think Italy, Greece, southern France, Turkey – has tons of health benefits. Not only is it deemed the most heart-healthy diet around, eating the Mediterranean way also seems to protect against cancer, Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease. Here, the big change is replacing saturated fat in meats and dairy products with healthy, monounsaturated fat found in olive oil. The diet emphasizes fruits, vegetables, whole grains and nuts along with fish and seafood with only occasional servings of poultry and eggs and, less often, red meat and sweets. And yes, eating all that good food can help you lose weight as well as get healthy. The secret ingredient: daily exercise.
  • Argentina: Maybe you never thought that Latin America had much to offer in the way of a diet that can keep you slim and healthy, but the land of the pampas is also a big meat-eating country with a significantly lower rate of heart disease than we have. How do they manage that while eating 30 pounds more beef each year than we do? Their cattle are fed on grass, not grain. As a result, a four-ounce serving of beef there gives you only 2.5 grams of saturated fat compared with 10.8 grams in steaks from our grain-fed cattle. You may find the flavor a bit different, the meat less tender and the prices definitely higher than those for the beef you’re used to, but you can buy grass fed beef in the U.S. And without changing the amount of beef you eat, you’ll cut about 16,642 calories per year – that adds up to almost five pounds without doing anything else to slim down.
  • Gambia: This African country probably isn’t on your radar screen in terms of diet, either, but maybe it should be: Gambia has the lowest incidence in the world of all types of cancer and no weight problems. What are they doing right? Eating a lot of nuts, including stews made with tomatoes and peanuts. Nuts are high in calories, but they contain heart-healthy monounsaturated fats plus vitamin E, and in the case of walnuts, omega-3 fatty acids. And here’s a nutty secret: people who eat nuts tend to be slimmer than those who don’t.

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