What the Spanish diet taught me about health and longevity
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Do Spanish dietitians have any diet tips for weight loss? Here's what I learned from local dietitians during my time in Spain. Hint: it's more than about eating gazpacho.
A Spanish diet is associated with the healthful Mediterranean diet, but that doesn't mean everyone eats this way. Both dietitians I interviewed remarked that people eat more inexpensive bread products and fewer fruits and vegetables since the economic crisis began. You can buy 5 white bread rolls for about a dollar here! These dietitians recommend buying fruits and vegetables in season when produce is cheaper and more flavorful. Also, watching for sales among fresh, canned, frozen, or dried produce and buying in bulk can stretch the food budget and help you reach your 5-fruits-and-vegetables-per-day goal.
Given the low price of tapas in southern Spain and the sociability of eating out with friends, many Spaniards are used to going out to eat daily. However, few fruits or vegetables appear on the menu. Thus, these dietitians recommend cooking at least one meal at home every day.
Because beans are inexpensive and healthy, Spanish dietitians encourage people to bring out their pressure cookers and cook more dried legumes, similar to what their grandmothers did. Beans are an affordable and versatile source of protein.
Dietitians in Spain focus on the number of exercise sessions per week, rather than on the number of minutes per week as an exercise goal. To maintain your weight, exercise 3 times per week; to lose weight, exercise 5 times per week.
Try this Spanish approach: find an exercise you enjoy to increase your heart rate 3 to 5 times per week. From flamenco dance classes to Zumba classes to mini-trampoline classes, I kept my mind and body active, participating in numerous workouts in Spain. If you don't know where to start, just walk.
It may sound odd that dietitians in Spain have to remind people to sleep or relax at least 7 hours a day, especially in a country where the afternoon siesta originated to beat the afternoon heat. However, since people often start supper at 10 pm when the temperature cools down, and start work at 8 am, the dietitians realize many suffer sleep deprivation. So, even Spaniards need encouragement to get enough sleep every day and this may help with weight loss.
Follow these wise Spanish diet and fitness strategies of eating 5 fruits and vegetables a day, cooking at home daily, doing aerobic exercise 3 to 5 times per week, and getting at least 7 hours of sleep nightly. These approaches will help you lose weight, whether you are in the U.S., Spain, or beyond.
This blog was reviewed and updated by: Sue Heikkinen, RDN and Certified Diabetes Care and Education Specialist
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