5 August 2014 Stay Slim and Enjoy Food: European Secrets of the Super-Healthy

Have you ever wondered how people in some European countries enjoy their cheese, bread, chocolate, wine and pasta and continue to have the best health statistics in the world in terms of longest life expectancies, lowest rates of diabetes, heart disease and obesity? Reading the book by registered dietitian, Layne Lieberman, Beyond the Mediterranean Diet: European Secrets of the Super Healthy. as I travel in Switzerland, Italy, and France, the three healthiest countries in Europe, has helped me bring some new ideas back to MyNetDiary so that we in America can create a new culinary paradigm in order to stay slim and enjoy food. Here are four of those European secrets!

Throw Away Your Plates and Drinking Glasses

Yes, you heard me correctly. As the circumference of the American plate grew, so did our waistlines. One European secret of the super healthy is to eat on smaller plates and drink from narrower glasses. Thus, yes, you have Layne's and my blessing to buy new plates in which the eating surface is 9 inches in diameter or less.

As I pour beverages into glasses in my mother-in-law's apartment in Switzerland, I remember thinking when our daughters were ages two and four how convenient it was that she had “child-size” glasses that held three ounces in her cabinets. However, 12 years later I realize that those are the normal adult-sized drinking glasses. Even the spoons in the drawers seem child-size to my American eyes.

Become a “locavore.”

Biking through the golden fields of wheat and appreciating fresh bread for breakfast, hiking in the Swiss Alps beside contented cows and delighting in yogurt for an afternoon snack, and hunting for mushrooms in the forest and relishing mushroom risotto for dinner has helped our family get a sense of why the food smells, feels and tastes so good in Europe.

When shopping, choose foods which are grown locally and do not have to travel a long distance to the market. Then, use your nose and fingers to decide what to buy. Boxes do not smell good!

Join a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) to buy local and seasonal foods directly from the farmer.

Plant a raised bed garden.

Build a raised bed garden that is waist height instead of ankle height. My German friend said that the cost of her raised bed was more than she will probably spend in her lifetime of eating fresh produce. However, she said with a smile, “the cost is still worth the quality and freshness of fresh vegetables and herbs picked from my own garden.”

Be a Dessert Snob

If you have a sweet tooth, like I do, eat high quality desserts and smaller quantities. The ice cream and chocolate in Switzerland have such excellent quality that I am satisfied with one piece eaten slowly instead of a whole chocolate bar. The ice cream, from those happy Swiss cows, is so amazing that it feels like it is pure cream as it melts in my mouth, and it probably is.

After supper and a walk, we enjoyed many desserts of fresh fruit compote made from seasonal fruits.

Fresh Fruit Compote

Combine washed, fresh seasonal fruit, sugar, to taste, and a little water in a saucepan on the stove and simmer gently about 10-15 minutes until the fruit is soft. Serve fruit sauce over a small perfectly rounded ball of ice cream about the size of a golf ball! Of course, remember to choose high quality ice cream in which one can see the little brown shavings of the vanilla bean!

You Don't Need a Gym to Get Moving

As Layne points out in her book, there are very few fitness studios in Europe, because people rely mainly on lifestyle activities in their daily lives. Our first two weeks in Europe, we did not rent a car; thus, we walked to the grocery store (and back!), rode our bicycles for 20 minutes to the clay tennis courts, and walked to the swimming pool. Exercising helped us sleep better as well.

For a great summer read, enjoy the high quality photographs of food, tested recipes and a new way to look at food in order to stay away from over-sized portions, processed foods and fad diets in Beyond the Mediterranean Diet: European Secrets of the Super-Healthy.

Martha Henze

MS, RD, Traveling Taste Buds, LLC

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Disclaimer: The information provided here does not constitute medical advice. If you are seeking medical advice, please visit your healthcare provider or medical professional.

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