While the health benefits of the Mediterranean diet have been well documented, what other learnings can we take from cultures and their traditional cuisine? From the use of chopsticks to limited portion sizes and beautiful presentation, there’s plenty to be gleaned when we look further abroad.
Rich in spices, fresh herbs and colour, the wonderful world of Indian cuisine teaches us how to add flavour and health benefits to our food naturally. A touch of turmeric imparts its brilliant orange and is well known for its health properties, fresh ginger supplies a spicy, zesty note while aiding digestion and fennel adds a refreshing note while serving as a powerful antioxidant.
The Mediterranean diet, in particular that consumed on the island of Crete, is the most scientifically validated diet in human history. At its core, it’s based on a high intake of vegetables, especially leafy greens and tomatoes, wholegrain cereals, olive oil, cheese in moderation, yoghurt, nuts, fish and seafood and small portions of meat. The focus is on eating nourishing, seasonal foods.
The French paradox has puzzled many. With pastries aplenty, a diet rich in fats and a culture that embraces wine and champagne, how are the French not topping the obesity charts? Making food a priority plays its part. French people spend time over a meal; it’s social and associated with pleasure. Portions are small – order a ham baguette in France and while it’s long, inside will be some sliced tomato, one piece of ham and a lick of mustard. Yoghurt is a dietary staple and a popular snack. Visit a French supermarket and you can see whole aisles dedicated to yoghurt varieties whereas snack foods and soft drinks occupy a much smaller space.
Making an appearance in one of our expert articles this issue examining Blue Zone communities with the world’s longest life expectancy, Japan has long been a pin-up country for a healthy diet. Lean meals, plenty of vegetables, an impressive emphasis on colour and beautiful presentation all contribute to this reputation. In a traditional Japanese meal, five tastes are offered, cooked five ways and using five different colours. The result is a meal that is eaten slower and savoured for its presentation. It is full of diverse flavours and its bright colours reflect a healthy array of vitamins and minerals.
How we eat and what we eat with can play a role in our health. Overeating can easily happen when we eat too quickly and don’t give our brain enough time to register the feeling of being full. Using utensils like chopsticks forces you to slow down when you eat. You also need to concentrate. Instead of idly eating while watching TV, you focus on what you’re picking up and eating. Mouthfuls tend to be much smaller than with a fork or spoon and you subsequently eat much less at a time.