Healthy Eating Habits From Around the World

Healthy Eating Habits From Around the World

Adopting the diet of immigrants may help you live longer.

The end of the year is a good time for self-reflection, and we’ve been thinking about the advice we give you—on how to maintain a healthy lifestyle and achieve a younger RealAge, especially in light of a powerful new study in The Lancet that offers a new perspective on Americans’ collective health challenges.

We talk a lot about what it takes to make you healthy—to resist diabetes, maintain a healthy weight, and avoid heart disease, cancers and depression. Some healthy tips for staying healthy include:

  • Avoid the Five Food Felons (sat and trans fats, added sugars and syrups, and any grain that isn’t 100 percent whole).
  • Exercise 30 minutes five or more days a week (30 minutes of strength training twice weekly and 40 jumps a day)
  • Sleep seven to eight hours nightly.
  • Avoid first-, second- and thirdhand smoke.
  • Stay connected with friends and family or volunteer for a charity, club or other organization.

So, have you done those things recently? Turns out, only 2.7 percent of American adults answering a survey published in 2016 in Mayo Clinic Proceedings could say they met the criteria for a healthy lifestyle.

In light of this survey, we realize we need to find additional ways to help you achieve your goals. Maybe if you meet—first on paper, then face to face—some folks who, without much trying, turn out to be healthier than the average American, that will inspire you to do the max for your healthiest, happiest future and a younger RealAge.

Twenty plus researchers from Johns Hopkins and Dr. Oz’s Columbia University Medical Center spent two years analyzing data on immigrants in the US and published their findings in the journal The Lancet. One finding: Immigrants to the US are less likely to die from heart disease, cancer, respiratory illnesses and other chronic diseases than native-borne Americans.

That means that not only do they not increase our health-cost burdens as much as natives do, but the kind of diet and lifestyle they had in their homeland helps protect them once they are exposed to the processed foods and low–energy, high-calorie habits of their new land.

What’s so special about their diets?
Two examples: Guatemalan cuisine is built around corn, beans (black beans are called Guatemalan caviar), squash, rice, tomatoes, chilies, tropical fruit, cocoa and wild game. The locals eat on average 2,150 calories a day. In Ethiopia, the diet centers on millet (including a unique variety called teff), sorghum and plantains. Many folks are vegetarian. The locals consume about 1,950 calories daily.

Home-grown Americans down an average of 3,750 daily calories! Our diet is heavily weighted toward not-so-healthful choices: Only 8 percent of the average American diet comes from fruits and vegetables. The USDA says flour and cereal products make up 24 percent—added fats and oils are 23 percent, and caloric sweeteners are 14 percent. Meats, eggs and nuts account for 21 percent and dairy products account for 9 percent.

What does this mean for home-grown Americans?
It’s time to go on culinary adventures—visit restaurants to sample cuisines from around the world. Stop in ethnic (Thai, Japanese, Chinese) groceries and bodegas to explore their offerings. At restaurants, opt for the genuine cuisine—no salmon-cream cheese maki rolls or super-sugary, deep-fried chicken bits in General Tso's Chicken (strictly American inventions). Stick with steamed, stir-fried or roasted veggies and braised, roasted, steamed or pan-cooked chicken and fish. At ethnic groceries, ask about foods you don’t recognize—what they are, how they taste, how they can be prepared. Take time to get to know the cuisines and the people.

To get you started, we love the recipes from the Cleveland Clinic’s Heart Healthy Recipe Corner and Dr. Oz’s Bite Club. There’s Tofu, Broccoli, Shiitake Mushroom Stir Fry; Thai Fish with Red Curry; and Crepes with Moroccan Vegetable Curry. Open your mind, your heart and your mouth to the amazing culinary gifts from around the world.

Medically reviewed in November 2019.

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