Many cultures participate in ancestral eating practices that provide health benefits for the mind, body and spirit! It would be wise for us as Americans to look at these healthy eating habits from around the world and implement them into our own lives as we gather around the table.
Utilize Bone Broth like the Vietnamese
Bone broth contains vitamins, minerals, collagen and gut-healing amino acids all in one dish. If any culture knows how to utilize bone broth, the Vietnamese would definitely take the cake. One of the most famous Vietnamese dishes, pho (pronounced “fuh”) is a hearty soup that contains lots of rich bone broth. Pho is a staple in the Vietnamese diet and Americans can definitely take a lesson when it comes to utilizing more bone broth into their diet. Although it may seem intimidating, making a homemade bone broth is not as hard as it sounds and the benefits far outweigh the effort it takes to make it. Additionally, the anti-inflammatory benefits it has for your body far outweigh the effort it takes to make it!
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Use Yin and Yang Temperature Elements like the Chinese
In traditional Chinese cuisine, the Chinese use cool (yin) and warm (yang) foods to balance a meal. Many Chinese people believe that it’s important to balance the cool and warm energy in the body and this balance can be achieved through eating the right foods. Yin foods generate cool energy in the body, such as crab, fruit, and most green vegetables. Yang foods, such as duck, ginger, eggs and garlic, generate warm energy. According to traditional Chinese medicine, this practice allows one’s physical and emotional well-being to be balanced.
A deficiency or excess of yin or yang energy can create an imbalance physically and/or emotionally which can create inflammation! Scientists have even put this eating habit to the test! One study proves the balance of yin and yang to be true as hypertension patients who ate a yin and yang balanced meals through Chinese food therapy had improved body constitution as well as an improved quality of life. So next time you eat an egg, try to pair fruit with it to get a balanced yin/yang meal!
Eat a Big Breakfast like the Israelis
They don’t call it the most important meal of the day for nothing, and the Israelis do it right! An Israeli breakfast is extremely balanced nutrient-wise and consists of fresh whole foods. Some examples of this are eggs, an Israeli salad, cheese, fish spreads, breads, hummus, labneh, butter, fruit preserves and more! So why is eating a big balanced breakfast so good? Well, research suggests that overall, people who consume breakfast tend to consume less sugar throughout the day as well as consume higher levels of vitamin A, vitamin C and fiber! Try a whole-food based breakfast to start out the day next time you want to make a healthy lifestyle choice!
Eat Full Fat like the French
As new studies have emerged dismissing the link between saturated fat and heart disease, the “french paradox” seems to be more of fact than a paradoxical epidemiological observation. Even though low fat foods may contain fewer calories, they are more processed and contain more sugar and chemicals than their full fat counterparts. Furthermore, eating full-fat keeps you satiated longer and therefore prevents unwanted snacking (usually on highly processed foods). Eating full-fat means eating food the way mother nature intended it to be.
Indulge in Green Tea like the Japanese
Known as the “elixir of youth”, green tea is the most consumed beverage in Japan. Green tea is a big part of Japanese cuisine and it is consumed day and night. Not only is green tea comforting but it's notorious for its health benefits on a mental and physical level. Green tea can help lower cortisol (the main stress hormone) as well as help with symptoms of depression and anxiety. Research even suggests that green tea can also help balance your metabolism and sex hormones! As the the most consumed beverage in the U.S (other than bottled water) is soda, Americans should definitely take a lesson from the Japanese and make the switch from processed soda and sport drinks to green tea as the benefits of the tea are clear.
Eat Pickled Vegetables like the Koreans
From kimchi to danmuji, Koreans consume an abundant amount of fermented vegetables. Not only do pickled vegetables provide lots of nutrients, but because of the fermenting process, pickled vegetables provide probiotics, which are extremely beneficial for digestion and the gut microbiome. Additionally, kimchi specifically, has been shown to even be beneficial for blood sugar regulation, and insulin resistance. So next time you need a side dish, you may want to consider adding some pickled vegetables to your meal, as the benefits for your digestion and blood sugar are extraordinary!
Make Eating an Experience like the Spaniards
Spaniard's take their time when they eat and make eating more than just a physical necessity. Even better, they make it an experience! In Spain, people will begin their meal by sipping on wine for thirty minutes before spending another 1-2 hours eating around the table, connecting with loved ones, and savoring the food. The corporate world in Spain even supports this style. Traditionally, Spaniards have a two- to three-hour lunch break from work or school in order to fully enjoy their mealtime! Not only can this benefit stress levels, but eating as an experience can tremendously benefit digestion, weight and nutrient absorption. In fact, science suggests eating slowly can even increase fullness hormones! Thus, eating slowly can decrease mindless eating and unnecessary snacking on highly processed snacks.
Eat Fresh Herbs like the Persians
If you sit down for a traditional Persian meal, you may see a bowl of leaves and wonder it's purpose. Is it a topping, salad, or even a decoration? But, this bowl of leaves is much more than a centerpiece, the leaves are fresh basil! Fresh basil is traditionally eaten before and throughout a meal as a way of cleansing the palate. But, eating fresh herbs through a meal does a lot more for your physical and mentally than cleansing your palate! In fact, studies show that consuming fresh basil leaves have been shown to lower cholesterol, lower blood sugar and even help reduce anxiety! If you're looking for a decorative table piece or palate cleanser, be inspired by Persian culture and implement fresh basil!
Utilize seasoning like the Indians
From turmeric, to cardamom, to coriander, Indians know how to season and spice up a meal that comes with benefits! Many of the spices that are used in traditional Indian cuisine are chock full of nutrients and health benefits. Curcumin is the active compound in turmeric, which research suggests is anti-inflammatory, increases antioxidants and is supportive of the immune system. Another spice that is popular in Indian cuisine is coriander which has been shown to support blood sugar and digestion! So next time you're cooking up some plain chicken, try adding some Indian spices! Not only will your meal be more flavorful, but the spices will add some health benefits!
Eat Quality Seafood like the Icelanders
Americans can definitely take a lesson from the people of Iceland when it comes to fish! Farming fish (instead of catching it in the wild) greatly affects the quality, contaminant level and nutrient-density of the seafood. Iceland is known to have some of the most plentiful fishing areas in the world, which is why it comes as no surprise that the people of Iceland have a great variety of fresh, wild-caught seafood readily available. Although in the US we have access to fresh fish, most of the fish we consume unfortunately has a high contaminant level and is highly processed and farmed. So, as Americans how can we eat quality seafood the way Iceland does? Try to opt for wild caught fish instead of farmed as much as possible as research suggests farmed salmon has a much higher concentration of contaminants.
The Bottom Line
America may be the melting pot for different cultures, but our standard American diet could use some adjustments health wise as well as inspiration. So, next time you are wanting to implement some healthy eating habits, look to different cultures around the globe, or even traditional eating habits that your own ancestors implemented!
Kaylee Noland See all the author’s articles