When people ask me, as a dietitian, about how to improve their health with nutrition, it’s almost always about the little things. Is gluten bad? How much sugar is too much? Is coconut oil okay to eat? What supplements should I take?
If you look at the diet and lifestyle of the healthiest cultures from around the world, it’s clear they don’t stress much about food. Good nutrition is woven into their lifestyle. Dan Buettner’s Blue Zones and Daphne Miller’s The Jungle Effect looked at eating patterns and lifestyle habits in areas around the world known for longevity. Here are four lessons from their work that you can integrate into your life, no matter where you live.
Stop eating when you are 80% full
In Japan, there is a saying called “hara hachi bu,” which means eat until you are 80% full. I explain this to my clients as that point where you are satisfied, but not stuffed. Full, but not uncomfortably so. Doing this requires slowing down and eating more mindfully, since it takes about 20 minutes for your brain to register fullness.
Savoring your food
In the healthiest cultures, food is celebrated. Eating is understood to be a pleasurable activity. In the healthiest cultures, they spend more time at the table, mindfully savoring their food. France and Spain are great examples, where many regularly take leisurely hour-long lunch breaks. Besides the pleasure aspect, eating food that’s more enjoyable is actually healthier. Studies have shown you absorb more nutrients from foods you actually like.
Eating as a social activity
Humans evolved to connect over food. The healthiest cultures take advantage of this fact by bonding with family and community gatherings that involve food. Did you know social isolation is deadlier than high blood pressure or smoking? A great example is Copper Canyon, Mexico, where the women in town regularly get together to make tamales for religious holidays.
Eat more plants
There’s no need to go vegetarian or vegan for health if you don’t want to. The world’s healthiest cultures still eat animal foods, but they’re thought of as a garnish rather than the main dish. In Cameroon, small amounts of meat are used to flavor vegetable and bean based stews. They also eat fermented dairy for probiotics. In Okinawa, Japan, tofu is commonly consumed as a protein source. In Loma Linda, California, where many Seventh-day Adventists live, they eat a “biblical” diet focused on plants. While are vegan, others consume small amounts of fish and poultry and still have low risk of chronic disease.
How do you plan to adopt these healthy habits from around the world? Let us know in the comments section below and be sure to download Luvo’s 7-day meal and fitness plan for more nutrition tips and recipes.