September 6, 2021 — 11:04 AM
If you want to maintain optimal health, it’s not just about what you eat but how you eat. The traditional Western diet not only evokes an image of overly processed food, refined sugar, and excess fats but can also reflect a culture marked by unhealthy habits around food, like mindless snacking and an over-reliance on takeout.
Fortunately, we can become better consumers of food and support our overall health in the process by studying other countries’ habits and customs around food. Below are three tips gleaned from other cultures that can be used to support a more nourishing lifestyle:
1. Make lunch your biggest meal of the day.
While most of us eat our largest meal at dinner, many cultures, such as the French, eat their largest meal at lunch. The French may be on to something, as recent research found that eating earlier in the day decreases your appetite, which can lead to healthy weight management.
While scientists are still trying to figure out the exact relationship between meal timing and weight management, it seems that eating earlier in the day aligns better with the body’s natural rhythms for energy expenditure. Put simply, your metabolism is more primed to take advantage of food and turn it into energy earlier in the day than later.
So, next time you pack your lunch for work (or hurriedly make lunch between Zoom meetings, like me!) give yourself an extra helping or throw in an additional side of healthy whole grains and a serving of fresh-cut fruit and veggies.
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Communal dining has been around for ages and still exists in various forms across many Asian countries and cultures. Although we must currently be mindful of COVID-19, eating with others is linked to better physical and mental health outcomes including lower blood pressure and decreased rates of depression.
Social activities, such as communal eating, have also been associated with increased secretion of oxytocin in mammal studies. Often known as the “love hormone,” oxytocin is generally known to promote bonding between people; however, research also suggests that it attenuates food intake and can lead to feelings of satiety. With that in mind, try eating your meals with loved ones such as your family or friends, or plan a virtual dinner party!
3. Turn eating into a sensory experience as a way to practice mindfulness.
Many countries’ habits around eating naturally provoke a full-sensory experience. For instance, Ethiopians elicit the additional sensation of touch on top of sight, taste, and smell as they tear off pieces of injera (a sour flatbread made of the African superfood teff) to scoop up their food.
The more senses you use when you eat, the more joy food can bring you—and research shows it may actually make your food taste better. Additionally, intentionally employing all your senses when you eat gives you an easy (and yummy!) way to practice mindfulness, which has been linked to stress reduction and sustained weight management.
While it’s natural to focus your attention on the taste of food while you eat, put mindfulness into practice by calling your attention to your other senses, too. Try artfully plating your food to call your attention to sight, take a second to smell the various fragrances of your food before taking a bite, or listen to the sound of crunchy greens the next time you eat a salad.
When it comes to maintaining a healthy lifestyle, we commonly focus on the foods we eat, but it’s important to think about how we eat, too. Fortunately, we can draw inspiration from around the world as we search for easy ways to implement healthier eating habits in our own lives.