Healthy Eating Habits From Around the World

Joanna Foley

by | Updated: October 18th, 2021 | Read time: 4 minutes

America has a lot of good things going for it, including being a nation of freedoms, wealth and opportunity. Yet when it comes to our health, we fall short compared to many other countries. Americans have a lower life expectancy than most other developed nations, and our country is notorious for being a leader in chronic diseases like obesity, diabetes and heart disease.

Woman Enjoying Salad at Outdoor Cafe to Represent Concept of Healthy Eating Habits from Around the World |

This means that our nation has a lot to learn when it comes to taking care of our bodies. Thankfully, there are plenty of great examples from surrounding countries that model good eating habits. Keep reading to learn more about things we can learn from around the world when it comes to feeding ourselves right.

The Standard American Diet (which is appropriately abbreviated as “SAD”), has contributed to many of the health challenges faced by people living in the United States. While every culture is unique in their own way, you may find some inspiration to improve your eating habits by following some of other nations’ practices outlined below.

Slow down and follow the 80% rule.

People in Japan practice a phrase called “hara hachi bu,”which means to eat until you’re about 80% full. As a result, they have some of the lowest rates of cancer, heart disease and stroke, which is also thanks to other healthy eating habits.

On the other hand, Americans tend to eat quickly and with distractions, which can easily lead to overeating. Slowing down and practicing mindful eating habits come with a lot of health benefits and doesn’t require big or drastic changes to implement.

Make plant foods the main course.

This is a key component of the Mediterranean diet, which is consistently ranked as the best overall eating style for health. While Americans put lots of focus on animal products like meat, dairy and eggs, people living in countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea, such as Greece, Italy, and Spain, place a much larger emphasis on eating more plant foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, lentils, nuts and seeds. These foods provide fiber and many other important nutrients that animal foods do not. Eating a mediterranean diet is linked to a slew of health benefits including improved blood pressure, cholesterol levels, and insulin sensitivity as well as a reduced risk of all-cause mortality.

Watch your portion sizes.

Good health isn’t just about what you eat, but also about how much. Americans are known for having abnormally large portion sizes, which have contributed to the growing obesity epidemic. Countries like France, Italy and Switzerland, however, who are known for indulgent staple foods like bread, pasta, cheese, pastries, and chocolate have half the rates of adult obesity compared to America, likely because they simply enjoy less. So while decadent foods don’t need to be off-limits, paying attention to the amount you eat can make a big difference.

Add flavor with herbs and spices.

One of the most common seasonings in Americans’ diets is salt, thanks to relying heavily on highly processed foods. This mineral might be great for adding flavor, but too much can lead to health problems like high blood pressure and heart disease. Many countries in Asia, Europe and the Middle East rely heavily on herbs and spices that add excellent flavor while also providing important health benefits. These include turmeric, garlic, cinnamon, and ginger, which can help with things like fighting inflammation, balancing blood sugar, supporting digestion and helping to strengthen your immune system. There are endless ways to incorporate these and other herbs and spices into your diet, with recipes to fit any taste preferences and cooking level.

Focus on fresh.

In America, it is common to only head to the grocery store once a week, and to rely heavily on pre-packed or restaurant foods. This often means less intake of fresh fruits and vegetables and less access to many quality nutrients. People who live in countries like Germany and the Philippines, however, go to the market multiple times per week to make sure their food contains the maximum nutrient density as well as the freshest taste. They also place an emphasis on locally grown and sourced ingredients. While grocery shopping that often may not be practical for you, things like grocery delivery and making an effort to choose the freshest food possible when eating out can make a big impact on your health.

Seek more satisfaction.

According to a survey involving four countries from around the world, Americans were found to be most concerned about the health of their food, but they get the least pleasure from it. People who live in France, on the other hand, were found to be the most pleasure-focused and the least health-focused. Yet despite this, the French have lower heart disease and other disease rates compared to Americans.

This means that eating what will truly satisfy you may matter more than your food choices alone. Finding pleasure with your food not only helps you enjoy the food more, but can also lead to eating less of it. Discovering the satisfaction factor is one of the principles of intuitive eating.

In summary

Despite spending significantly more on healthcare compared to many other countries, America has worse health outcomes. By adopting more of the cultural habits of surrounding nations, we may be able to improve the health of ourselves as individuals as well as that of our nation as a whole.