We are traveling in Barcelona and parts of Northern Spain for two weeks ~ visiting ex-pat family and having a European vacation while Spring comes to the Northern US. As many Americans have often commented while traveling in Europe, the difference in body weight here is remarkable. Simply put, very few people are overweight. And, despite the smoking, wine consumption and late nights, it is known that Europeans live longer than Americans on average. So what is the big difference? Eating patterns, Diet, and Lifestyle.
By Diet, I do not mean calorie restriction, portion control or eating plans. I mean, a style of food intake linked to cultural patterning and local food options. The Mediterranean Diet has been a source of scientific study for several decades because European countries centered around the Mediterranean Sea have statistically lower levels of heart disease, diabetes, and other chronic diseases. It is a nutrition pattern that includes a foundation of olive oil, fruit, vegetables, fish, seafood, whole grains, pasta and potatoes. This is complemented by smaller amounts of eggs, dairy and chicken. Red meat and sweets are eaten occasionally. It is also a practical nutritional plan – meat is expensive, tomatoes and olives are not! The “Mediterranean Diet Pyramid” is a famous illustrated depiction of the basic concepts. (See Resources below for a great downloadable version.)
We noticed a few real differences right away.
1. There is no To Go – people sit to eat their food and drink their coffee.
2. There is no half and half or cream for coffee. There are no Grande or Venti coffee options. A coffee is a small cup of strong brew with or without steamed milk and sugar.
3. The cities are made for walking and biking! With bike lanes and mazes of small windy alleys and wide picturesque boulevards the cities inspire pedestrian activity.
We haven’t quite adjusted to the concept of siesta time yet. In fact, between jet lag and our American ways, we have almost invariably set out right as the shops roll down their doors and the streets close up for the afternoon 2-5pm rest. This is our goal for the trip – to learn the fine art of Siesta. What an ultimate luxury!
US life expectancy links https://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2013/01/11/life-j11.html and http://www.economist.com/blogs/buttonwood/2013/01/life-expectancy
Mediterranean Diet Research: http://jama.jamanetwork.com/article.aspx?articleid=199485
Practical Resources: http://oldwayspt.org/resources/heritage-pyramids/mediterranean-pyramid/overview