Do you ever wonder why North Americans struggle with their weight while people in other countries, such as France, Italy and Greece, seem to stay slimmer and healthier?
Dietitian Leslie Beck visited with Balance Television host Dr. Marla Shapiro to share diet secrets from countries with some of the lowest rates of obesity and chronic disease in the world.
The French diet
"We're envious of French women; they're slimmer and not only that, it's called the French paradox. Here we have the French who are eating Brie and butter and cream and pastries and they have one of the highest intakes of saturated fat that we know, and yet their rates of heart disease are lower and they're slim."
So what's going on?
According to Beck, there are lots of little components that could make up the answer.
"We always talk about the red wine," Beck said. "Red wine is high in antioxidants that can keep the heart healthy, but the fact of the matter is the French drink wine in moderation and they drink it with meals. So that's probably partly to do with it."
They also use olive oil, Beck noted, which is high in monounsaturated fat. It probably doesn't offset the saturated fat in the butter and the Brie but they do include that fat in their diet.
Other researchers have said it must be the onions and the garlic, foods that are rich in health-promoting sulphur compounds that may help ward off cancer.
But in the end, Beck thinks that it is how the French eat that makes the difference.
"They eat small portions, they eat three meals a day, they don't snack, they don't skip meals, they don't rush off to dessert before they finish their vegetables and lean protein," she explained. "And they enjoy their foods and they eat smaller amounts...and they eat slowly."
The Mediterranean diet
Another healthy diet is the Mediterranean diet, which is based on the dietary traditions of Crete, the rest of Greece and southern Italy back in the 1960s, Beck said.
Those populations have had some of the lowest rates of chronic disease in the world and a high adult life expectancy rate.
"You can't be afraid of carbohydrates here...higher-carbohydrate diets are protective," Beck said. "The base of the diet is grain foods: pasta, whole grain breads, rice, fruits and vegetables, nuts, legumes and beans. They use monounsaturated fat (olive oil). Even though the diet provides about 25 to 35 per cent of fat calories, it's very low in saturated fat. Their protein foods: fish, chicken and eggs weekly; red meat once a month.
It's a very healthy diet high in fibre and antioxidants that can help prevent disease, so don't be a carbohydrate basher.
The Asian diet
Rice and rice products are a staple of this diet, and if you look at people living in rural areas of Asian countries, the diet consists of minimally processed grains, not instant white rice.
The diet is also high in vegetables, Beck said. If you look at some of the vegetables they eat, they are full of compounds called cruciferous chemicals that studies have shown can actually help reduce the risk of cancer by affecting the enzymes in our liver that detoxify cancer-causing substances.
"Soy is the main legume in their diet, soy is the protein, they use plant-based beverages every day; (they drink) green tea, saki, even beer," she noted. "It's really a low-fat diet that's almost vegetarian. Animal protein foods are used very minimally."
Page 1 of 1