- Toru Hanai/Reuters
The American diet has changed dramatically since the 1970s.
The portion sizes of everything from a muffin to a slice of pizza have gotten as much as 138% bigger. Americans now eat far more chicken than they did in 1975, but less beef. And in 2014, people started spending more money eating out than they did on eating at home for the first time in US history, according to the Department of Agriculture.
Dieting and weight-loss trends have also shifted: Whereas Americans used to opt for low-fat foods, sugar has increasingly emerged as the main culprit when it comes to weight gain. There’s also a growing emphasis on plant-based eating plans, although some dieters still count calories or banish entire food groups.
In other countries around the world, people take different approaches to healthy eating. In Argentina, many people sip appetite-suppressing Yerba mate tea, while Ethiopians nibble bread made from a mineral-rich, protein-packed grain called teff.
Here are a few of the savviest, most surprising ways people around the world stay trim and satisfied without sacrificing taste.
Japan boasts one of highest life expectancies in the world — 83.7 years — and it probably has to do with the way the Japanese eat.
- Yuya Shino/Getty Images
Source: Business Insider
Some Japanese people abide by a Confucian teaching called “hara hachi bu,” which means they eat until their belly is 80% full, not 100%.
- Antti T. Nissinen / Flickr
Okinawans have historically been some of the healthiest, most disease-free people in the world. Researchers studied more than 900 people from Okinawa who made it past 100 years old and found that their arteries remained young-looking and clean into old age. Those Japanese elders were at much lower risk of developing coronary heart disease or suffering strokes.
But that healthy paradigm is beginning to shift as more western foods seep into the Okinawan diet.
Israelis follow a diet that’s known to be one of the best for your heart, brain, and overall health: the Mediterranean diet.
On the Italian island of Sardinia, men and women often live beyond 100 and enjoy a slightly different twist on the Mediterranean diet, with lots of whole-grain breads, fresh vegetables, and goat cheese.
Hummus, which is a key part of many Middle Eastern diets, is filling, protein-packed, fiber-rich, and high in iron.
The Lebanese hold the world record for making the biggest hummus batch ever.
People in many parts of Argentina warm up and keep their appetite in check by drinking antioxidant-rich Yerba mate tea.
- Courtesy of Explora Patagonia
People in some parts of Uruguay, Paraguay, Chile, and Brazil also drink the grassy beverage. It tastes more bitter than regular tea.
They credit “mate” with keeping waistlines trim, brains caffeinated, and bodies warm. An added bonus: it’s typically consumed in the company of friends.
- REUTERS/Marcos Brindicci
Staying well hydrated probably helps tea drinkers stay trim, too. Scientists have discovered that people who drink more water are consistently more satisfied and eat fewer calories on a daily basis. For those benefits, it doesn’t really matter whether you hydrate with water, coffee, or tea, according to the medical myth busters at the BBC.
Ethiopians serve their meals atop a tart, fiber-rich bread called injera.
A healthy dose of fiber in your diet is one of the best ways to stay full and keep the digestive tract humming along smoothly.
The sourdough injera is made from red teff, a gluten-free grain.
According to the Washington Post, a quarter-cup serving of dry teff is a nutritious wonder-food.
It “offers 7 grams of protein, 4 grams of dietary fiber, 25% of your daily recommended magnesium, 20% of your daily iron and 10% of your daily calcium, Vitamin B6 and zinc,” health education specialist Elaine Gordon wrote in the Post.
Brazilians were reaping the benefits of acai berries long before anyone else.
Acai berries come from South American palm trees and are a great source of antioxidants and fiber, according to the Mayo Clinic.
Brazilian dietary guidelines focus on natural, unprocessed foods.
Brazil’s eating guidelines encourage people to eat regularly, carefully and “whenever possible, in company.” They also encourage Brazilians to avoid fast food, make time to cook at home, and share their favorite recipes with friends and colleagues.
“Make the preparation and eating of meals privileged times of conviviality and pleasure,” the guidelines read.
Studies show that people who cook at home eat less sugar and consume fewer calories.
Koreans traditionally load up on veggies and consume limited quantities of red meat.
- Photo by Chung Sung Jun/Getty Images
High-fiber Korean diets include generous helpings of cabbage, sprouts, squash, whole grains, soups, kimchi, fish, and fermented soy.
Eating too much red meat, meanwhile, can lead to heart disease and is linked with higher colorectal cancer rates. By keeping red meat consumption low, a traditional Korean diet helps people avoid these risks.
In fact, scientists in Korea put people with Type 2 diabetes on traditional Korean diets for 12 weeks, and found that study participants lost weight and reduced their body fat (particularly around their middle sections).
- Wikimedia Commons
The study participants also improved their blood pressure and were less at risk for developing cardiovascular diseases.
In India, people savor home-cooked meals, even when on the go.
Lunch couriers in India deliver home-cooked meals from a person’s own family to their work spot at mid-day. These couriers are called dabbawalas, or “one who carries a box.”
Preparing more food at home is a great way to stay trim.
Scientists have found that people who eat out more tend to be fatter and consume more calories than those who cook at home. People also generally gobble up more saturated fat, salt, and cholesterol when they carry out or eat at restaurants. Food prepared at home, on the other hand, tends to have more belly-filling fiber, which is a healthier (and cheaper) way to stay satisfied.
Traditional French foods are high in saturated fats, but the French tend to keep their portions of those potent foods in check.
Scientists compared portion sizes in Paris and Philadelphia, and discovered that Philly eateries had an average portion size 25% larger than Parisian meals.
Plus, while the French may be known for their heavy bistro meals of steak frites, they often balance those out with lighter dinners at home. The last meal of the day might be a simple soupe aux légumes, a mix of stock and veggies, or a richer, velvety velouté of leeks and potatoes.
Although midday French meals can be high-fat affairs, they are often high in satiety, which means they providing a sensation of fullness so people aren’t tempted to overeat.
- Julian Finney/Getty Images
Satiety can determined by the fat content of a meal, the sights and smells of food on the table, and the sensation of a dish when it hits the tongue.
French school kids are also introduced to many grown-up foods at a young age.
Studies show that people who eat a wider variety of healthy foods like fruits, vegetables, and whole grains tend to have trimmer waistlines and lower blood pressure levels.
French children learn early on to try a range of foods, but meals in French schools aren’t always perfectly healthy. They can include plenty of French frites and hot spinach doused in heavy cream.
Traditionally, snacking between meals was frowned upon in France.
- Sarah Schmalbruch
But there are signs that is changing, and waistlines are expanding as a result. A recent survey of more than 104,000 French people found that more adults are indulging in sweet, processed snacks in between meals than ever before.
Having more of these energy-dense, sugary, salty, and fatty foods on hand can lead people to overeat.
Swedes practice something called “Friluftsliv,” which roughly translates to “get outside already.”
- Bob Strong/Reuters
Plus, working out outside may be a better way to stick to your exercise routine. A small study of Canadian women in 2015 found that those who exercised outside were more likely to keep up their workout routines than those who did their sweating indoors.
The Swedish National Food Agency recommends that Swedes eat fish at least twice per week, exercise at least 30 minutes each day, and break up sitting time with brisk walks.
- Photo by Michael Campanella/Getty Images
Even Crown Princess Victoria of Sweden likes to show off her fishing skills, as shown above.
Fatty fish like salmon and tuna carry all kinds of benefits for your waistline. They can slow the rate of heart-clogging plaque growth, lower cholesterol, and reduce the amount of fat in your blood. They’re also a complete source of belly-filling protein.
Source: Swedish National Food Agency
The Icelandic diet is also rich in oily fish that provides mind-boosting Omega-3s. High-fiber rye bread is a staple, too.
- skarpi via Flickr
But one major drawback of the Icelandic diet is that due to the harsh climate, there isn’t a ton of fresh produce to eat.
People in Iceland also enjoy Skyr, a high-protein fermented and strained cheese that tastes like Greek yogurt.
- Flickr / Kiersten Chou
Most people in Finland take weekly (or even daily) saunas, and the ceremonious dip in cold water afterwards is good for their waistlines.
Regular saunas are also associated with a significant reduction in stroke risk.
Did we miss a country or a unique, healthy tradition that you think should be included on this list? Send us your tips at firstname.lastname@example.org.