Richard Nikoley at "Free the Animal" published a letter from a reader the other day, in a blog article titled "The Culture of Obesity."
I've had the good fortune to spend the last 2 weeks traveling across Italy with my wife and 2 teenagers. Nothing opens your eyes and gives one perspective like traveling and experiencing anothers' cultures, customs and FOODS. First some observations. ...By the way these observations are so unscientific, I don't know where to begin; but I think you'll get the message. Nearly all Italians I met and interacted with were thin. That's not to say there are no fat Italians. But by and large, I did not see any Walmart fat Italians. Now granted, I was exposed to a small sampling of the population. Only a few thousand. Second, the food. 100 out 100 restaurants I either walked by or ate at while in the country of Italy served the same basic foods. Pasta, pizza, salad, meat, melon, cheese and oh yes bread, olive oil and wine. Now, I know in our part of the world how many of these foods are being demonized with regularity. My wife even let me know how thin everyone was while eating pastas, breads pizza etc. And, that I should go back to eating like the Italians. What's up with all the pasta and grains? I know this stuff isn't paleo. While they do serve meat, it does not appear to be the staple of the diet. Tempting as it was, I able to resist temptation and have pizza on only one occasion. And sweets. Italians love chocolates and pastries. It's everywhere. Wine with lunch and/or dinner every day. Third. People in Italy walk everywhere. That's just how they get around. Yes there are cars, mopeds and bicycles, but for the most part, point A to point B is on foot. I'm sure I logged about 20 miles over the time I was there. I'll wrap this up by asking how can a culture eat and drink like the Italians and not get fat while we Americans load up on many of the same foods and look like the Stay Puft marshmallow man? Is it walking? Could just moving a little more be the difference? Again, not scientific, but most I interacted with seemed in good health.
My question is, if Italians love their pizza, pasta, and bread what's in their way of life that keeps them slimmer than their American counterparts who also indulge in wheat in its various forms? If you need some hints there are plenty of comments at the end of the "Free the Animal" blog article.
My answer to the question is here.
It always astounds me how visitors can go to a country for a short while and make assumptions about how it's people eat on a daily basis.
I lived in Italy for many years and am still regularly there.
These are the realities of Italy.
The Italians eat VERY little. Even though it appears that they eat pizza and pasta all the time. It is not true. I was at my thinnest in Italy from the peer pressure of barely eating. Their eating habits are mostly like this:
a)Breakfast- Italians will usually have an espresso or a Cappuccino for breakfast and some biscuit snack. It is always a small portion
b) For lunch they would eat big salads, meat dishes, fish, soups etc. Sometimes it would be a SLICE of pizza if it is on the go. Nobody eats a whole pizza for lunch.
c) Dinner- Maybe pizza but that is mostly a Friday night thing. People did not eat pizza that regularly.
Italian women especially eat so little that I feel deprived whenever I go and visit. People are constantly dieting.
So even if they eat these pasta and pizza dishes they are mostly in caloric deficit. But they are not healthy in general. They also exercise a lot.
ALL my Italian friends are always ill. I hardly meet an Italian without many allergies and stomach issues. Italian health is not robust at all.
In the South as someone pointed out above they eat A LOT more carbohydrate and fat and(not in a good way i.e a lot of vegetable oils and more total calories)and have a major obesity problem. They are also poorer (as mentioned above). I remember going to a Napolitan restaurant and being ill for days due to the deep fried cheese balls,fried veggies, fried pasta deep fried rice balls..
Obviously I am not talking about all Italians here. These are my observations after many years there. In fact my best friend who also lived in Italy jokes about how the country blessed with so much good food hardly eats any of it!
Lastly, Italy is now suffering an obesity crisis. The children are among the most obese in the world thanks to a lot of habits changing.
see links below.
'Obesity rates in Italian children are among the highest in Europe. Around a third of boys and girls are classified as obese by the International Association for the Study of Obesity.'
Lets live in places and observe how people really eat before making assumptions.
Mrs.D is right, italians eat very little, especially the women, and that's the reason they are not fat, it really is as simple as that.
And all that stuff about european wheat being better than US is not true, there are so many celiacs in europe, and the numbers are rising, I for example don't even know any people here in europe without stomach problems, everyone has stomach issues here.
You can get good bread in europe, fermented bread, but the wheat in both continents is the same shitty mass produced wheat. Italians do like their farro (older crop) for example, but in general it's the same shitty wheat they use for their pizza, pasta and bread, the 00 variety.
It's not rocket science, just small amount of calories, live in italy for a while and be amazed how little they eat to keep themselves skinny just like Mrs.D wrote, most of you americans would be shocked how small amounts they eat.
Americans have this habit of thinking that there is some magic bullet to why for example italians are skinny - it's just calories - and I also think that americans don't realize what monster amounts they eat and think it's normal to eat beastly portions at every meal and snack on top of that.
Here is your answer: they consume very little sugar. Yes, there are fabulous desserts - panna cotta, tiramisu, gelato, etc. BUT they don't eat them every day. They don't even eat them every week.
Another thing is - Italian bread/pasta/pizza and American bread/pasta/pizza are TWO DIFFERENT things. Even if you go to an "authentic" Italian restaurant in America. It has something to do with the way the wheat is cultivated and processed. No GMO? Not sure. But European bread tastes completely different from American.
The sad part - if I lived in Italy, I would not have developed gluten intolerance, I am sure of it.
They also have a different eating culture. They sit down to eat. Even their restaurants do not look anything like American fast-food diners. They also eat tons of fresh greens.
I do not know any real Italians going to McDonald's, eating french fries and hamburgers. Home-cooked meals are a very very big thing to them. However, even Italians are catching up - they are getting bigger and unhealthier, especially when they age. You cannot fool those genes.
One culture that astonishes me is South Korean. That author thought that Italians were thin? South Koreans are definitely thinner than Italians and they eat rice with every meal - it is almost like a religious experience to them. And they add sugar to many dishes. Japanese are very thin as well.
By the way, in both Italy and South Korea for centuries men would work and women would stay at home to provide those home-cooked meal. Of course, it reduced the woman's status in the society but it also made families healthier.
So, I believe the culture of obesity is the culture that views food as industry that brings money as opposed to seeing meals as a sacred ritual made with love. A "twinkie" is a product that makes someone rich. A home-cooked Italian dinner takes time and effort.
I think we forgot what Hippocrates was telling us a long time ago - let food be thy medicine. It is not about the grains. It is about WHY we eat and how we view our daily bread.
Industrially processed foods, convenience foods and fast foods instead of traditionally prepared meals, chemical additives and unhealthy eating culture are the big evils. Grains are a lesser one.
Serving sizes in Italy are tiny. When I lived in Venice as an exchange student, a portion of pasta/polenta was 1/3-1/2 cup. It was a tiny side dish. If you ate any bread with dinner, certainly in the family with which I stayed, it was 1 tiny bit of toast for the antipasto. Northern Italians don't eat much sugar, ever. The gelato is far less sweet than here, and no one drinks soda at home that I ever saw.
In the South it's different, and the people there are very heavy. The far South you go, they poorer the people are, and the heavier. To this day.
It's been 7 years since I've lived in the US, so unfortunately I have to rely on what I read on the internet to make a comparison. I've traveled the world though, so I understand that the American diet has become the world diet and that Americans aren't that much lazier than anyone else, so my observations go deeper than that.
American culture is unique in that it's particularly a car culture. New York is the only place I've been to in the states where many people DO walk places on a daily basis. Most places in the US don't put things within walk-able distances! This is huge.
There are strong media and cultural messages to get as much as you can. Americans face the most insistent media message to *consume consume consume in every way.*Commercials emphasis huge portions and the happiness and hearty feeling they bring with them. Celebrations are made to be about eating and drinking a lot. Those who abstain get bad images of being austere, anorexic, prudish, tightly-wound, what have you. Buying lots of things and eating lots of things seem to be the American dream.
Americans tie lots of emotions to food, which is damaging when coupled with the culture's ideas of proper portions. Food in American is entertainment, it's self-love, it's elitism, it's an identity maker, a source of happiness, a way to show you care or pretend you do, and a source of love. There are so many ways to fixate on food and so many created "needs" for it. Like the Superbowl, why has that become about planning and preparing a 3 hour buffet of Mexican food and beer?
Vegetables. Somehow, vegetables have come to equal suffering in the States. We just don't have many yummy ways of preparing them and so many families have forgotten to pass that knowledge down. So now we have people who aren't used to eating veggies at every meal and get all childish about having to include them only when they want to lose weight.
These are only the main reasons that come to mind, but I think these are good examples of why American culture is particular flawed for health.
There are many "fringe benefits" to cutting out Gluten.
One of which is that you bypass the majority of processed foods.
In other countries, the foods are considerably less processed, and there are specific laws to consider (such as the banning of GMO crops) in the EU.
So, even though individuals may be eating gluten, they are also eating locally raised, hormone/antibiotic-free meats, locally grown, no stabilizers/binders/hydrogenated components to those grains, etc.
There is also a specific focus on freshness in produce and meat, at least with many of the more food-orientated destinations. Nutrient density.
And the portion size. Which is a whole other thing.
And frankly, it's the Anglo-colonial countries that have the hardest time with this logic, that being the US, Australia, New Zealand, and even Britain itself (maybe even India to a lesser extent). While the US and Australia both do not have a "walking culture", the UK typically does in urban areas, and from what I've seen on the BBC these days, they are raising a culture very much obsessed with curing their own "obesity epidemic". In the Middle East, Dubai has caught up with us recently to become the most overweight nation in the world, which probably comes about from a "perfect storm" of being some distance from agriculture (more processed foods), combined with affluence, and a taste for western goods (foods and alcohol). Compare the amount of obese mainland British with the Irish, you will see a few overweight folks in Britain, and very few (if any) in Ireland. And the Irish are not particularly sparing in their portions.
In short, I think the most pressing issue is specifically with Western Foods, and post-WW2/Cold War food processing concepts. There are other contributing factors, but everyone on the planet would be healthier if the processing was more "whole" and less "laboratory"... and the countries that "get it" are proving it to us daily.
Prior to the World Wars, all countries were thriving through subsistence farming and there was little-to-no reliance on processed foods. Food storage technology developed by war, grew into the addictive, fattening, nutrient-sparse, and dirt-cheap foods we avoid by going Paleo. In the countries where they still practice this mindset towards their food, they don't get obese.
They eat less and move more.
You don't have to go abroad for these observations (though travel is awesome!). Go to some American urban centers and compare the populations to the middle.
I live in NYC. A lot of people here are fit. A LOT. Not giant huge bodybuilder style, but people here take care of themselves, eat less shitty food than people in the middle of the US, move more, take care to actually mind how their body looks.
Cities allow people to walk and/or bike more. There are more gyms and parks.
Eat less, move more - the idea is not mutually exclusive with paleo ideas about food.
I worked in France for 15 months and most of the observations about Italy ring true. Lots of starch, sugar and relatively little meat. Big lunches, small breakfasts and dinners. And lots of walking.
A couple of things that have not been mentioned which add a little more to the discussion:
-Food is expensive relative to incomes, especially meat. The company I worked for supplied restaurant coupons at a heavy discount, which paid for several lunches a month. Overweight people I knew were better paid than the average person, and the concept of "rich American" extended to waistline.
-Cities are compact and more pedestrian accessible than in North America. Fuel and cars are also relatively expensive in relation to income.
-The cigarettes. There is at least tacit government approval of smoking. Also a national pride in the Frenchness of the habit - part of the insouciance I guess. Money spent on tobacco and drinks is money unavailable for food, and since there was less money to start with at least the tobacco suppresses appetites.
-Absence of credit cards. This may have changed since 2001, but when I was there cards were linked to checking accounts - usually delayed debit instead of immediate - but the funds need to be there. This gave people a lot of incentive to save, be frugal, delay gratification, etc.
One of the answers was in the third point: they walk more. And, by the way, I know plenty of first generation Italian-Americans, and I know that, from what they have told me, the older Italians do tend to puff-up quite a bit later in life.
Obesity in photography 5 Answers