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7 Health Tips Americans Can Learn From Europeans

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A few years ago, the book "French Women Don't Get Fat" became a New York Times bestseller and planted a seed in all of our minds that the French, and perhaps most Europeans, have something figured out about food that Americans seem to be missing. While Americans become heavier and heavier, Europeans have remained average sized and have significantly lower rates of heart disease and cancer than Americans. What is going on with the USA, and what can we do about it?

During a recent trip to Austria, located in central Europe, we noticed more than a few difference in the food, culture, and lifestyle there that made us take pause. Here are a few of the things that we as Americans can learn from the Europeans!

  1. Avoid Chlorinated (or Fluoridated) Water!!

    Have you ever gotten a glass of water from the faucet that smelled and tasted like chlorine? In the United States, the chemical chlorine is added to water primarily to kill pathogens and otherwise disinfect drinking water. It is also used in swimming pools, bleach, and mustard gas. However, many European countries including Austria reject the use of chlorine for water purification. Also, Austria and most European continues refuse to add fluoride to the water, which in the US is added for tooth health. The use of these chemicals are grounds for much controversy in the States, with many health-conscious folks worried about the long-term effects of ingesting these chemicals on a daily basis. The omission of these chemicals from the water in Austria made for very clean tasting water, with less strain on the liver

    So, what are Americans to do about the water? Installing a filtration system (preferably one that uses reverse osmosis) in your whole house is the best option, although this can be pretty pricey. Another more affordable option is to purchase a water filter that removes chlorine, fluoride, and lead from the water. We recommend "Clearly Filtered" water filter pitchers. You can also purchase purified water from your local health food store.

  2. In Europe, bitter greens actually taste bitter!

    A head of lettuce in Europe is significantly more bitter than iceberg lettuce in the United States, which is actually pretty sweet comparatively. Greens in the US are bred to be sweeter in taste than those in Europe. We really appreciated the strong bitters found in salads in Austria, and the daily inclusion of bitter taste is important in Ayurveda. Bitter taste helps cleanse the liver, increase metabolism, lessen cravings for sweets, and stimulates peristalsis. So, make sure that your bitter greens actually taste bitter to you! Some reliably bitter veggies include endives, arugula, and dandelion greens!
  3. Spiced, hot winter wines

    Gluhwein, or "glow wine," is a mulled wintertime wine that is served across the nation around twilight at outdoor Christmas markets. This warm, spiced, sweetened wine is a perfect beverage to break the chill and warm you to the core on icy winter days. Austrians enjoyed a steaming cup of gluhwein while laughing and talking with friends after work. While many Americans also enjoy a glass of wine after work, very seldom do we think to brew it with orange slices, spices, and sweetener - and drink it hot! When we need warmth in the cold winter, a little bit of wine is seen as medicinal in Ayurveda and herbalized wines called drakshas are used especially in winter to warm the system. Some drakshas help with nerves, while others are aimed at women's health or even improving hair growth!
  4. Less sugar in cakes and desserts, and no sugar in whipped cream

    Sometimes, desserts in the United States are just too sugary and sweet! Think grocery store cupcakes, piled with an inch of hyper-sugary frosting on top and sprinkled with colored sugar. Or a hot fudge sundae, with super sweet vanilla ice cream, topped with succulent fudge, candy sprinkles, and finished with a high fructose syrup-drenched cherry! We all know that too much sugar isn't good for our weight, our hearts, or even our energy. But if we become used to eating super sweet desserts, too frequently, we may not even notice the amount of sugar we are consuming.

    This is because, in Ayurveda, the more of a taste you have in your diet, the less strong the taste is. So eating lots of bitter greens makes them taste less bitter over time. The same is true with sugar: if you eat a lot of sweets, your body becomes acclimated and the sweet taste doesn't taste as strong. A soda is much sweeter to a person who doesn't eat much sugar than it is to a person who eats a lot of sugar. If you ever take a long-term hiatus from sugar, for at least a month, you will notice at the end of the month that things taste much sweeter than they did before.

    Europe seems to have this figured out. The desserts at cafes and restaurants use much less sugar than desserts in the United States. Whipped cream is often served unsweetened atop desserts and even with coffee! It is actually much more rich and delicious without the sugar - definitely try making whipped cream without sugar, and see how you like it!

    A great way to enjoy desserts without a massive sugar spike is by making your own desserts from scratch and halving the sugar in the recipe. On some recipes, you may want to use a little more than half of the sugar and on others you could even use less than that - play around with it and see what works for you. You can also experiment with other sugars like maple syrup, date sugar, or coconut sugar.

  5. More biking, less driving

    Even in the middle of the winter, all across the cities and countryside, we continuously saw bike racks overflowing with bikes. And, you don't just see young people riding around on their bicycles - people of all ages, young and old, women and men, seem to choose biking over driving as their source of transportation. Biking is not only a great source of cardiovascular exercise, but it is also more "green" than driving a car, which can put a strain on the environment. Biking even a few times a week can make a big difference in your health and the environment - give it a try!
  6. Everything closes early, and closes on Sundays

    It was both surprising and impressive to find that everything in Austria seemed to be closed by 7pm, except for restaurants. Even the mall closed at 5pm! In addition to this, nearly everything seemed to be closed on Sundays, including grocery stores. If you wanted to get food, you had to have it done by Saturday night. This was so nice and old-fashioned. Everything was so quiet and relaxed on Sundays. The local Austrians that we spoke with said that Sundays were always family days, where they would make and have dinner with their grandparents and parents. The same was true with most stores closing by 5pm and by 7pm at the latest - this allowed employees an opportunity to relax at the end of the day and spend time with their loved ones. This laid-back approach to work and work hours was very refreshing and more conducive to family life.
  7. Less chemicals, herbicides, and pesticides

    Chemicals and herbicides that are very common in America are illegal in the EU. In cosmetics, the EU has banned over 1300 chemicals, while the United States has only banned 11. The most commonly used pesticide in the United States is illegal in Europe. Needless to say, Europe is much stricter about chemical use than the United States. This is one reason why it is so important, especially for Americans, to eat organic food and to use natural beauty products!
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About John Joseph Immel

About the Author

John Immel, the founder of Joyful Belly, teaches people how to have a healthy diet and lifestyle with Ayurveda biocharacteristics. His approach to Ayurveda is clinical, yet exudes an ease which many find enjoyable and insightful. John also directs Joyful Belly's School of Ayurveda, offering professional clinical training in Ayurveda for over 15 years.

John's interest in Ayurveda and specialization in digestive tract pathology was inspired by a complex digestive disorder acquired from years of international travel, as well as public service work in South Asia. John's commitment to the detailed study of digestive disorders reflects his zeal to get down to the roots of the problem. His hope and belief in the capacity of each & every client to improve their quality of life is nothing short of a personal passion. John's creativity in the kitchen and delight in cooking for others comes from his family oriented upbringing. In addition to his certification in Ayurveda, John holds a bachelor's degree in mathematics from Harvard University.

John enjoys sharing Ayurveda within the context of his Catholic roots, and finds Ayurveda gives him an opportunity to participate in the healing mission of the Church. Jesus expressed God's love by feeding and healing the sick. That kindness is the fundamental ministry of Ayurveda as well. Outside of work, John enjoys spending time with his wife and 7 kids, and pursuing his love of theology, philosophy, and language.

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It is not as good in Portugal, or England, where many shops are open all day on Sunday, some until quite late..Pesticides and weedkillers like Roundup are still available here, though we have not used them for years, and ads for water, we have an elaborate filtration system, as the water from our borehole is not fit to drink or even for washing, it is so full of bacteria.
- Amanda Walker, Moncarapacho , 02-17-16 (Reply)
Great article! Thanks for the reminder about biking, chlorine and organic!
- Susan Connor, Asheville, NC , 02-17-16 (Reply)
Hi John, I am happy to hear you had an enjoyable trip and were able to explore some healthy views while visiting!I, too, love the culture of the European lifestyle- just wanted to add, my recent visit to Amsterdam was interesting. No one eating and rushing around, they walk or ride their bikes everywhere!
- Daywattie Haniff, Belrose , 02-29-16 (Reply)

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