Americans have a generous plethora of options when it comes to picking their favorite foods and restaurants. After all, if we only stuck to the traditionally patriotic hot dogs and apple pie, dinner would get pretty boring.
This is a philosophy that many Americans would be best served to translate not only into what they eat, but also how they eat. We’ve developed some cultural habits and norms that, in the end, might not actually be what’s best for our bodies.
These seven solutions to common American dietary mistakes come from as far and wide as Mexico to Japan. Here’s what they think we’re doing wrong.
1. Oftentimes, Americans don’t focus on portion size.
By now, you’ve probably seen or at least heard of the 2004 documentary, Super Size Me. It’s common for Americans to focus on larger portions, picking the large or “supersized” options as they go out to eat.
Foreign visitors often notice the shocking differences between portion sizes at meals and it’s been said that an American small translates to a medium or large in other countries. Even the sizes of drinks from McDonald’s, the subject of the aforementioned documentary, vary greatly from country to country, with America’s drinks falling in a supersized category.
Remember: you don’t have to eat everything in front of you. According to WebMD, it’s best if you just stick to keeping leftovers, listening to your body, and focus on greater portions of healthy items as opposed to piling up a plate with processed, sugar-filled, or fatty snacks.
2. Americans eat solely for the sake of maintaining or losing weight.
Food doesn’t need to be the enemy. An estimated 45 million Americans go on diets each year, but food is beneficial for the body beyond being a source of energy or a way to lose weight. Food can make a difference in your lifestyle in many unexpected ways.
In India, for example, curry is a dietary staple and not just because it’s tasty and low-calorie. Many believe that it can also be great for the liver, can prevent Alzheimer’s, and relieve pain and inflammation. There are several small studies that seem to back this up, but more research is needed.
Food doesn’t just need to be about how our bodies look or our shape, it can also serve to improve how our body functions.
Also, food can be fun. In France, one of the greatest traditions is the idea of eating for pleasure. Food is delicious, so they enjoy it and appreciate it. That doesn’t mean it has to be eaten in large or heavy amounts, but it shouldn’t be viewed as a negative.
“It’s true that the French eat for pleasure, but they enjoy cream, cheese, and wine in moderation,” says Mary Brighton, RD, a health and food blogger who lives in Pau, France, told FitnessMagazine.com.
3. Americans make a habit of skipping breakfast and lunch and focusing on dinner.
It’s a common scenario. Busy day at work with hardly any time to think, let alone grab lunch, enjoy the food, and take a second out of the day for yourself. There’s always dinner, right?
The saying doesn’t state that dinner is the most important meal of the day. In Mexican culture, almuerzo, which translates to ‘lunch,’ is a staple, and this is supported by research that states weight gain could be attributed to heavier meals in the evening or later at night.
In fact, in Korea, breakfast looks a whole lot like what we might think is actually dinner, which gets the day off to a full start.
4. Americans keep meals monochromatic.
As mouth-watering as bread, pasta, and potatoes are, there’s one problem: your plate shouldn’t be 50 shades of beige. Often, fruits and veggies — aka the healthy stuff — varies in color.
In comparison, Japanese meals tend to look like a rainbow of different foods and Japanese dining culture emphasizes food’s appearance, according to Shape. Try incorporating color-rich, healthy seafood, which is packed with omega-3s, and fresh, vibrant vegetables into a meal, taking a plate from plain to pizzazz.
5. Americans consume tons of coffee without exploring other options.
Coffee has become a part of our daily routine and it’s how many people function in the morning. Eighty-three percent of American adults drink coffee, according to USA Today, but it doesn’t always have to be that way.
Coffee has its risks and rewards, but if you’re hoping for an alternative to a morning cup of joe, it might be worth checking out South Africa’s favorite tea: Rooibos. Many claim that Rooibos has several benefits, including being good for the skin and a preventer of kidney stones. Of course, more research is needed to prove these claims.
6. Americans tend to go out to eat for many meals.
As much fun as it is to go out to eat with friends or to grab a tasty meal from a new restaurant, going out to eat can be just as bad as grabbing fast food, according to Men’s Fitness. Not only are you likely to be unaware of how the food is prepared or which ingredients are left unspecified, it can also add up and be a budget-breaker.
According to The Daily Meal, only 5% of the average Polish family’s budget is spent on going out to eat, unlike Americans, who spend an average of over $3,000 a year at restaurants. Not only is this good for your wallet, it also allows you to have direct insight into the cooking process. It can be just as fun to cook for yourself or friends, so maybe going out to eat can become a rare treat.
7. Americans often skip spice.
Everyone’s definition of “spicy” differs, but there are some impressive pros to at least adding a little bit of zing and heat to a meal.
According to Health, traditional Thai food is not only abundant in spice, it’s also got some benefits: spicy food can help slow down the eating process, causing you to eat more slowly and feel fuller more quickly.
“Americans eat too fast,” Dr. James Hill, the past president of the American Society for Nutrition, told Health. “By the time your body signals that it’s full, you’ve overeaten. Eating slower is a good weight-loss strategy, and making food spicier is an easy way to do it.”