Obesity may be on the rise worldwide but the biggest paradox in many countries throughout Europe is the relatively low incidence of coronary heart disease despite diets rich in saturated fats. Many studies suggest the equalizer is red wine, but there are other noticeable eating trends which are likely contributing factors. As I sipped my way through Spain on red wine and sangria I managed to uncover this and other slim secrets of our neighbors across the Atlantic.
When soccer fans in the United States come together to watch the World Cup, chances are they will be accompanied by plates of cheese topped nachos, fried wings dipped in hot sauce and burgers smothered with accoutrements.
No such thing in Spain! Interestingly enough, in a country where futbol is viewed with equal if not greater fanfare than American football, nary a potato chip seems ever to make its way onto the spectator scene (there it is just wine, beer and cigarettes --- a whole other article). This glaring incongruity in dietary habits is just one of the reasons why Americans have taken first place in the fat race. Here are a few others differences which you may want to incorporate into your diet:
1. Small Bites are Big: Good things are eaten in tiny packages throughout Spain. Indulgent tapas (or pintxos) which are popular in Basque Country, such as deep fried potato croquettes or grilled chorizo and foie gras canapés are served in an array of bite-sized individual servings. Sampling on portion-friendly foods keeps calories at bay and keeps locals from feeling hungry or deprived.
2. Splitting Meals is De Rigeur: Sharing large plates is not only socially acceptable it seems to be a common trend among restaurant goers in Spain, where traditionally heavy dishes like paellas, beef or lamb stews and fried fish dishes are often prepared for two. Divvying up dishes in this way is a wise and wallet-friendly solution especially since many entrees in the U.S. are up to four times the recommended serving size.
3. Large Lunch, Late (and light) Supper: Any expert who claims that eating past 6 p.m. is bad for the waistline clearly has never crossed the Atlantic! In cities like Barcelona dinner is served late-night but lunch, which typically consists of multiple courses, is the heaviest meal. Shifting food proportions allows our bodies to burn-off calories in the waking parts of the day, which is more effective than when we are dormant.
4. Simply Don’t Snack on Junk: Spain is the largest exporter of olives, and these power-packed fruits are the nosh of choice in tavernas across the country. Processed goodies like potato chips come in smaller, three ounce bags, but you rarely see people eating them. Instead, you will find them eating hard to pop open nuts like sunflowers and pumpkin seeds which are a long-lasting secret snack weapon.
5. Heavy on the Spices and Seasonings: Garlic, chilies and paprika are essential to Spanish cuisine. These and other spices and seasonings, be it a pinch of saffron or a dash of cumin, bring out subtle yet intense flavors in most dishes while keeping foods simple, tasty and a lot more nutritious.