Nutrition Guidance from Europe

by Kim Cassidy
Personal Trainer
Midwest Fit Club

Slainte!!   Slainte is an Irish-Gaelic term that means “Good health or cheers.” I just returned from a ten day family adventure traveling through Great Britain, Wales and Ireland. Having never been to Europe, I was expecting to see countries to be “behind the times” with their old buildings and traditional ways of thinking. In some regards that was the case. However, when it comes to health and fitness I was quite surprised.

During our first night in London we dined at Belushi’s, a local pub. As a foreigner, I had to experience the fish and chips. While waiting for our food, I took in the atmosphere noticing that very few people there were overweight. Even the outside pedestrians looked to be in good health. I began to wonder how the European lifestyle differed from the American.

When our dinner arrived, the first thing I noticed solved the first piece of the puzzle… I was presented with a smaller dinner plate. A smaller plate means smaller portions. My chips (fries) were cut thick, but I had a mere 10 chips at most on my plate. When I think of home, dinner would consist of a portion to double or triple in quantity.

Day 2 – we are taking a guided bus tour through downtown London. I notice there are a lot of people riding bikes. As I continue to watch, I realize that most people ride the exact same bike.   Our tour guide explains that London and the surrounding areas have a biking system. You can “borrow” a bike for up to 30 minutes at NO CHARGE!! This program originally started out to help alleviate traffic flow. The more people started to take advantage of this program, the more began to experience its ancillary benefit of health. I continued to notice people riding their bikes into work. We passed men in 3 piece business suits, women in skirts and dressy shirts. I saw a group of 4 women all riding together, obviously dressed for business, with their briefcases in their baskets. As an added bonus, ALL riders were wearing helmets! Brilliant! I thought to myself, what a great way to start the day; by riding to work and then be able to ride home. And all for FREE!

Next to our London hotel was a gym and squash courts. A few blocks from there was a cross fit facility. I can’t even begin to tell you how many yoga studios we passed. Even as we left the big city of London and stopped in smaller cities along the way, we saw multiple workout facilities on small city streets. This is an example of a gym sign we saw in Bristol, England:Kim

Anytime that I travel, I always make it a point to try at least one new food a day.   I was on a mission for these ten days to see what type of food I would try. From Scones to Bangers and Mash (Sausage and potatoes), I had the opportunity to try some amazing foods.   On our first day in London, we came across an “all organic” farmers market. Everything was locally grown and the colors and smells were amazing. My son, Nick, and I ventured through the market and we decided to give the sweet potato hummus a try. The hummus was made on site. I can’t even begin to compare the texture and flavor of that hummus to what I would normally buy here in our local supermarkets.

For the most part, I tried to eat health conscious for breakfast and lunch partaking in fruit, yogurt for breakfast and a salad with some type of protein for lunch ( I had chicken most days). When it came to dinner, however, I wanted to dive in to what the British and Irish eat. One of my favorites was in Tramore, Ireland where I had a locally caught salmon filet with locally grown potatoes. All Fresh!! I had asked my server and she said that the salmon is delivered daily, and when they run out, it’s gone. They do not order in bulk and freeze it.   Hmmmmm…….fresh fish means full of nutrients!! Another piece of the puzzle!!  When food is frozen, it first goes through a blanching process where vitamins and nutrients are lost.   Being able to eat it in it’s natural form, I was able to ingest all the vitamins and minerals that my body needs.   How often are you able to go out for dinner knowing that you are getting 100% fresh food?

What did I take away from this? What is the lesson learned? It’s simple. In Europe, those that dine at restaurants eat smaller portions and are eating fresh food . A large percentage of natives either walk or ride their bikes to work instead of sit in a car. People are active. As a result, Europeans have a high metabolism. Instead of storing fat, they burn it through day to day activity.   It was interesting to see how people approach health and fitness 4000 miles away.

I challenge you, my reader to consider what small changes you can make today? Instead of driving to a destination, are you able to walk it, or ride your bike? When you go out to eat, ask for a doggie bag. Put half your meal in it right away, and take the rest home for another day. The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. Take small steps towards reaching your goal!!

On a side note…..many have asked if I worked out during my vacation. Since we were doing a guided tour, we didn’t have a lot of down time to hit the gym in the hotels. My son, Taylor, and I were up 15 minutes early every morning. We did bodyweight squats, lunges, push-ups and core work. We did sets back to back with very little recovery time so our heart rate was up.   And it was a great way to start our day. Slainte!

See you at the gym!!