When it comes to our bulging western waistlines, there’s a lot we can learn from the diets of other nations.
Whilst we can learn how not to do food from the USA, over in Japan there’s so much we can, ahem, take away from the way they live.
Food vs food-like products
The Japanese diet is generally full of fish; fermented products like soy; organ meats and other tissue (less waste); rice rather than bread (less gluten); plus meals served with green tea rather than fizzy pop. Crucially, portion sizes are typically smaller in Japan.
On the other hand, the American (and increasingly our own) diet tends to be full of food-like, overly manufactured garbage, washed down with a gallon of coke.
Residential streets in Japan tend to be narrow and generally walkable, with good public transport linking everything up. The US and here to a certain extent, particularly outside the main cities is generally dependent upon cars to get around.
In Japan, healthy food can be found pretty easily, even from convenience stores and takeaways.
In the US and here, it’s McDonalds, Burger King, Dunkin Donuts; and Dominos Pizza. It’s difficult to eat healthy here after a certain time of night, unless you are willing and able to cook it yourself.
When we talk about the paths of least resistance, it should be easier to find healthy food than it is unhealthy food. It’s probably why Japan enjoys an obesity rate below 5%, where ours is the highest in Europe at 20% and climbing.
Why are we talking about this?
Well, put simply, it’s difficult to spend as long as we have talking about cycling without addressing not just the environmental benefits of cycling, but the public health benefits too. However, whilst you can certainly burn a lot of calories on a bicycle, it’s far too easy to over-compensate for those burned calories in ways that leave a lasting impression around your middle.
During those times I was regularly taking long rides, the odd 200km ride in amongst daily commutes and weekly evening rides, my weight remained fairly static. Sure, I was using a lot of calories, but in a spot of creative calorie accountancy, I was spending those calories faster than I was earning them.
I ate so much, but not a lot of it was good. Peanut M&Ms, granola bars, not to mention the frequent post-ride takeaway. It was when I stopped riding for a while –a time when my appetite was rather subdued, that I actually lost a lot of weight.
Frankly, it was always easier to obtain calorie-dense, low-nutrient foods when I was hungry than it was to find nutritious snacks or convenience food.
As a society we need to start seriously thinking about the food culture we have. From a planning perspective, do we really need another fast-food drive-thru? Do we need a drive-thru anything, at all? Do we need another five bakeries on the same street? Why can’t we have fish delivered that isn’t deep-fried in batter?
As individuals we can spend time planning our post-ride meals carefully, making sure we have something tasty and nutritious to come home to. Something prepared before you leave the house that you can take out of the fridge and heat up, before reaching for the phone to have something delivered.
We can also finally kick the gels into touch, eating something whilst on the bike with some nutritional value other than “carbohydrates, of which sugars”.