European Food and Health Trends – Summer 2019
It’s hard to believe a new decade is upon us. I’m looking forward to all that is to come in the world of food, nutrition and exercise. I was lucky to have the opportunity to travel abroad this summer. Working remotely while sitting outside enjoying the local fair was a dream come true. I tasted the food and observed the habits of the locals in Ireland, the Netherlands, Denmark and France.
The life expectancy in Ireland has increased by 2 years for females and 3 years for males. This is largely due to lower mortality from heart disease and cancer in older adults. Lifestyle factors such as smoking, drinking, inactivity and obesity continue to be issues that interfere with longer life expectancy. Ireland experiences much of the same negative lifestyle factors as the US yet Americans have lower rates of smoking but higher incidence of obesity.
While alcohol intake can be a concern for health, there is a growing trend for opting for mocktails or alcohol-free beer to go with meals. Seafood has always been popular, but Ireland is moving away from the traditional fish and chips and opting for more sophisticated seafood options. Some favorite options include shellfish, seaweed, sushi and seas snacks with sushi seeing a 35% increase in take out orders. Hemp-based products and CBD oil saw a surge in the past few years and while the popularity is declining in other parts of the world, it appears to be increasing in Ireland. The Pacific-Rim is having an influence with more exotic food like dragon fruit and guava being added to more dishes.
Outside of almost getting hit by more than a few bicycles, there is nothing negative about the exorbitant reliance on biking in Amsterdam. 58% of its residents are said to be daily bike riders. The city is crowded, and streets are narrow so driving a car would seem to be a less desirable way to navigate the city. The citizens on the majority seemed to be thin – a stark comparison to the streets and suburbs of Chicago.
Amsterdam is a city that conjures up the image of tulips, biking and culture but also that of weed and prostitution. There is a shift happening in Amsterdam with a rise of wellness services. There appears to be a greater commitment to clean modes of transportation, nutrition and personal well-being. The Dutch have their own brand of coziness, gezellig, which can be an afternoon spent with friends or walking along the canal. Night life isn’t going away, but health and wellness will coexist more with it.
The trends in Amsterdam aren’t so different than the trends in the US from a few years ago. The city has seen a rise in vegan restaurants. Avocados, tacos and ramen are abundant. Matcha is gaining popularity in desserts or coffee along with bao as a favorite street food. Beets and veggie rice are being marketed to health-conscious consumers. Chocolates and sweets were in the hotels with many bakeries along the way. Plus, who can visit Amsterdam without trying all the varieties of gouda!
Copenhagen reminded me of Amsterdam with all the bikes but on a larger, less-crowded scale. I found a compelling statistic that almost half of journeys to school and work in Copenhagen take place on bicycles – and that’s all year round in any weather!
Life expectancy for men is 83 years old while women is 85 with about 60% of the time beyond age 65 in good health. Smoking has declined but 3% of Danish adults report heavy alcohol use and 14% of Danish adults were obese in 2014 which is up from 9.5% in 2000. While the US currently has close to 40% of adults obese. Cancer and cardiovascular disease are the biggest contributors to mortality in Denmark.
As in many of the Scandinavian countries, access to health care is high. They also have a word to describe feelings of wellness and contentment, hygge, which seemed to be apparent from my visits in the restaurants, stores, hotels and wellness spots. I took in a few exercise classes to bring back some ideas for my workouts. Hot yoga and spin classes were similar to home but I got a few ideas of different moves and some great music to keep it upbeat.
Like Amsterdam, physical activity is part of daily life. I’d love to help create more communities like this in the US where we don’t have to go exercise, but exercise is just what we do.
The food markets were filled with amazing options. My very favorite was the fish market and open-faced salmon sandwiches with dill. I enjoyed meeting locals and discussing food and differences between the US and European view on food and eating. The focus is going green, vegetables are becoming the star of the meal in many restaurants. Pastries and breads are still prominent with a focus on sourdough or new twists on a Danish – check out Lille Bakery – you won’t be disappointed. Sustainability is being targeted with creative ideas on reducing food waste. Natural wine and cider have usually been available in higher end restaurants, they are now appearing in more bars and wine shops. Check out Rodder og Vvin for a glass.
I will always be fascinated by the French Paradox as a nutritionist. Low coronary hart disease rates despite high intake of cholesterol and saturated fat. Red wine may play a role in lower rates but the amount of smoking seems to be the highest in any city I have ever visited. In the US, smoking cigarettes has seen a drastic decline yet on the streets and cafes in Paris it seems to be everywhere. 21% of the people in Paris are smokers (lowest rate in the country) where some areas in the south have a third of the population smoking.
The buttery food and pastries in Paris are alive and well. But like the other European cities, the view on eating in Paris seems drastically different. They enjoy their chocolate just not too much. I would love to see this attitude more in the US. We seem to be a culture of avoiding “bad” foods, yet portion sizes are huge. A healthier relationship with food and eating until satisfaction are things I’d like to see in the US.
While traditional fare is abundant, Paris is seeing a rise in healthy juices, veganism, granola, dragonfruit, kimchi, grains, Brussels sprouts and oat milk. I’m never disappointed by the food and energy of this city!