Are Europeans healthier than we are?

So as you can see, Europeans have fast food.   McD’s is found in 10 locations in the very hip and cosmopolitan city of Barcelona, for instance.   They don’t have nearly as many chains or locations as we do, though.


I have a weird little game I played in airports and train stations all over Europe and in the U.S.   I counted groups of 100 people and keep a tally of how many of them are overweight/obese, just to compare countries.   I don’t do this to be mean-spirited, nor do I think it’s the most statistically sound experiment ever.   People in airports are probably leaving out the oldest citizens, for instance, creating something less ideal than a true random sample, although this should be uniformly true everywhere, so the results are skewed across the board.   And I can’t ferret out the tourists from the natives.   (However, very few Americans are traveling in Europe now to skew my results, with the weak dollar, I found.)   This is what I found very consistently (and I repeated the experiment over and over to see if any of my samples of 100 are outliers):


United States:   over 50% are overweight, some obese (this is not new information to you)

France, Spain, Italy:   about 15% are overweight

England:   about 20% are overweight


Italians in northern Italy are big meat eaters (the southern Italy diet, famed as “Mediterranean,” is much more plant based).   Everywhere you drive in the top half of the country, corn fields are growing–not to feed the people, but to feed the livestock (and ethanol refineries, I’m sure).   The French really do eat a lot of white bread products.   They have junk food accessible everywhere.   Why, then, are the vast majority of them thin and relatively fit?   These are my theories.


Where Europeans have Americans (and Canadians and Aussies) beat:

They have portions under  control, they eat more vegetables, and they exercise more (lots of walking and bike riding going on)


Where Americans have the Euros beat:

Less smoking  

Europeans are certainly struggling with high levels of heart disease and cancer.   Their smoking rate is incredible, whereas that’s the one marker that the U.S. has seen strong gains: our smoking rate has gone down consistently during the past two decades.


Honestly, I think part of the portion control is achieved simply because they CAN’T AFFORD to eat more!   Overuse of anything is rather socially taboo (those tiny little Smart Cars are everywhere), and a can of Coke is $4-$5 (about 3 euros or so) at any gas station.   And with exorbitant fuel costs, the Europeans long ago started riding bikes and walking.   In Italy, all the cars are tiny.   I never saw a single Suburban or Expedition, or even a Honda Pilot like mine.   No wonder the birth rate is negative in that country–the cars won’t fit any children!   Roads are narrow and would never allow the big honkin’ cars we drive here.   And the shops don’t have parking–I never saw a Walmart or its trademark small-city-sized parking lot, though I’m sure Walmart exists  somewhere in  Europe.

I’m buying a scooter next spring to reduce my usage of nonrenewable energy.   (I already drive the highest-mpg mid-size SUV on the market.)   I’m going to learn to buy a bag or two of groceries and put them in my scooter on my way home from the gym or work every day or two, rather than the usual bigger shopping trips.   My inlaws can’t believe I’m going to ride to the university 20 mins. away on a scooter, but I’m going to try it.

Today, the first day of school, my children are walking to school, and they’ve been informed that’s our New Normal.   We’ve always been pretty green, with the plant-based diet, gardening, composting, avoiding packaged foods, and eating weeds.   But I’m inspired to get GREENER.    Do you have two garbage cans going to the curb each week rather than just one?   If so,  you might want to consider doing the same.   What’s cool is when you can send your one garbage can out every OTHER week because you use so little that comes in boxes, cans, and bottles.


Water intoxication . . . part 5 of 6 on WATER

Dr. B and other experts say you should drink half your weight in ounces (that’s 8 glasses of water for a 128 lb. person), with ¼ tsp. unrefined salt dissolved in water for every quart you drink.

Of course, the most important fact is that most people are chronically dehydrated and need to drink more.   Clear or very light colored urine shows good hydration, and the darker your urine, the more dehydrated you are (first thing in the morning, most of us are dehydrated).   Small children, the elderly, and athletes are at highest risk for dehydration, because we lose 10-15 cups of fluids daily through elimination, sweat, and breathing.   The biggest factor increasing that amount is exercise–but altitude and temperature are other variables to consider.

You can, in fact, drink too much water to achieve water intoxication.   This usually happens only to athletes, since your kidneys can’t process water during exercise, so competitive athletes must balance sodium and water intake.   Thirteen percent of distance runners whose weight was measured before and after running and their water consumption studied, drank too much water, causing abnormally or dangerously low blood sodium levels.

Dissolve about ½ tsp. of Original Crystal Himalayan Salt (or RealSalt would be my second choice) in your water first thing in the morning to balance water and sodium levels for best hydroelectric conductivity in your body.

Get in the habit of taking your favorite reusable water bottle with you everywhere you go.   Find spaces in your routine where you learn to always drink a glass or two.   For instance, drink your 16 oz. water bottle all the way home from work in the car, before you prepare dinner.

Eating right while traveling internationally . . . part 3

On the cruise, of 841 guests, fewer than 5 percent were Americans.   The vast majority were Europeans and Aussies, more than 50 percent of the ship from England.   (I know, I know–you’re mocking me for how much I love weird statistics, I get it.)

My friend Shari and I were each told once that we lack “diplomacy” by a Brit–because we were so hyper and excited to be there.   Okay okay, fine, it’s because we are loud Americans!  We got off in 8 port cities to tour, and people paid about $100 USD for each tour.   I was astonished, repeatedly, that the Europeans with us routinely STAYED ON THE TOUR BUS at really cool sites, like Fort Santiago in Manila, full of scary dungeons and a real-life moat, where the national hero Jose Rizal took his last, incarcerated steps before being shot by a firing squad.

Why would these folks–literally a majority of the bus–not even get off the bus at many of the sites?   Wait for it.   It’s certainly not because the tour guides were bad, because they were great!  At Marble Mountain in Da Nang, Vietnam, everyone got out to buy marble statuettes in the store where incredible artisans make gorgeous things from the marble mined there.   But they got back on the bus, or dropped out after the first flight of stairs, when we climbed 156 really steep steps of the mountain to an incredible Buddhist temple.   The tour guide at the top asked if we wanted to do more climbing to see even more cool stuff, and the three of us jumped at the chance.   An unbelievable view, and this temple in a deep cave where American bombs had opened a skylight as people huddled down there during the war.

Of a full busload, those who went on could be counted on two hands.   (The ones I cheerleaded on, saying, “You can do it!!” were up there with us, and I felt bad when it came time to go back DOWN the stairs–British Maureen, in her 60’s, was such a trouper.   My friend Shari and I let her lean on both our shoulders to get down, least we could do since I was the leader of the pep squad who conned her up the stairs!)  So here’s the kicker.   The vast majority of these people who paid a mint for an amazing vacation and the MISSED IT were unable to walk short distances because of . . . a lifetime of poor lifestyle choices.   I would estimate that more than 85 percent of the folks on the ship (most of them retired) were overweight, many of them obese.

On display daily were plates full of bacon and eggs for breakfast, fish and chips for dinner, lots of coffee and booze, too much toffee pudding, lots of cigarette smoking—and raw vegetables and fruits too rarely.  I feel bad for them.   They missed some cool stuff!   My tennis-pro friend Shari and my daughter Libby and I pumped up those stairs and would’ve wanted more except for the 90 percent humidity (Vietnam is the hottest place I’ve ever been in my life).

Taking 12 steps towards a whole-food, plant-based lifestyle isn’t necessarily so you can live forever. (Everybody will die sometime, yada yada, heard it a million times.)   It’s so that whatever years you DO live are great ones, full of vitality, learning, and positive energy.   In our case on this trip, finding cool buys in open-air markets, stomping through a rain forest, snorkeling in the South China Sea, boating through a mangrove looking for monkeys and crocs.   There’s so much to life, and it doesn’t have to end because of obesity, heart disease, and the other maladies currently destroying life for so many close to us.   If you’re in that boat, you can get out!   Degenerative disease CAN be reversed.   What I teach in my book and on this site is HOW.

This one hilarious lady named Jean in her 70s, was dancing, crawling around, jumping up and down, and staying up till 2 a.m.–she was thin, fit, and a total RIOT–everyone on the ship loved her.   I want to go out like a light bulb, like Jean, not a dimmer switch like the folks on the tour bus!  Go make a big quart of green smoothie for yourself, and put a quart in the fridge for tomorrow, while you’re feeling motivated!  

setting a bad example

Yesterday I went running on the jr. high school track by my home, which I often do.   I saw the most astonishing thing—and unfortunately, it’s the second time I’ve seen it.   The kids came out to play flag football, followed slowly by their P.E. teacher.   Think about your own P.E. teacher when you were a kid.   This one was not like yours, I can almost guarantee you.   He had a kid carrying a chair for him, and he proceeded to sit in it, on the football field, and remain seated throughout the breakout games of football.   He was obese and had difficulty walking up to the field.

Last year, I  saw an obese female P.E. teacher at the same school do the same thing (but the kids were running sprints).    About that same time, I sat on the founding board of a charter high school, and we were looking to hire a  P.E. teacher.   An experienced applicant came to interview us who confessed to severe cardiac disease and was clearly going to be the chair-sitting variety of teacher/coach.   After he left, I informed my colleagues that I do not want to hire an obese P.E. teacher.   They seemed offended and one told me that is “discriminatory.”

I said, “If we were hiring an English teacher who hasn’t read the classics and can’t write, I’d ‘discriminate’ against her, too.   I’m going to resist hiring a math teacher who can’t calculate algebraic equations.   So why is it too much to ask that the P.E. teacher be able to jog a lap, or do a layup?”

We are setting such a bad example for our kids.   If they look around them, they could easily get the idea that life is more or less over by the age of 40 for the majority of us.   How many of their teachers (P.E. or otherwise) are teaching from their chairs?   This is a travesty.   Even if we’re okay with our virtually chair-bound lives limiting us from doing much of anything fun by the time we hit 40, we should make massive lifestyle changes even for just the ONE REASON of setting a better example.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again here.   You moms and dads reading this who are willing to buck the larger culture, you are CHANGING THE WORLD for the better, one green smoothie at a time!   Obesity and heart disease will be a thing of the past when we return to a whole-foods diet, and we get out and enjoy moving around.

pain and misery at the happiest place on earth

There’s a lot of pain and misery at Disneyland, especially considering it’s supposed to be the happiest place on earth.   We had a blast there.   But every year, we observe more and more people in wheelchairs, very few of them elderly.   This year we saw rides stopped while obese people struggled to get secured in the vehicle before having to climb out, humiliated and defeated.   My heart breaks for these people.


People think the obese are lazy and eat tons more food than the rest of us.   That’s not necessarily true.   Fat cells, since they do nothing, take few calories to maintain.   (When you lose weight, you shrink those cells, but they never go away and regenerate easily.)   Muscle cells, on the other hand, have work to do and consume more calories.   That’s why you see lean, fit people eating “like a horse” and getting away with it.


While obese people certainly had to overeat and under-exercise for a period of time to get in the state they’re in, they could actually be eating a pretty reasonable number of calories and staying very overweight.

This just stresses the importance of two things:

(1)     Eat tons of vegetables (a good, ambitious goal is 2 lbs. a day, which is two heads of romaine).   The more you eat, the more you lose, since the net calorie effect is negative.   My second- and third-place choices for weight loss are FRUITS and BEANS: they’re low calorie, high nutrition, high fiber, and are going to prevent rather than cause cancer and heart disease.

(2)     Do weight-bearing exercise.   It not only builds bone mass, but it also tears tiny muscle fibers, which causes you to rebuild stronger.   Muscle consumes calories and serves you in accomplishing many tasks every day.


Healthy New Year’s Resolutions

This arrived in my email inbox today from Brigham Young University where I teach, touting the newly published research of Ray Merrill. This is exciting evidence that we can make long-term, profound changes in our health, if we educate ourselves and have a support system. This is the entire goal of both and my 12 Steps to Whole Foods program! Read each chapter to get the benefit of a time-saving nutrition course, and log onto the 12 Steps blog, tell us where you’re from and what your plans are for healthy new year’s resolutions!

Some healthy resolutions stick!

Not all resolutions to exercise and eat healthy fade away, according to a new study by a Brigham Young University health statistician.

Eighteen months after taking a four-week health education course, class participants remained significantly more active – taking 800 more steps per day than when they enrolled. The group continued also to show improvements in 17 of 20 diet categories.

In light of the long-term impact the study found, people looking for a New Year’s resolution may want to consider signing up for a work- or community-sponsored health education class. BYU professor Ray Merrill is lead author on the study published in the January issue of Preventing Chronic Disease, a Centers for Disease Control journal. “We expected to see short-term changes in behavior, but we were kind of holding our breath when we did the analysis at 18 months out,” Merrill said. “I thought most, if not all, of the positive results seen in the short term would go away, but there were still some profound, statistically significant benefits.”

A year and a half after they completed the class, participants had increased their daily dose of vegetables by more than two-thirds of a serving. They also ate nearly half of a serving more per day of fruits. Cholesterol intake declined for 84 percent of participants. Merrill said the study justifies corporations and health insurers that promote similar wellness programs among employees and their families.

“There are important implications in terms of lowering risk of heart disease and cancer,” Merrill said. “Quality of life and life expectancy also improve with better diet and more physical activity.” The study is based on 348 volunteers who enrolled in a Coronary Health Improvement Project sponsored by a health care system in Rockford, Ill. The two-hour classes were held four nights a week over four weeks and taught the importance of lifestyle choices and how to improve diet and physical activity.

Unlike some programs that include financial incentives for meeting goals, participants in this study paid a fee to enroll. Those who attended 75 percent of the classes received a refund. “This is a very intense education program that takes place over only four weeks,” Merrill said. “Just by educating people and providing a social support system, there were some profound long-term benefits.”

At the end of the four-week course, the program alumni received newsletters and reminders designed to support their newly formed health habits. In addition to increased walking and fruit and vegetable intake, after 18 months the program participants experienced an average reduction of 391 calories and 23 fat grams per day, and an increase in fiber intake of 4 grams per day.