Thailand: Spice it up
Thai food is among the spiciest in the world. Hot peppers raise your metabolism, but the real benefit of food with a little zing is that it slows your eating, says James Hill, PhD, past president of the American Society for Nutrition. "Americans eat too fast," he says. "By the time your body signals that it's full, you've overeaten. Eating slower is a good weight-loss strategy, and making food spicier is an easy way to do it."Need major weight-loss motivation? Here’s the secret weight-loss advice used by the folks on The Biggest Loser and other reality shows.
Brazil: Serve a side of rice and beans
All that shaking at Carnaval isn't the only body-friendly habit in Rio; Brazilians stay slim by enjoying this traditional dish with just about every meal. A study in the journal Obesity Research found that a diet consisting primarily of rice and beans lowers the risk of becoming overweight by about 14 percent when compared with typical Western fare. That's because it's lower in fat and higher in fiber, which is thought to stabilize blood sugar levels. It may be counter-intuitive, but a diet full of beans equals a beach-ready body.
Indonesia: Try fasting once in a while
Islam, this country's leading religion, encourages periodic fasting: no food or drink from dawn to dusk. Others in Indonesia practice mutih, which allows only water and white rice. Although experts don't recommend fasting for weight control, fasting in moderation can break patterns of mindless eating, says Dr. Hill. "Most Americans never get hungry," he points out. "We've eaten the next meal before we've entirely digested the last one." No need for strict abstinence to get these psychological benefits: Try just cutting your calories in half for a day.
Poland: Eat at home more often than you eat out
Poles typically spend only 5 percent of their family budget on eating out. According to U.S. Department of Agriculture statistics, the average American family spends 37 percent of its food dollars at restaurants and fast-food joints. To save money and pounds, start tracking how often you eat out and how much you spend each month, and gradually cut back. "People who don't cook at home tend to eat less healthy food and be heavier than people who do," says journalist and activist Michael Pollan. "In fact, the collapse of cooking in a society tracks very closely its rise in obesity."
Germany: Eat your breakfast
An impressive 75 percent of Germans eat breakfast daily (compared with just 44 percent of Americans). They're not grabbing Egg McMuffins either; they're sitting down to fruit and whole-grain cereals and breads. Nutritionists have been advising people not to skip breakfast for years, but recent studies give a better picture of its importance. In one, British researchers discovered that if you haven't eaten breakfast, your brain's reward center will light up more vividly when you see a high-calorie food-making you more likely to indulge. Finally: a scientific explanation for that irresistible urge to pull into Dunkin' Donuts.
Netherlands: Swap the gas pedal for the bike pedal
Bikes (18 million) outnumber people (16.5 million) in the Netherlands. But unlike Americans (most of whose two-wheelers languish in basements and garages) 54 percent of Dutch bike owners use them for daily activities, such as shopping and traveling to work. The average Dutchman pedals 541 miles per year. Traffic lights in parts of Amsterdam are even synchronized to bike speed. Try using your bike to commute that day or just for errands close to home. If you're of average size and pedaling at a moderate pace, you can burn around 550 calories per hour. Here's what successful people do while they commute.
Switzerland: Try a bowl of muesli
Muesli is a porridge or cereal made from oats, fruit, and nuts, each of which has been linked to better health and weight control. It was developed by a Swiss physician more than a hundred years ago to nourish hospital patients, but the Swiss eat it for breakfast or as a light evening dish. Muesli's fiber makes it slow to digest, keeping you feeling full longer. Read the label carefully, though: Sugar content can vary from 2 to 14 grams per serving. Here are 25+ ways to add more fiber to your diet.
Russia: Carve out a dacha plot
Country houses, or dachas, where 51 percent of city folk spend vacations and summer weekends, almost always feature a garden. Russians grow their own vegetables and fruits and preserve and can what they grow. That makes their diet more nutritious. And "there's not much you can grow in a garden that will make you fat," notes Dr. Hill.
Malaysia: Turn up the turmeric
This spice, a key ingredient in curries, grows wild in Malaysian jungles. One of its chief components is a substance called curcumin, which may turn out to be a potent fat fighter. A recent Tufts University study found that mice fed a high-fat diet with small amounts of curcumin gained less weight than did other mice given similar but curcumin-free meals. Researchers think the ingredient suppresses the growth of fat tissue and increases fat-burning. Try some in your next stir-fry.
South Africa: Sip some rooibos tea
Enjoyed throughout the country, rooibos tea is more robust than green tea, and because it's naturally sweet, it needs no sugar. Ditching your daily Frappuccino for a cup of rooibos could save you thousands of calories per month. "Tea-drinking cultures generally have lower rates of obesity," says Fred Pescatore, MD, a natural medicine physician and author of The Hamptons Diet. "That may be from special compounds, such as catechins, that certain teas contain, or it may simply be that we often think we're hungry when we're really dehydrated."