Bread for Lunch?

This post is a little different. I wanted to share this little anecdote about how studying abroad has changed the way I describe healthy dietary patters- so here I go…

“The buns are in the oven”. This is what my host mom told me around 11:00am on my first day after arriving in Copenhagen. She explained that homemade buns (rundstykker) are a traditional Danish food- which are basically just big bread rolls. Each family has a unique recipe and the fluffier the buns, the better. Around 11:30am she asked me to help set the table. I put out plates, forks, knives along with the butter, jams, cheese, honey, and Nutella she pulled out of the fridge and cupboard. As the fresh buns came out of the oven just a few minutes later, my host parents, their three year old son, and I sat down at the dining room table for what I thought was a little, traditional mid-morning snack. My host mom cut the buns in half and passed them around the table until we each had a hot bun on our plate. We all helped ourselves to the toppings in the middle of the table easily spreading them as they melted over the warm crumbly surface. For the next hour or so, we sat around the table talking and getting to know each other. I had a total of one and a half buns, as I didn’t want to fill up on bread before lunch—even though they were delicious and I could have had many more. Over the course of the hour that we sat there, my host mom and dad had three or four buns each and continuously offered me more. When they finally finished cutting, spreading, and eating each bun and our conversation had come to a breaking point we cleared the table and washed the dishes. I went to my room to finish unpacking my luggage and take a nap to catch up on my jet lag. I was expecting a nice hot lunch to be ready when I woke up an hour later. Much to my surprise, I woke up from my nap with no food in sight. I didn’t want to ask my host parents when our next meal was because I was starting to get the feeling that lunch was the buns that we had had earlier. As the clock neared 3:00pm and my stomach started to grumble, I went in the kitchen and grabbed an apple to hold me over until dinner. Fast forward to the evening when I went to pack my lunch for Monday, my host mom suggested that I take some leftover buns with butter and cheese for lunch. It finally clicked! Apparently that meal of bread, butter, and cheese was actually a typical Danish lunch. I began to have a slight internal panic attack when I realized that I would be having a light, bread-filled, and protein-lacking lunch for an entire semester.

Among other things, getting used these light Danish lunches (which are almost always filled with bread) was has been a major food obstacles that I have had to overcome since coming to Denmark. Coming from living in a university apartment where I can buy and eat whatever I want (I try not to eat lots of processed food and simple sugars/grains), to not being able to choose what food is in the house and becoming accustomed to eating bread at every single meal has not been easy.

Now, almost two months into my new Danish eating habits, I actually have a newfound appreciation for the diet patterns. At first, it was difficult to overcome the uncomfortable feeling of eating mostly bread for lunch, but I have actually discovered that eating nut and seed filled rye bread actually fills me up quickly and keeps me full throughout the day. These rye breads with lots of nuts and seeds, which are very common in Denmark, have a lot more nutrients—including some protein—than most bread in the long American grocery store aisles. I have had to add an American touch by having peanut butter on my rye bread to make up for some of the protein and healthy fats I am lacking during lunch, but other than that, I have realized that the Danes actually are not crazy just having bread and some toppings for lunch. It has taken some getting use to but I now feel good about eating all of the wholesome grains in bread for lunch every day.

Eight weeks ago, when I realized I would be having bread for lunch everyday, I nearly had a panic attack. I would have never predicted that, today, I actually look forward to my rye bread sandwich everyday for lunch. As a nutrition major at school and an aspiring dietitian, it is fascinating to learn about the various eating patterns of people around the world. Throughout my education, I have always been taught that bread is full of empty calories and should not be the main part of any meal. Not only has living in Denmark given me new cultural experiences, but it has also changed how I look at diet choices of those in different counties and given me a fresh perspective on what healthy eating is defined as.

Study Abroad Update
It has been 3 days since returning from Riga, Helsinki, and Stockholm and had some really interesting (but some boring) lectures on health care. It is definitely interesting to see how cultural differences (such as Latvia’s conservative views on HIV/AIDS and family planning) can have such a large impact on the health care that is (or is not) provided to the citizens. Some unique food experiences on my trip included traditional Swedish meatballs (which were delicious) and reindeer (which was not so delicious)!

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Tomorrow will take me to Dublin, Ireland for the weekend as my next stop in this amazing adventure!

What is Healthy?

It has officially been a week since arriving in Copenhagen and I only went the wrong way on the train once! Last week was filled with orientation seminars and tours of the city, and I successfully survived my first day of classes on Thursday. So far, I am enjoying all of my classes with Danish definitely being the most difficult. Thanks to my host family, I’ve got built in tutors for that!

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My core class in the Public Health program is Health Delivery and Prioritization in Northern Europe. Our class discussion on Thursday and our homework for the weekend revolved around the definition of health. Think about it… health can be a hard word to define. After reading this excerpt from Stephen Holland’s book Public Health Ethics, I was reminded of a new meaning of health that is often overlooked.

“…raised blood pressure is a risk factor for all kinds of disease. Reducing alcohol intake can be expected to lower the patient’s blood pressure and therefore reduce the risk of disease. So, the doctor ought to persuade the patient to drink less. But, on a conception of health as well-being, things look different. Given the patient’s circumstances, it might well be that going to the pub or bar to drink beer is vital to maintaining the levels of well-being. Stopping drinking – even compromising the pleasure of drinking by harping on about its detrimental effects – might well be disastrous for the patient’s well-being. So, on this account of health it would be dubious of the doctor to persuade the patient to drink less.”

The World Health Organization defines health as “a complete state of physical, mental, and social well-being, and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity”. Coming from a nutrition perspective, I am always focused on physical health and preventing disease and often forget about the mental and social well-being part of health.

So what is the point?
What I am trying to say is that it is important that we enjoy what we are eating and have a positive relationship with food. Eating lots of fiber, vegetables, and lean meats is great for our physical health but sometimes it can be overwhelming and interfere with out mental and social well-being.

For example, if you are at a dinner party or a restaurant trying to eat only “healthy” foods, the “unhealthy” foods around you can be very tempting. This can cause anxiety and an unpleasant, stressful night for you. You might be proud of yourself at the end of the night for not having a single French fry, but was it worth all of the anxiety? Would it have been better for your mental and social well-being to have a few fries or a bit of ice cream?

Not only is your diet about balance, but so is your overall health. Every person is different so I am not going to tell you when and where you should be eating what, but keep in mind that your overall health is determined by a lot more factors that just the food that goes into your mouth. Making “healthy” choices doesn’t just mean eating salad for every meal. “Healthy” choices can also include having a piece of cake in honor of a celebration or having chips and salsa at the dinner party so you don’t feel isolated and hungry.

Keeping Snack Portions Under Control + Study Abroad Classes

Have you ever sat down in front of the TV or went to read a textbook chapter with a big bag of chips? Let me guess… the next thing you know, the whole bag is gone. Don’t worry, you aren’t the only one. I have been know to polish off a big bag of Skinny Pop watching too many episodes of Dance Moms.

We, in America, tend to eat WAY more than a typical portion size. Think about that bag of chips; the nutrition fact label probably said you should have shared that bag with 10 other people!

While nutrition fact serving sizes may not be realistic, they should be used as a guide to limit your intake especially on snacks that are easy to overeat.

My favorite way to prevent overeating is to pre-portion my snacks. As soon as I get home from the grocery store I take the big bag of food and separate it into smaller Ziploc bags. The next time you need a snack, you grab one of your little Ziploc bags. This way, you don’t have a whole bag sitting in front of you for you to mindlessly keep eating.nuts portion pic

Not only is this a great way to limit how much you eat, it also easier to grab a snack on the go. You can just grab a pre-portioned bag and be on your way!

I especially like to do this with my favorite trail mix from Target. Nuts carry a lot of fat and calories so overeating can be dangerous. As soon as I get home, measured out ¼ cup of nuts and put each into a snack bag. When I am running out the door to get to class, I can grab a bag and not have to think about how much to eat.

If making portion size bags isn’t for you, I suggest buying the small snack bags from the store (like buying the small bags of chips instead of the huge family size). It might cost you a little more money but it will prevent you from eating the whole bag at once.

Study Abroad Update!
My flight is officially booked and I am signed up for classes. I am in a public health program where my core course will be Health Delivery and Prioritization in Northern Europe. As a part of this class, I will spend a week in Helsinki, Finland and Riga, Latvia learning about various European health care systems. I will also be taking Health Beyond Boards, Anthropology of Food, and Danish Language.

T-92 days until I am on my way!