Eating Seasonally

With spring in full swing (aside from the short snow-fall today in Denmark!) farmers markets and grocery stores all around Copenhagen are starting to display their brightest and juiciest produce. Everything from strawberries to watermelons are at the very front of the store just waiting for you to give into the fruity deliciousness you have missed all winter. I’m not joking when I say “missed”. Here, in Denmark, it is pretty difficult to find produce that isn’t grown in Denmark (or at least in a nearby country). The Danes are very supportive of local farmers and only eating fruits and vegetables that are in season. That means for pretty much all of the winter, you can only find things like apples, oranges, and plums. Grapes, kiwis, and especially berries are pretty much impossible to find during the colder months. While I have definitely missed some of natures candy during my last three months in Denmark, there are lots of perks to eating only fruits and vegetables that are in season. Here are some that I have discovered since living here and talking to the Danes:

  1. Environment- This fits in well with yesterday’s celebration of Earth Day. Eating seasonally and locally is good for the environment! It eliminates the need for truck and airplane shipping pollution, refrigeration, green house operations, and chemical/pesticide use. When I go grocery shopping, the environment is one of the last things I think about (I usually focus on cost and taste), but it is important to remember that the environment plays a big role in the food we eat and our overall health.
  2. Taste- When fruits and vegetables are grown with real sunlight (not artificial lamps and greenhouses), the produce grows with much more flavor and fruits are much sweeter.
  3. Cost- When a food is in season, there is usually an abundance of it. We all know from high school econ that that means price goes down. Also, local and season foods don’t come from miles away so that eliminates the shipping costs of the product. Farmers markets are a great way to cash in on some cheap, yet high quality produce.
  4. Variety- Although it is sad to not have any strawberries for the entire winter, it makes springtime that much more exciting when they appear in the stores. Eating seasonal produce also encourages you to try some new fruits and vegetables you might not otherwise try. You have to make do with what is available!
  5. Nutrients- Every minute after a fruit or vegetable is picked from the ground, it loses nutrient content. Therefore, the shorter the “farm to table” time is, the more nutrients that will be available to fuel your body.

Obviously, living in northern climates does not allow us to eat 100% seasonal, but something is better than nothing. Try choosing 2-3 items that you will only buy when they are in season. If you are up for a challenge, you can always try more!

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!

Copenhagen Street Food

Surprise! In a city that is famously known for their hot dog carts, you can still find some healthier street food options. It just goes to show that there is usually a healthy (or at least healthier) option anywhere you go. Now, I don’t come from a big urban city where street food and food trucks are on every corner so I don’t know if this is normal, but I found a food truck this week that I couldn’t resist sharing. It was a nut and dried fruit truck! Here is a picture of this amazingness but it doesn’t do it justice. 
  
Maybe I’m just geeked out about this because I like nutrition but I thought it was so cool- and personally, I would rather snack on nuts and dried fruit while shopping in downtown Copenhagen rather than eating a hotdog. Aside from the food, I think this is the first food truck I have ever seen that only sells water- no soft drinks. 

Anyways, I just wanted to share this awesome food find and that there are usually always healthier options around. 

That is all for now. I am off to Riga, Latvia, Helsinki, Finland, and Stockholm, Sweden this week for more public health visits and lots Northern European adventures!

Vacation Eating and The Hunger Scale

Vacation usually means lots and lots of delicious treats! I love trying new foods so going to new restaurants and countries with new types of food is so much fun for me. Vacation also usually means a week or two of indulging and then its back to a relatively well balanced diet. My dilemma… I have quickly realized that this “vacation” is not just a week or two. I am abroad for over four months so having loads of sugary treats everyday is not the wisest decision. The past week has made me discover that just because I am in a foreign country does not means I can eat whatever I want, all of the time.

Over the weekend, some friends and I took a quick trip to Brussels, Belgium. I don’t know what you think about when I say Belgium, but the first things that came to my mind were chocolate, waffles, and French fries. With only 48 hours, we all took advantage of these amazing treats… so much so that we all felt pretty sick for the next few days. While a few days of salad, vegetable overload, and some trips to the gym got me feeling right back to normal, I have realized that this pattern of overeating and then “cleansing” does not make me feel my best.

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Belgian Waffles!

The biggest thing that I have forgotten about in all of this is the hunger scale. This guide here is a good way to know when and how much you (and I) should eat. If “1” is starving and “10” is miserably full, you should always be between 3 and 6/7. I know that recently I have been hitting 9/10 (and possible an 11 in Belgium!) way too often and it doesn’t feel good.

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It is probably going to be difficult to say no to the homemade cakes my host mom makes, along with the flakey chocolate-filled pastries on every street corner, but if I want to survive these four months without endless stomach aches, I have to remind myself that I am going to be here for quite some time, and I don’t have to stuff my face with everything that is in front of me. (But, of course, a treat or a bite here and there will never hurt!) I also have to remind myself how much better I will feel if I don’t go to bed feeling like a roly-poly every night.

Fantastic Food Find + Paleo

Last Friday, I stumbled upon this pretty awesome little restaurant in the Glass Market in Copenhagen. Several glass sheds are filled with little restaurants, food stands, and farmers selling fresh fruits, vegetables, meat, and fish. After walking around for 20 minutes drooling over all of the delicious options, I convinced my friend that we had to eat at a restaurant called Palæo (Paleo).

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Inside the Glass Market

Paleo is a diet that consists of foods that could be found during the Paleolithic period (essentially the foods eaten by cavemen). The diet includes fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and meat and excludes sugar, processed grains, and dairy. While I am not a huge fan of following any specific diet, my mom, who is a true Paleo fanatic, inspired me to give it a try. Plus, after eating bread and pasta for every meal with my host family, I was in need of something different.

It took many questions to figure out what we wanted off of the menu written in Danish, but I decided on a salmon wrap with smoked salmon, guacamole, cabbage, spinach, and pomegranate seeds. The wrap? Since Paleo means no flour, it was wrapped in an omelet! While it wasn’t authentic Danish cuisine in any way it has been one of my favorite meals since I’ve been here!

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Like I said before, I am not a huge fan of following any specific diet, I do think the Paleo diet has some good principles. For example, wrapping my sandwich with egg instead of flour adds much more protein to make for a more satisfying meal. It also helps you steer clear of some of the crazy, zillion letter chemicals that can be found in lots of processed foods. Just keep in mind, you don’t have to follow a diet of any kind to be healthy. Using principles of diets like Paleo to guide your eating patterns while still including some sweet treats and bread is a great way to have a well balanced diet.

As for my study abroad adventures, I am currently on a study tour with my core public health class in Western Denmark (Odense and Vejle) until Wednesday visiting various health care institutions across Denmark. Next stop: Brussels, Belgium on Friday with friends. Can’t wait to eat tons of waffles and chocolate!

 

Meal Planning

Happy Sunday! When I’m not living with a host family in Denmark, Sunday is usually my meal planning and grocery shopping day to get ready for the upcoming week. Being busy with class and homework makes it difficult to just “run to the store and grab something”, especially when the good grocery store is a 20-minute drive from my apartment. That is where the meal plan comes in. Every Sunday I sit down and figure out what I am going to eat for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks each week. This makes it super easy to put together a grocery list of everything I need, and it prevents me from coming home at the end of a long day and having a box of crackers and a spoonful of peanut butter for dinner. Here are some reasons why I make a meal plan (and you should too!):

  1. Less food waste. If you have a plan for what you are going to eat and only buy those things, much less ends up in the dumpster. Similarly, you won’t buy things you don’t need. We have all gone to the store and thrown items in the cart “just in case” we need them. But, if you already have a plan for what you are going to make for the week, there is no guessing what you “might” need.
  2. Saves you trips to the store. When you go to make your favorite pasta dish for dinner Wednesday, you will already have all the ingredients because you thought about it before hand. No more last minute stops at the store because you don’t have the ingredients you need.
  3. Eat healthier. Instead of grabbing for the cookie jar because there is nothing else in the house, you will have all the healthy snacks you bought based on your meal plan. You are also more likely to stick to a healthy diet when you have it written down.
  4. Creating a grocery list is easier. Most people already know that you aren’t supposed to go to the grocery store without a list. With a meal plan, it makes it easy to know exactly what you need and how much so there is no more aimless wondering through the grocery store grabbing each item that looks good.

Here is a template for a meal plan that I found on Google and there are tons more to choose from (or make your own!).

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To my surprise, my host family asked me to help them create a meal plan for dinner this week. I guess meal planning is popular in Denmark, too!

Happy planning!

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.