What do you think of when I mention ‘the Dutch’…little girls wearing aprons, plaited hair, clogs and white pointy hats? I honestly didn’t know very much about the Dutch either before I visited the Netherlands.
I don’t claim to be an expert on the Dutch, but I noticed some patterns while I was in the Netherlands that have forever changed the way that I think of them. They are a very cool bunch of people with some very healthy habits and we could probably all take a page out of their book.
#1 Enjoy dark grainy breads
I was so excited when I walked into the Dutch supermarket Albert Heijn to find rows of clear bread boxes filled with different brown and grainy bread rolls in all different shapes and sizes.
For a dietitian, this was the equivalent moment to a kid walking into a lolly shop. I took a plastic bag and a pair of tongs and filled my bag with a nice crusty multigrain bread roll every day. These bread rolls in combination with my favourite cheese (Old Amsterdam), olives and slices of fresh tomato, made the most delicious sandwiches.
Why should you eat wholegrain breads? As you might guess, whole grain breads are made using the entire grain of wheat, rye etc.
As the beneficial bran layer has not been removed, wholegrain breads are brown in colour. It also means that the bread still contains all the vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients and fibre from the entire grain as nature intended.
Another added benefit is that multigrain breads (bread where you can see the bits of grains and seeds) are more likely to have a lower GI, which provides slow release energy to sustain you until your next meal.
#2 Cycle everywhere
A study published in the American Journal of Public Health found that adults in the Netherlands age 20-90 years cycled for approximately 74-minutes per week. This is equivalent to around 11-minutes of cycling per day. This study estimated that Dutch people in the Netherlands who cycled increased their life span by half a year. If I have calculated this correctly, the amount of time that they spent cycling in their life time is equivalent to the half year that they added to their lives…so essentially cycling increases your lifespan but you are going to spend that extra time cycling. 😉
On the bright side, at least cycling improves your cardiorespiratory fitness and reduces your risk of developing cardiovascular disease, some cancers and obesity in middle-aged and elderly adults.
#3 Eat cheese
Gouda, Edam…I’m sure that these names ring a bell. They are all cheeses from the Netherlands. And I have to say that they are delicious! I have to admit that I’m not a fan of the smelly cheeses so I was in cheese heaven in the Netherlands where mild cheeses are abundant and amazingly good.
I have to be honest with you though. My favourite cheese was not a big wheel of artisan cheese from the markets, it was a packet of pre-sliced Old Amsterdam cheese from the supermarket. #noshame
Are you surprised that dietitians recommend cheese as part of a healthy diet? Cheese is a good source of calcium and protein. However, it is also high in saturated (cholesterol-raising) fat and calories/kilojoules, therefore limit yourself to a portion that is the size of two fingers…otherwise you will have to go on an extra long bike ride to burn off the extra kilojoules.
#4 Buy flowers…live longer?
The Netherlands is famous for their tulips. However I did not anticipate just how common tulips would be. Not only were tulips planted in the famous tulip gardens such as Keukenhof, but they were also planted in pots by the sides of the road, sold in markets and surrounded the bases of postboxes where I would expect to see weeds if I was in Australia. You have no idea how happy it made me to see so many flowers at every turn.
The Netherlands was ranked the 7th happiest country in the world in the 2016 World Happiness Report. By comparison, Australia was ranked the 9th happiest country in the world. Maybe if we planted more flowers in Australia, we might be happier too?
A psychology study supports the idea that flowers actually do make us happy. What did surprise me about this study was that the flowers put women in a good mood for three days and also improved memory in both males and females!
What? You don’t have time to grow flowers. Happier people live healthier and longer lives according to this study. So no excuses, buy some flowers, feel happier and possibly increase your lifespan.
#5 Positivity: Life gives you wind, make windmills
I have always associated the Netherlands with windmills. However it wasn’t until I arrived in the Netherlands that I connected the dots…a country famous for windmills is likely to be a windy place! The wind chill factor made it so cold, that for the whole first day I took very few photos as I didn’t want to take my fingers out of my warm coat pockets. Needless to say, my first purchase in the Netherlands was a pair of gloves.
I gained a strange life lesson from this chilling experience. Don’t complain about the cards that you are dealt in life, you can’t change them but you can make the most of them. Some say, when life gives you lemons, make lemonade. The Dutch demonstrated this perfectly, when life gave them wind, they developed windmills and more recently, wind turbines. According to the Dutch train company NS, all Dutch electric trains are now powered by wind energy!
Take a look at what you have in your life, be positive and make the most of it.
If you can think of any other healthy Dutch habits, please don’t be shy, leave a comment below.