Switzerland had to be in my top two European countries that I visited this time last year.
Why I love Switzerland:
- It is UNBELIEVABLY beautiful!
- Super friendly locals
- I felt incredibly healthy
I had no choice but to feel wonderful while I was in Switzerland. I was living in an environment that encouraged healthy living.
Here are my Top 5 Healthy Habits to Learn from the Swiss.
Disclaimer: Keep in mind that while I am a nutrition expert, I’m not an expert on the Swiss. If you are Swiss, please share your thoughts in the comments below. Let me know if you have any other healthy habits to share on their behalf.
#1 Enjoy Dairy Products
The Swiss appear to be crazy about dairy products. How could I blame them?
They had the genius idea to add milk into dark chocolate to create what we now know as milk chocolate (note: that doesn’t make chocolate a dairy product…sorry guys!).
Their yoghurt aisle was so long that I had to take a panoramic photo to capture it all.
They have so many different flavours…they even have yoghurt with chocolate flakes in it! Yum!
At local restaurants they served many different types of delicious locally produced cheeses. No, they didn’t put chocolate in the cheese. 😉
When I hopped onto my first train in Switzerland I was given a free bottle of a soft drink called Rivella. I read the ingredients list, and I couldn’t believe my eyes. Rivella is made from 35% milk whey! These Swiss must really love their milk! Apparently it is quite popular and is the second best selling soft drink in Switzerland behind Coca-Cola.
Rivella is made from milk sugar, vitamins and minerals. The milk fat and protein have been removed which makes the drink clear. I thought that it tasted like a fruity ginger ale.
Like most soft drinks, Rivella is sweetened with sugar and flavoured with fruit and herb extracts; therefore it is still a ‘sometimes’ food not an ‘everyday’ food.
Dairy foods such as milk, yoghurt and cheese are a rich source of protein, calcium and other vitamins and minerals. This is not surprising as milk is the sole source of nutrition for babies!
Due to the rising popularity of fermented foods, yoghurt and cheese are back in the spotlight. They are rich in probiotics (beneficial bacteria), which help to improve our gut health. The Swiss are onto something good, eat more dairy products!
#2 Participate in Outdoor Sports
The number of sporting activities that I saw in Switzerland blew me away. On a tiny mountain-side village, I saw opportunities to play tennis, go swimming, alpine skiing, walking, biking…just to name a few.
Switzerland was ranked as having the 3rd highest rate of sports participation when compared to countries in the European Union. According to one survey, 67% of people in Switzerland reported that they participated in a sport at least once per week.
How could they just stay inside and watch television when their tennis courts have amazing views like this?
Take a page from their book, make the most of the beautiful outdoors and get moving!
#3 Eat Bircher Muesli
Did you know that a Swiss physician invented one of my favourite breakfasts? Bircher muesli was developed in the early 1900s by Maximillian Bircher-Benner for patients in his hospital.
His original bircher muesli contained grated apple, nuts, rolled oats soaked in water for 12 hours, lemon juice and cream + honey or sweetened condensed milk.
As a dietitian I would recommend giving the added cream a miss. Instead make it creamier (and increase the protein content) by soaking your oats in milk and yoghurt rather than water. Add some seasonal fruits to make it sweeter without adding honey or sweetened condensed milk.
You can buy bircher muesli from Swiss supermarkets in the yoghurt aisle.
I was also served homemade bircher muesli with yoghurt and fruit at a sports chalet for breakfast every day. As bircher muesli has a low glycaemic index (GI) it gave me sustained energy throughout the morning to walk up and down the beautiful Swiss mountain-side.
Tip: For a quick grab-and-go breakfast, be like the Swiss and whip up some bircher muesli the night before!
To make a basic bircher muesli, just mix some yoghurt with rolled oats and leave in the fridge overnight to soften. Add your favourite fresh fruits in the morning.
#4 Enjoy Wholegrain Breads
Bread baskets are not typically served in Australian restaurants. So when I went to Europe I was quite surprised to see that bread baskets were provided for free at almost every restaurant that I went to.
To this dietitian’s delight, by default the Swiss bread baskets were always full of brown (wholegrain) bread rather than white. Even the continental breakfast at my Swiss sports chalet offered brown bread.
As I mentioned in my Dutch post, wholegrain breads (e.g. wholemeal or multigrain) are made using the entire grain of wheat, rye etc.
As the beneficial bran layer and germ portion have 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.
#5 Live on Mountains
I realise that not all Swiss people live on the sides of mountains because they have equally stunning valleys to live in too. However for those who live on the sides of mountains, I want to give you a pat on the back.
I was staying in Murren, a mountain side village near Interlaken. When I walked for 30 mins to the nearest village (Gimmelwald) I had a rude awakening. Walking is hard when you are walking up and down the side of a mountain. It is steep! Very steep! Especially when your cousin wants to take high incline short cuts through fields instead of taking the easier zig zag footpaths.
To make life even more difficult, people who live on mountains also have to adjust to a higher altitude. As the air has a lower oxygen concentration at higher altitudes this means our cardiovascular and respiratory systems have to work even harder to supply oxygen to our cells.
I thought that I had some stamina as I have run the 14km City2Surf and completed a mini triathlon. But this 30-minute walk up the side of a mountain reduced me to a wheezing mess. This is me feeling pretty positive before the ascension, the after photo was deleted…not so pretty.
If you ever race a Swiss person, don’t underestimate them!
If you liked this article, you might also enjoy my article Top 5 Healthy Habits to Learn from the Dutch.