If you’re visiting the USA from overseas, you’ve probably already wondered about food. Can you eat healthily in the USA? You’ve read about the meat and poultry industries and their practices, you are aware that the United States has an extremely high obesity rate …
Indeed a 2016 study found that less than 3% of Americans live a healthy lifestyle.
Is it possible to maintain a healthy diet in the States?
It’s true that people who travel to the USA from countries where dietary health is taken more seriously cannot simply relax while on vacation and have a when-in-Rome attitude to the food they eat. Many foods can literally be a shock to the system and after all, when you’re on a trip that’s exactly when you want to feel as fit and healthy as possible.
If you’re used to eating well at home, then eating American-style for a short time more than likely won’t have any long-term effects on your health but you want to feel your best so read on.
CONSIDER SELF-CATERING ACCOMMODATION
Of course, you’re likely to eat out occasionally but the best way to guarantee that you’re eating as healthily as you would at home is by buying and preparing your own foods. In light of the reports we read all the time about the American diet, this is not ‘cranky’ or ‘weird’, it’s downright sensible.
If you were travelling in what we used to call a third world country, no one would think it odd that you preferred to prepare your own food. Well in this instance you are traveling in a third world country, nutritionally speaking. Staying in self-catering accommodation may also mean that you’ll have the advice of a local host who can let you know your grocery-shopping options.
The top two crops grown in the USA are corn and soy. Corn then produces high-fructose corn syrup which is definitely a baddie in the dietary stakes. that and hydrogenated soybean oil finds its way into a huge variety of packaged foods.
Furthermore, over 85% of the corn grown in the USA is genetically engineered.
The chances are good that there’s somewhere selling healthier foods in the places you’re staying. Check them out. Don’t forget farmers markets too.
DRINK BOTTLED WATER
Drinking water that your body is unused to could make you feel a little off par. Avoiding drinking tap water is an excellent idea,. The chances are good that you’ll be able to buy imported bottled water from your own country. If not, then be sure to check the labels and buy a water that’s pure. Yes, this costs money and tap water is free, but this is your body we’re talking about!
Be sure to drink plenty of it, too. Water, along with fruits and vegetables that have a high water content, will help to flush any nasties from your system.
HEALTHY FAST FOOD?
You avoid these places at home but if you’re travelling it might sometimes seem that these places are your only eating option. Most of these chains advertise on their menus a ‘healthy choice’ dish – sometimes several. One thing to watch is often these are referring to dishes that are low-calorie rather than good for you.
Many of these are chicken dishes and of course, this is a lower fat meat so yes, it’s going to have fewer calories than a 100% beef burger. But we know that the poultry industry in the USA is not dedicated to producing a product that is healthy for us to eat.
BEWARE OF SALADS
I don’t know about you but at home I love to eat huge salads – lots of lovely fresh and raw vegetables. And at home, you probably buy your raw foods from reliable sources. But you don’t want to go to Google and look up ‘pesticide use in the USA’ unless you want to be put off eating for life.
With salads in restaurants and fast food outlets, you can find that they often contain ingredients of a dubious provenance. And commercially produced salad dressings are one of the worst culprits for containing high fructose corn syrup. This is particularly the case if dressings on the supermarket shelf are labelled as low-calorie or low-fat. Speaking of which…
BREAD, JUICE, YOGURT, CEREALS…
That corn syrup can get in everywhere. What could be better than starting your day with a glass of fruit juice, a fruit yogurt and some wholewheat toast? And hey, you’re on holiday so why not try one of those American breakfast cereals that aren’t available at home? It sounds lovely … but do check the ingredient list before you buy.
These four items, along with salad dressing, are among the worst culprits for containing the dreaded HFCS. Yes, I know that I go on (and on and on) about this stuff but here’s what Healthline has to say:
At the end of the day, avoiding high-fructose corn syrup may be one of the easiest and most effective ways for you to improve your health and lower your risk of disease.
It’s one of those clichés that US portion sizes are huge – but it’s true. They are enormous. But luckily, restaurants in America are perfectly used to customers asking for their leftovers to be boxed so they can take them away with them to enjoy the following day.
They are also fine with guests who order an appetizer as their main course. I do this often. We sometimes order one main meal and ask for two plates so that we can share it. No one has ever objected to this either. In fact, when asking for this I have sometimes said ‘because your portions are so huge…’
Google tells me that only 3.2% of people in the USA are vegetarian whereas the percentage in the UK is 11%. Countries that beat that 11% are India, Mexico, Israel, Australia, Brazil, Taiwan and Switzerland. So this leads me to believe that there are a lot of non-meat-eaters travelling in the States.
And as a non-meat-eater myself I have to say that finding great vegetarian food in American restaurants isn’t easy. Then there are those who eat fish but not meat. Or white meat but not red. Or who eat no animal products at all. The bad news is that many servers in US restaurants can’t distinguish between vegetarians and vegans – if you eat dairy and eggs you’ll have to tell them unless you want a plate of vegetables only.
But the good news is that chefs in most reasonable US restaurants say that they will work with customers to ensure they are pleased with their food.