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7 Ways to Slim Down the Irish Way

By Joe Wilkes
From Team Beachbody - Click here for resources, tools and information to help you to reach your health, fitness and positive lifestyle goals!

IrelandFor hundreds of years, the Irish have been stereotyped as beer-swilling, potato-eating louts, but in a 2005 survey by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation & Development, Ireland's obesity rate clocked in at 13 percent, less than half the rate of the reigning obesity champ, the U.S. of A., still holding strong at 30 percent. (And that survey excluded leprechauns, who always bring the averages down.) So maybe there is something to the Irish diet and lifestyle that we could learn from. Sure, bar-fighting can burn between 800 and 1,200 calories per hour, but it turns out there are a number of other things the Irish are doing better than the Americans to keep off the pounds. Here are a few.

  1. BreakfastEat your breakfast - Like most northern European countries, the Irish tend to top-load their daily menu. A traditional Irish breakfast can include eggs, sausage, Irish bacon (which is much leaner than American bacon; similar in texture to Canadian bacon), potatoes, beans, black pudding (a blood sausage), white pudding (a pork sausage without blood and usually mixed with oatmeal or bread), and fried tomatoes, among other items. I grant you, just reading the list is enough to make me reach for the defibrillator, but the principle is sound.

    Breakfast is the most important meal of the day. When we wake up in the morning, our metabolism is still in sleep mode. If we skip breakfast, we stay in that slow-burning metabolism mode. Plus, if we have a decent breakfast, we won't be so hungry later that we'll binge at lunch or dinner. As opposed to Americans who eat their big meal in the evening and go to bed on an absurdly full stomach, the Irish tend to have their big meal at lunchtime, and in the evening just a light sandwich. A 2003 study at Harvard Medical School found that people who ate breakfast every day were 33 percent less likely to be obese than those who didn't. Growing evidence also supports that the benefits of not skipping breakfast can help prevent diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

    We're not recommending eating a full traditional Irish breakfast every day (the Irish don't either, at least not the thin ones). While delicious, all those sausages and puddings aren't going to get anyone on the road to weight loss, not to mention all the delicious butter (Irish butter also has a higher butterfat content than American, which is why it's so amazing) often used in the preparation. But having a big breakfast with whole grains, fruits, vegetables (those tomatoes and baked beans sound pretty good), lean meats, and egg whites is a great way to get your metabolism going each day and avoid late-afternoon/evening bingeing. And making your evening meal more of a snack than a banquet will also help keep the pounds at bay.

  2. Boiled MeatBoil your meat - The Irish and English are often mocked for their tendency to boil their meats and veggies until all flavor is leached out, but while we're deep-frying our chicken wings and Thanksgiving turkey, they'll be having the last laugh at the doctor's office. Boiling or poaching food doesn't have to be a ticket to Blandsville. Try poaching a chicken breast or fish fillet in wine or a flavored broth with garlic, onions, and your favorite vegetables. The seasoning of the boiling liquid is only limited to the chef's imagination, and can make for meltingly tender meat filled with flavor instead of fat calories from oil. There is a fear that boiling causes vegetables to lose their nutrients, but oftentimes the body has an easier time absorbing the nutrients from cooked vegetables. The best advice for vegetables is to eat a variety, prepared in a variety of ways, to maximize your nutrient absorption. For example, cooked tomatoes provide a much higher amount of lycopene than raw tomatoes—a perfect, healthy ingredient for your Irish stew. Click here to read some more ideas for one-pot meals.

  3. CabbageGo for the green - It's no news flash that cabbage is a staple in Irish cuisine. But not just cabbage; other leafy greens like kale are also popular. Cabbage has high levels of: iron; calcium; potassium; vitamins C, B1, B2, B3, and D; and lots of fiber. A study by the University of Utah School of Medicine found that eaters of cabbage and other cruciferous vegetables had a lower incidence of colon cancer. Cabbage and leafy greens are also very low in calories. If you're not crazy about cabbage on its own, you might try the Irish dish colcannon, in which cabbage or kale is mashed together with potatoes and other ingredients like white or green onions, garlic, or leeks. Traditional versions also include butter or cream, but chicken broth could easily be substituted to keep it on the light side.

  4. CarrotsGet back to your roots - In addition to greens, Irish cuisine also features a lot of root vegetables—and not just potatoes. Other roots favored on the Emerald Isle include carrots, parsnips, turnips, and rutabagas. They contain tons of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and fiber, while still being pretty low in calories. They're also pretty tasty, whether boiled, roasted, or mashed, or in some cases, eaten raw. They're great on their own or can add complex flavor and color to stews and soups. And they last a lot longer in storage than other vegetables—more than two weeks if refrigerated. Try replacing some of the potatoes in your favorite mash, gratin, or stew recipe with some turnips or rutabagas. It will zest up the dish, add extra nutrients, and bring down the calorie count.

  5. SalmonThink pink - As an island nation, Ireland has access to vast quantities of seafood, especially salmon, rich in omega-3 fatty acids which protect the heart. Salmon is also a great source of protein and other nutrients, while low in calories and fat. And the health benefits keep on coming. As recently as this week, a study was released wherein scientists have associated higher consumption of omega-3 fatty acids with increased grey matter in the parts of the brain that affect behavior and mood. So feeling blue? Have some fish and you'll be in the pink!

  6. GuinnessDrink Guinness - While this popular hearty stout has been referred to as a meal in a glass, it's actually not as high in calories as one might think. A pint has about 200 calories, not considerably more than regular beer. It also contains less alcohol than other beers. Guinness has 4.2 percent compared to Budweiser and Heineken which have 5 percent. It also contains a lot of B vitamins, which is helpful as alcohol often depletes them—so you at least can get a little closer to breaking even. It also contains a lot of flavonoids, antioxidants that help give it its dark color, and help lower LDL (bad) cholesterol levels. Some researchers have even found that Guinness, when not consumed in excess, has reduced cataracts—quite the opposite of getting "blind drunk." NNone of these benefits make up for the problems caused by alcohol drunk in excess though, and if you drink more than one or two Guinnesses a day, you'll be seeing it in your belly (read about the "Beer Belly Blues" here). Click here to read more about the health benefits of beer . . . and wine, too!

  7. Family WalkTake a walk - This is where Ireland and most countries in the world really have it over America. They walk. Aside from our propensity for super-sizing our meals and processing our food with any number of bad-for-us ingredients, Americans are really losing the battle of the bulge because of our sedentary lifestyle. Walking for 30 to 60 minutes a day speeds up your metabolism, burns fat, and builds muscle. If you don't have time to walk for an hour, even adding short jaunts to the office or the grocery store to your daily routine can have massive health benefits and greatly contribute to weight loss.

Related Articles:
"6 Survival Tips for Eating in Bars"
"6 Tips to Slim Down the German Way"

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