Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Nine Healthy Habits from the Kiwis: Living Healthy in New Zealand

So, I just got back from a two week trip in New Zealand and was taken aback at how different the country is from the U.S. There I saw the most beautiful sunsets I've ever seen, got a taste of the New Zealand culture, and was able to experience the "adventure capital of the world" with everything from skydiving, bungee jumping and other extreme sports. But the most notable difference between our two countries is how incredibly healthy the people live over there.

Usually vacation consists of beers, burgers and chips, but no, not in New Zealand. I've never experienced such a healthy, wholesome vacation in my entire life, with a plethora of fresh food and endless outdoor activities. Throughout the two weeks, I did a little research and took note of some of the healthy habits the "Kiwis" practice. What stunned me most was that they don't even charge extra for eating healthy as they do in the States. You want a salad instead of fries, a special type of bread? No problem, free of cost. If only we could live a little more like that in the U.S.

Alas now, I'll share with you some of the things I've learned so that we too can live a little healthier, eat a little fresher, and be more at ease with our bodies. Check it out; it's pretty awesome. Or how the Kiwis would say: Sweet as.

1. Go Organic All Over: In New Zealand, the word "organic" was plastered over every menu. Literally, almost everything prepared was made with organic vegetables, fruits, grains, milk and even cheese. It's no wonder everyone looks so healthy over there! I ordered a wonderful salad the first day I was there, made with fresh greens, assorted veggies, nuts and organic cheese. Even their coffee and teas were made 100% organic, and I consequently felt healthier consuming in everything I ate. When you know where your food comes from and what it's made of, it makes all the difference for your body and overall wellness. Our bodies process organic natural food much better than other processed varieties.

2. Cut the Artificial Crap: Coffee shops and bakeries aren't filled with "sugar free" cookies or packets of Splenda like here in the U.S. In New Zealand, they keep it clean, providing natural sugars and honeys for sweeteners. More so, most of their food is made GMO-free. That is, it has not been genetically modified with additives like corn or soy beans to alter the taste. Rather, much of the food in their country was prepared natural. Even their gelato (which was oh so delicious by the way) was labeled GMO-free. My mom and I were shocked that we could pay such little price for such well made, natural food, which would be costly in the U.S. It's amazing that they take the health of their people so seriously in New Zealand, and I hope we can learn from them.

3. Go Green: In addition to offering a multitude of green foods, New Zealand also prides themselves in the fact that they are a green country. Everything was so clean there, with no litter on the street corners or toxic sewer smells. Even their coffee cups were made with recycled cardboard, and you must pay extra for a take away cup at coffee shops, even at Starbucks! While at first I was taken aback by this unexpected charge, I was delighted that they promote an environmentally friendly environment. This also allows people to sit back and enjoy a social cup of coffee with a friend, without always being on the go as we often get wrapped up in far too much. Next time you go to a cafe, try sitting down and eating your meal, drinking your tea or java out of a real mug. You'll save a cup while also catching up with a friend with some solid conversation.

4. Downsize Your Java: Speaking of coffee, their coffee servings are much different than what we're used to over here. Rather than being served in a ginormous cup overflowing with whipped cream and syrups, their coffees come in a small mug, the perfect pick-me-up portion. I drank a Cappuccino nearly everyday their, with just a tad of steamed "trim" milk (skim milk) and cinnamon on top. It left me feeling energized and refreshed, rather than full and drowsy, being the ultimate start to my day!

5. Keep it Clean: The food in New Zealand was prepared so fresh and clean, that I'm already having withdrawals missing it. Rather than giving the patron millions of fattening dressings and sauces to choose from, their salads and pastas were delivered with just a tad of oil and vinegar, fresh herbs and/or light sauces. One night, I had a light lunch composed of roasted vegetables, served with a tiny portion of Bearnaise sauce on the side for dipping. Turned out, I barely even needed any of the sauce, they were so darn good! Even their meat was cooked simple with organic sea salt with flavor, sans all the high-calorie barbecue sauces and gravies Americans drench on their meats. And surprisingly, it tasted just as good, even better than the high-fat varieties because you could actually savor the natural flavors of the food. One night, we ate Stone Grill style (where the meat is cooked on a 400 degree hot stone in front of you), and all of the meats (chicken, lamb, venison, and beef) were prepared only with salt, nothing else. I must say, I've never tasted something so delicious and succulent! Even their pizza was "clean," made with thin crust and covered in fresh feta cheese, pine nuts, and roasted veggies instead of loads of fatty cheeses, meats and sauce.

6. Choose Lean: Speaking of meats, New Zealand is known for having lean meats, especially since lamb is their #1 variety. They also had a number of lean options, from Venison to grilled chicken, making for a perfect salad topping or main meal. Even their Kebabs were prepared with lean meats and fresh toppings, that I actually felt healthy, rather than guilty, when eating one.

7. Embrace the Mountains: Enough about food. Another reason the Kiwis are so healthy is their exposure to so many outdoor activities. From hiking up a volcano to nature walks and glacier hikes, there is never a dull moment in New Zealand. Everyone stays active, even if that means simply walking to work or the local supermarket. Go ahead, plan out a hiking trip with your friends or head out to a biking trail! It's time to embrace the warm weather and get outside, girl!

8. Take time for You: With all the crazy hustle bustle, we often forget to take time for ourselves. Not in New Zealand. There were a number of spas, salons and other such arenas to help alleviate stress and improve your energy levels. After a day at the Polynesian Day Spa in Rotorua, I felt better then ever-refreshed, rejuvenated and ready for anything. I suggest you take the time once in a while to be pampered as well, whether that's treating yourself to a mani/pedi, massage or simply allowing for some quiet "me" time.

9. Be Sensitive to Your Allergies: It amazed me how food-allergy-friendly New Zealand was. Being sensitive to wheat, I am always nervous about traveling, never knowing what kind of food they'll have available. I didn't need to worry at all in New Zealand. In fact, it was as easy as ordering a burger to get a meal made gluten free in their country. From gluten free bread, to gluten free pasta, they had it all! Better yet, I didn't even have to ask the waiter what was in the food as each item was conveniently labeled with a "G" for Gluten free at nearly every restaurant I went to. What impressed me most was that their was no extra charge for the gluten free varieties, which is great because why would one have to pay extra due to a food allergy anyway? I'm hoping the U.S. starts to take tips from New Zealand, as dining out has never been so easy for me. I was able to follow my dietary needs without worrying or spending tons of extra dough to do so!

Highlight: New Zealand Style Fresh Spring Salad
*Serves 2
*1/2 cup Arugula
*1/2 cup Baby Spinach
*2 small clementines, broken into segments
*1/2 large pear, chopped
*3 TB feta or gorgonzola cheese
*handful of pine nuts
*1/4 cup Vidalia onion, chopped and sauteed in Olive Oil
*2 TB Extra Virgin Olive Oil (Plus a little extra for onions)
*2 TB lemon juice, fresh
*Salt and Pepper to taste

Combine all the ingredients, and top with warm sauteed onions. Drizzle with olive oil and lemon juice; salt and pepper to taste. Enjoy!

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