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Because of my work with food it's important for me to get out and see what others are doing in the world of cooking. Given that Spain offers one of our best examples of Mediterranean cuisine, it seemed the perfect choice. While there I kept track of some of my observations about the cuisine here from the one end of the spectrum to the other. These comments were originally posted to my blog at LiveStrong.com.
There's another big difference that I want to touch on between Spain and the U.S. and that's fast food. Those who have followed columns on my drgourmet.com website know that I believe consumption of cheap, calorie dense fast food like McDonalds, Burger King, KFC and Taco Bell is one of the major health issues facing us.
There is no doubt that the research shows eating fast food as frequently as many Americans do contributes to our problems with obesity, diabetes and heart disease. Of course the fast food companies would have you believe differently, but the research is pretty clear. There is, in fact, a great study that was done here in Spain showing that those young people who do eat more fast food and less traditional Mediterranean fare face an increase in the risk of disease.
That said, there's just not as much fast food here in Spain. There are two McDonalds in San Sebastian, which has a population of 180,000. Pamplona, with a population of slightly more at 195,000, has only a single golden arches.
Contrast this with where I live now: New Orleans. The most recent estimate of the New Orleans metro area that I could find puts the population at around 1 million. That's around five times the size of either of these other towns - yet there are about 80 McDonalds.
As they say, "do the math." Five times the population, 40 to 80 times the number of McDonalds. It's no wonder America has such an obesity problem. And it's not just Ray Kroc's invention. There are very few Burger Kings, Pizza Huts, Taco Bells or other junk food in Spain.
One thing that I have noticed in Spain is that there's not as much soda. It seems that there is as much or more advertising for soft drinks in Spain but you don't see people drinking them all that much. I found it humorous that in one caf� all the tables, chairs and umbrellas were labeled with Pepsi advertising yet there was only one small shelf in the refrigerator with sodas. Everyone was drinking either coffee, bottled water or juice.
Likewise, when I look in grocery or convenience stores there's not all that much shelf space given to soda. In most cases there's more juice and bottled water to be found. Many of the cafes have automatic fresh orange juice squeezers so it's easily available.
I do believe that soft drinks play a major role in the obesity problem and weight gain. There's a lot of controversy, of course, but the research does come down on the side of linking increased soda consumption with weight issues, obesity and diabetes.
Stay away from soda and quench your thirst with water. Want something sweet? Drink juice or better yet have a fresh orange.
Want to eat healthy? One of the easiest ways is to simply not ever enter a fast food restaurant.
Next Week: Breakfast in Spain