Have you ever gone on a trip abroad and noticed a difference in the way food made you feel? If you answered yes, you’re not alone. The food standards in many other countries, particularly European countries, are far different than the standards of ingredients here in the United States. Even though these food standard disparities have the ability to impact the health and wellbeing of the population, the issue is rarely brought to light.
One of the major differences is the use of GMOs. According to a Harvard University article studying the way genetically modified foods are handled in the United States compared to Europe, regulation processes are very different. In European countries, all genetically modified foods are regulated and need to be approved by the European Food Safety Authority. They also need to be approved by the European Commission and labeled if they are made up of more than 0.9% GM. In the United States, there are regulations, but certain companies can be exempt. There is also no GM label requirement, which means that there is no way to tell what modifications have been made to our food.
Salt and sugar contents in American food are also starkly different from other countries. Other countries have made a notable effort to counter high sugar and salt intake. According to a study from the National Library of Medicine, the United Kingdom made a deliberate effort to decrease their populations salt intake. Their efforts have been rather successful, with a 15% reduction in 24-h urinary sodium over seven years. Meanwhile, the United States has continuously dealt with high levels of heart disease and stroke as a result of dietary habits, particularly due to high sodium consumption.
Many students who studied abroad in Europe noticed a significant difference in the way they felt when eating in other countries.
“While I was studying abroad, I never experienced the uncomfortable feeling I get while at home after eating a large meal. Especially when it would regularly be pasta, pizza, and other Italian food sorts,” says Colleen Jones, a fourth-year student.
Megan Primrose, another fourth-year student who studied abroad last semester, commented on the differences in food standards.
“The food abroad seemed much more fresh and flavorful, whereas the food in the US seems more bland and greasy,” she says.
Aside from ingredients, portion sizes are also drastically different in the United States compared to abroad. When getting a meal or even a simple ice cream scoop, the sizes here are much larger than what you’ll find in European countries. Even though this may seem insignificant, people often find that they lose weight when spending time abroad, and some of that can be due to this difference.
According to a study from the National Library of Medicine examining the U.S. obesity epidemic, out-of-home portion sizes are increasing, which encourages people to eat more. This trend makes it difficult for people to maintain a balance. The combination of poor ingredient quality and large portions is concerning for a multitude of diet-related health issues.
It’s difficult to have complete control over the quality of the foods we eat, especially when organic options are expensive and more limited, harmful ingredients are incorporated in many of our foods and larger portions are the norm. To be more aware of what you’re eating, do research on the food you eat and try to shop locally as much as possible. Taking the time to educate yourself on what you’re putting in your body can make all the difference for your health and wellbeing.
What are your thoughts on American food standards? Tweet us at @VALLEYmag.