Part photo essay and part case study, What I Eat: Around the World in 80 Diets by Peter Menzel and Faith D’Aluisio is a fascinating look at how and how much people eat across the world. Instead of looking at statistics, the authors went to the source, photographing over 80 people with the food they ate in one day displayed in front of them. They visited over 30 countries over a period of three years for their research. What they found is pretty spectacular.

Clearly, there is a wide disparity between what people eat, but larger perhaps is how much they eat.

What Menzel and D’Aluisio found is that even with this wide disparity between calories consumed on a given day–from 800 to 12,300 within the participants–this number may have little impact on their actual body weight. Take, for example, the Brazilian fisherman who consumed 5,200 calories a day. Given our current understanding of caloric intake, the man should be overweight or obese. However, he has an average build. Likewise, a Tibetan monk who eats close to 4,500 calories a day is also of an average build. On the other hand, a truck driver in the U.S. who eats 5,400 calories a day (similar to the amount eaten by the fisherman) is, in fact, overweight.

While flipping through the book, there is case study after case study just like these where the given caloric amounts don’t match up to our notions of diet and weight. It begs the question exactly how what we eat affects our bodies and if what we eat can make a difference.

By the end, the two factors that stand out the most are eating whole foods and activity. 

Those who ate larger amounts of calories but were still in shape were often very active during the day, as told in the accompanying entries for each person. These people were often eating whole foods as well–that is, fruits and vegetables, meats, and grains. Sugary treats were largely absent from these profiles as well.

In What I Eat: Around the World in 80 Diets, Menzel and D’Aluisio may not have meant to prove a point about healthy living. The book is an impartial look into many varied people’s lives, with a photojournalist’s eye for detail. What they found, however, can help all of us change the way we think about food, dieting, and daily activity.

Have you read What I Eat: Around the World in 80 Diets? What are your favorite books about food and nutrition? 

Image by Marketa via Flicker


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