Personal trainer and nutritionist Harley Pasternak has logged a lot of international miles traveling with such celebrity clients as Kanye West, Alicia Keys, John Mayer and Lady Gaga.
The bestselling author of "The 5-Factor Diet" and "5-Factor Fitness" noticed that wherever he went in the world, people seemed healthier and leaner than they do in the United States. Curious about why, he started collecting diet, exercise and lifestyle "secrets" of the countries he visited.
Pasternak has put those observations together in his latest book, "The 5-Factor World Diet," written with Laura Moser. In it, he gives his picks for the 10 healthiest countries in the world and describes the elements he thinks are responsible. A good portion of the book is devoted to "5-Factor"-adapted recipes from each of the nations' cuisines.
In selecting countries for his admittedly subjective list, he took into account such things as longevity of the population, obesity rates, calorie consumption, the proportion of meat to vegetables in diets and the amount of exercise people get. He focused on industrialized countries with a standard of living and resources comparable to that of the U.S.
There are as many differences among the cultures he describes as commonalities. He writes that the Swedes and the French eat a great deal of dairy, whereas milk products are rarely consumed in the Asian countries on his list. Some of the nations eat their heaviest meal at midday; others in the evening. Italians may have an espresso and a small roll for breakfast; a Japanese breakfast might feature steamed rice, miso and grilled fish. Garlic is a focal point in South Korean and Spanish diets yet all but absent in some of the other cuisines.
However, the populations he profiles also share some characteristics: All walk a great deal more than Americans do in their daily lives, take their time when dining, focus on enjoyment during their meals and eat in moderation, he says.
Though he takes pains to explain his interest in writing the book (including a lifelong love of exploring ethnic cuisines cultivated in his native Toronto), the connection between these nations' diet and exercise habits and Pasternak's "celebrity-approved" 5-Factor program is a loose one at best. (Briefly, Pasternak advocates eating five simply prepared meals a day, each of which should include protein, carbohydrates, fiber, healthy fat and a beverage. Each week there's a "free day," in which anything may be eaten. Exercise is done in 25-minute periods five days a week.)
But the book is a good read, with a personable voice and some interesting cultural details. And it's as much a dieter's international cookbook as anything else, with 120 low-fat, high-fiber recipes for such dishes as soba noodle stir-fry, garlic chicken cassoulet, lemon and parsley hummus and Korean beef grill. Recipes do not include nutritional data.
-- Anne Colby
Photo: "The 5-Factor World Diet" by Harley Pasternak with Laura Moser, Ballantine Books, $25