I have been here in Sydney for just over a week. Usually as I pack up to come home from a holiday I would be feeling the softening and swelling consequences of a few too many treats, but not here down under. If anything I have felt more encouraged to eat well and move more. So what is it that is so different here that encourages a healthier lifestyle?
Within hours of landing it felt clear to me that there is a greater focus on health and well-being here in Australia compared to back home in the UK. I thought it was maybe just me, but Mr B has been here for over 2 weeks, and has noticed that it feels easier to make healthier choices. So after 10 days down under, here are my reflections on life in Sydney and what it can teach us about leading a healthy lifestyle.
Eat local, eat fresh
The most obvious difference in Sydney compared to the UK is the choice of independent eateries and significantly fewer chain stores. Back home most city centre streets seem to repeat the same line up of Starbucks, Costa, Subway and McDonalds. By comparison Sydney is filled with an eclectic and exciting mix of independent coffee shops, cafes and restaurants.
The advantage to these independent places is that much more of the food is made from scratch, fresh in store. You get real people, using fresh ingredients to make real food to order. Processed foods (as found in most chains) have little nutritional benefit and often leaves us feeling hungry an hour later. It seems that here in Sydney you are never more than a few steps away from a nice independent café, more than able to cater to a healthy lifestyle.
Which is the next thing I have noticed to be different; the menu choices. Avocados are grown in Australia so feature frequently on menus along with other super foods like spinach, kale, qyubia and lots of fresh fruit. Most cafes here in Sydney do at least one or two ‘healthy’ options such as salads, fresh fruit or fresh made juices and smoothies.
Now a smoothie can be a great thing or it can be a glorified milkshake. Here in Sydney it can be both. Most places give you a choice of base with healthier alternatives like almond milk, natural yoghurt and coconut water widely available. Outside of Waitrose or specialist ‘juice bars’ I fail to think of anywhere in Leeds I could pick up a fresh made cold pressed juice with nettles, dandelions and kale, but that is exactly what I have just got from the small, back street café I sit in as I write.
Next up is the portion sizes, especially coffee. Without doubt Sydneysiders love their coffee. You can’t walk a whole block without passing a nice independent coffee shop selling proper fresh ground coffee. In fact, since I have been here I have been trying lots of the different types of coffee and discovered I actually like good quality coffee black; no milk, no sugar.
For some people this may sound like a dangerous option, especially when lattes, flat whites and ice coffees are pretty standard menu options. However, the portion sizes are much, much smaller. A tall (small) Starbucks coffee in the UK is 12oz. Most places here in Sydney serve just 2 sizes with the larger being about 8-12 oz.
Just before my surf lesson earlier in the week I treated myself to a frappe coffee and a slice of home-made banana bread from a little independent café on Manly sea front. Just to check I asked the waitress what went in the frappe. She looked at me with a smile and said; coffee, milk and ice, was you wanting something else? I thought to the pumps of unidentified syrups that go in to a Starbucks frappucino and smiled back; do you do almond milk? It was every bit fresh, delicious and kept me fuelled for a pretty tough two hour surf lesson.
I am not trying to bash Starbucks. I have in the past enjoyed a few skinny iced drinks (especially as I get free ones with Vitality Life Insurance). But I have never failed to find myself hungry within an hour of a Starbucks Frappuccino. And after enjoying so many simple, fresh drinks out here I am not sure they will ever taste the same. I will definitely be searching out more independent coffee shops in Leeds.
|Estimated population||751, 500(plus 1.5m visitors)||4.29 million(plus 11.8m visitors)|
|Number of Starbucks in city centre||6||5|
|Starbucks per capita||1 per 125,250 people||1 per 858,000 people|
|Number of McDonalds in city centre||4||8|
|McDonalds per capita||1 per 187, 875||1 per 536, 250|
Taking out the fuss
My final observation on the difference here, which makes it so much easier to pursue a healthy lifestyle is quite simply the general attitude towards being healthy. The purpose of eating well and being active is much more focused on living a happy and healthy life rather than the aesthetics of looking good. I was talking to a lady at the gym about how busy it was during the day. She told me it’s pretty standard for employers to let staff take a longer lunch to get in a workout, or go for a walk. People are not embarrassed to take care of themselves. There is of course still the classic fitness fads and fanatics. I have noticed a lot of ‘paleo’ friendly snacks around, but i guess there will always be the people who just want magic beans. Fortunatlely for the majority of Sydenysiders they have a world of healthy choices which makes following a healthy lifestyle a much easier option.
I have definitely been inspired by my time down under, and glad to be getting back on the plane in the same jeans I flew out in (a rare accomplishment when on holiday). When I get home I will be searching out more independent eateries that make real, fresh food from scratch. I will be bypassing my occasional Starbucks frappe in search of more delicious, good quality coffee or more healthy smoothies, even if I need to make them at home. And most important, I will continue to focus on the health of my body rather than the size of my ass.
If you enjoyed this blog, then you might also like to read these previous posts about healthy eating and holidays:
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