Healthy Eating: Australia vs Vietnam

We’ve talked about which nation is angrier on the roads, now let’s look at who eats healthier!

To your left we have Australia, known affectionately for its snags on the barbie, Vegemite and fairy bread. To your right we have Vietnam, known for its ridiculously delicious cuisine. I mean really there’s no contest in my mind over who would win if it was over which country has the tastier food. But I digress…

When I travelled to Vietnam earlier this year, I was amazed at the culture surrounding food and eating. It seemed like everywhere I looked someone was selling fresh vegetables, cutting open fresh coconuts for locals and tourists alike, and meat and vegetables were sizzling on hot plates. Maybe I’m biased because I love Vietnam and its cuisine, but one of the biggest highlights of the trip for me was the food.

Banh mi – you can’t tell you you’re not hungry right now

The traditional Vietnamese diet is packed full of nutrients. It’s mostly based around rice, fresh vegetables, fruits, herbs, and meats in small quantities. As a former French colony, Vietnamese cuisine also features baguettes, sandwiches, and drip coffee. Drool. Banh mi is a very popular meal in Vietnam, which typically features a mix of meats, vegetables, pate and coriander, jam-packed into a baguette. They’re also pretty popular in Australia, so I’m sure you’ve had one before if you’ve been to your local Vietnamese restaurant. Just thinking about them is making me hungry…

But one thing I noticed while in Vietnam which was in complete contrast to Australia was how much you pay for a healthy meal in comparison to, say, a burger and fries from KFC. The familiar faces of many of the fast food joints we see in Australia didn’t escape my attention while I was in Vietnam, but I was super shocked when I realised that if I wanted to buy something from one (spoiler: I didn’t), it would cost me, more often than not, more than twice the price of any other dish off the street, or even in a restaurant.

The price aside, I noticed that these restaurants had no shortage of customers, both tourists and locals. When I asked some Vietnamese friends, I was told that while everyone still loves the local food, frequenting fast food chains is often seen as a symbol of money or class, likely due to it being more expensive.  

This is super interesting because in Australia we’re so used to fast food being an inexpensive meal. Its the go-to option when you’re hungry right now and don’t want to break the bank. In Vietnam, it’s cheaper to buy a sandwich or rice dish off the street. But despite this, Western fast food restaurants and junk food in general are gaining in popularity, particularly among young people.

Childhood obesity is becoming an increasing problem in Vietnam, and diabetes and hypertension amongst the adult population are on the rise.

Australia is facing similar problems, too, in both our children and our adults. With nearly 2 out of 3 people overweight or obese amongst the adult population, and 1 in 4 children overweight, Australia’s obesity epidemic is arguably our biggest health concern of this day and age.

So what are we eating, exactly?

According to the Australian Dietary Guidelines, which use the best available scientific evidence to provide advice on healthy eating for all Australians, we should aim to enjoy a wide variety of nutritious foods every day, and drink plenty of water. They recommend a diet high in whole grains, vegetables, fruit, and smaller amounts of lean meat and dairy, or alternatives. (I see you, vegans). The guidelines are designed to help Australians make healthy eating choices, which satisfy their nutrient requirements and minimise chronic disease risk. But are we all eating in accordance to the guidelines?  

Short answer: no.

Australian diets often contain high amounts of junk food, and low vegetable intake.

Results from the 2011 Australian Health Survey by the Australian Bureau of Statistics show that Australian adults are severely skimping on their veggies, with less than 4% of people aged 19 and over consuming the minimum recommended number of serves each day. It gets worse; for the average Australian, 35% of their total energy intake is coming from discretionary food and drinks. I’m looking at you, burger with a side of fries.

So, in terms of eating healthy, I think we can all agree that Vietnam is the the clear winner. But while they eat better, they have the risk of their diet becoming increasingly westernised.

And as for Australians, we should take a page out of Vietnam’s book and up our intake of vegetables. You’d need only to head to your local Vietnamese restaurant to find some inspiration – and a tasty meal to boot. Beef your burger up with greens! (I realise the irony in that pun)

Why? Because it’s delicious and good for you. What’s not to like?

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