By Joe Wilkes

When I was asked to write an article for Oktoberfest about healthy German eating, I knew I had my work cut out for me. "Fry a package of bacon until crisp. Reserve drippings for later use." And this was from a recipe for potato salad! If this was a representative recipe of German food, I would think the average life expectancy would be about 45. But on average, Germans live a year longer than Americans. So they must be doing something right.

I thought back to when I was an exchange student in Germany in high school. As a teenager, I never paid much attention to what I ate, but I do remember that I dropped about 20 pounds over the year I was there, without even trying. There certainly were some meals that were outside the bacon food group. In fact, when I look back at the German diet and lifestyle, there are numerous lessons we could learn from them.
  1. Go with the grain. Like most Americans, I found my first encounter with German bread a bit alarming. At first glance, it appeared to be some kind of particleboard. Is this what all that IKEA furniture's made of (oh, wait, that's Sweden)? With kernels of grain you could actually see with the naked eye, there was no need to read the label to see if it was, in fact, whole grain—it looked like a vulcanized brick of wheat. But the bread is actually quite tasty, and a few bites in, you remember why the Germans are famed the world over for their pumpernickels and ryes. And unlike the pillowy, chemical-laden white breads of the American bread aisle, a slice of the more substantial German loaf takes longer to chew and fills you up more quickly—two things that help you eat less. Not to mention that it's full of fiber and naturally occurring vitamins, things we inexplicably bleach out of our bread in the U.S.
  2. Have an open face. Another way the Germans beat the U.S. health-wise is in sandwich preparation. The first thing they do is serve the sandwich open-faced. Half the bread means half the carbs. The other thing they do which saves calories is that they let the bread be the star of the sandwich. A typical Butterbrot-style sandwich consists of a piece of bread, a thin layer of butter, and a slice of Schinken, smoked ham similar to prosciutto. Butter and ham aren't the height of healthy eating, but the key is that the Germans use only enough to provide flavor—something a country that created a sandwich called the Baconator could take a lesson from. Plus, the side dish is usually fresh fruit or pickled vegetables instead of potato chips or fries. And speaking of veggies . . .
  3. Get pickled. We're not talking about a late night at the Bräuhaus. Rather, we're talking about all the tasty, low-calorie pickled veggies the Germans excel at making. With their brutal winters, vegetable preservation was a high priority in old German times. The classic pickled cucumber has been around since ancient Mesopotamia, but the Germans have taken pickling to new delicious heights. Polish-style cukes, popular in Germany, are usually pickled in brine, with no vinegar. The Germans also produce a variety of styles incorporating vinegar, garlic, dill, and other herbs and spices. In fact, the word "gherkin" comes from Gürke, the German word for cucumber and pickle. There are other delicious pickled vegetables like beets, tomatoes, and, the German classic, sauerkraut—all with hardly any calories or fat. However, some contain excessive amounts of sodium, which is something to keep an eye on. But as Germans become more and more health conscious, low-sodium versions are popping up all the time.
  4. Clean your colon. As my German grandfather was fond of saying, "There's clean and then there's German clean." And this Teutonic zeal for cleanliness extends to the digestive system. Their fiber-rich diet is probably the biggest key to German health. This stands to reason, since after packing their colons full of sausage and potatoes at lunch, a little roto-rooting action courtesy of whole grains is probably necessary to keep the mail moving. For breakfast, instead of sugary, rainbow-colored cereals, they typically eat whole-gramrain cereals like oatmeal or muesli. They also eat a lot of yogurt, which contains the flora necessary to keep all the pipes clean. (If you decide you're really in a deep-cleansing mood, give the 2-Day Fast Formula® program a try.)
  5. Do lunch big. Another healthy habit Germans have is eating their big meal of the day in the middle of the day. The German word for the noontime meal is Mittagsessen, which literally means "eating in the middle of the day." This is usually when the hot entrées and side dishes are consumed, the ones Americans traditionally eat at the end of the day. Their last meal is called Abendbrot—translated as "evening bread"—which usually consists of a piece of bread with cold cuts or something similarly light. Since food is fuel, the earlier you eat it, the more time you have to burn it off. By frontloading their diet, the Germans burn off the lion's share of the calories they consume while performing their everyday activities. And by only having a light dinner, they go to bed on an almost-empty stomach, so the calories eaten don't get stored as fat.
  6. Take a hike. Where the rubber literally meets the road in German health is their penchant for walking and hiking. One of the rude awakenings of my exchange year was the realization that my host parents were not going to drive me anywhere. Where my American high school had a parking lot big enough to accommodate several hundred cars, my German high school had zero parking spaces for students and the longest bike racks I'd ever seen (which were well used by faculty members, as well as students.) Even on the days it rained (which were most of them), I was walking or biking where I needed to go. The family car only came out for road trips or major grocery expeditions. Most adults have a collection of Spazierstöcke, or walking sticks, as recreational walking or mountain hiking is a big part of most Germans' lifestyles. And walking at a brisk pace can burn over 300 calories per hour—that's a bratwurst! Of course, if you really hit the Oktoberfestivities hard, you might do some Turbo Jam® Maximum Results routines—they burn off up to 1,000 calories an hour. That's two beers and two bratwursts you can have!