08/14/2012 07:26 am ET

Eat Well Israel: Wellness Tips From Around The World (PHOTOS)

As a global nutrition expert and registered dietitian, I'm about to totally state the obvious: the US doesn't exactly have it all going on when it comes to eating well and taking care of ourselves. Yes, its true. And its really kinda sad.

Why are we in such a crisis? Is it the fast food? Is it the government policies? Is that we don't move off our duffs? I don't really know. But, with my company Eat Well Global, I'm goin' positive and checking out our neighbors around the globe and to see what they are doing and how we can do it too. Hope you enjoy the trip. First stop: Israel.

I was just in Israel for a conference, "Role of the Mediterranean Diet in the Lifecycle," and yeah, that Mediterranean Diet is kinda working for them. Their obesity rates are lower, life expectancy is higher and I spied lots of healthy looking people moving all around Tel Aviv. So, what do these guys know that we should? Along with Eat Well Israel correspondent and chef, Sagi Schwartz, RD, check out some tips Americans could take from Israelis to improve their health.

Eat Salad for Breakfast
No really. Israeli breakfast buffets are basically a giant salad bar. The spread at our hotel included more vegetables than any salad bar I've seen in my life (and I've seen a lot). From Israeli salad (tomatoes, cucumbers, soft cheese) to sliced peppers to fresh mushrooms, Israelis are not shy about eating vegetables for breakfast (or anything else for that matter). Fresh fruit juices were heavily watered down and instead of fake fruit jelly, toppings for the delicious bread were fresh candied orange peel, figs and dates and halvah.

Date an Israeli
Well, that's your business. But dates are a common snack in Israel and if you haven't had them in a while, I recommend letting them satisfy an aching sweet tooth. They ranked low on the glycemic index (42, 100=glucose), meaning that despite the fact these dates taste like sugar bombs, they won't impact your blood stream like one. In fact, dates have a significantly lower glycemic index than other snack-friendly fruits such as raisins (64), bananas (62) or grapes (59), and are packed with fiber and essential minerals such as calcium, iron and magnesium. I developed a pretty major crush on the Hadrawi date, which is sweet and not too dry. Look for the best dates at Middle Eastern markets or specialty food stores. Pair with some Greek yogurt and it's a mini Medi vacay.

Open Sesame
Holy halvah! I lived in China for two years and always dug black sesame-based treats like black sesame pudding, black sesame buns and black sesame drinks. Always felt healthier than just a plain sugar+butter+flour dessert common in Asian bakeries. While Middle Eastern sesames are white, the health benefits are the same. Sesame is rich in beneficial nutrients such as manganese, copper and calcium and contains the lignans sesamin and sesamolin, which have demonstrated heart-health benefits such as lowering cholesterol and blood pressure levels. Along with sprinkling sesame seeds on everything from oatmeal to salads to yogurt (hamburger buns don't count), throw some tahini on your sandwich or grilled meats, or substitute halvah for a sweet afternoon pick-me-up.

Pump It Up
During my visit, I got a chance to enjoy the beautiful Tel Aviv waterfront for my morning power walk and as I walked along, I spied adult-looking jungle gyms -- kinda like the random pull-up bars we have in our parks but way more sophisticated. Some equipment was nicer than my neighborhood Y! On my last day I got the courage to join the nice old Israeli ladies and upon their yogning, had a pretty good workout. Would be pretty awesome if we put these in our parks to help combat our obesity issues. Just sayin'.

Eat Well Israel