The Dutch Diet and Lifestyle

What is it about the Dutch? They’re generally tall (often freakishly so), thin, healthy, energetic, they speak very directly and honestly with one another, they’re discreet about their personal lives and finances, they have a strange love for the color orange, they consume a lot of bread and dairy, they ride bicycles almost everywhere….

There appears to be a pervasive philosophy of minimalism, moderation, anti-indulgence, and anti-extravagance in the Netherlands. It is considered rude to flaunt one’s wealth, overeat, or accumulate material possessions. Whether this is part of their pre-WWII culture or not, I am not certain.

There are a lot of things about the Dutch that could warrant further investigation, but I want to know how they have gotten so tall, thin, happy, and healthy. Thus, I shall focus on their diet and exercise.

Let’s start with a breakdown of when and what the typical Dutch person eats and drinks each day:

~7 AM, Breakfast: 2 pieces of rye or wheat bread with butter, jam or candy sprinkles OR 2 slices of either low fat ontbijtkoek (like spice cake) or eirkoeken (egg cake). The egg cake is high in protein. A beverage includes two or three cups of black coffee, hot cocoa, and/or a glass of milk.

~10 AM, Later Snack Breakfast: 2 pieces of cake or bread (same as the earlier breakfast). Add some dropje (licorice candies) and 1 or 2 glasses of milk (often chocolate or coconut flavored).

12:30 PM, Lunch: 2 open-faced cheese and meat (or fish) sandwiches or soup with a roll or two, and a little fruit, more dropje, plus 1 or 2 more glasses of milk

~ 6 PM, Dinner: well-boiled or deep-fried vegetables (kale, onions, carrots, endive, cabbage, sauerkraut, fava beans*, or pickled beets) mixed in with mashed potatoes (called “stamppot”). Meat is an optional side dish: Sausage, ham, bacon, fish, meatballs (often deep-fried). Another popular main course is thick pea soup with ham or bacon. Maybe add another glass of milk. Bread is usually not served with dinner.

~6-7PM, Dessert: small portions of fruit, custard (vla), karnemelk (buttermilk) with fruit, or yogurt. Greasy food like donuts (Oliebollen, fried in lard) and pancake balls (called poffertjes) are usually eaten on weekends only. Many Dutch drink another cup of coffee with dessert.

A note about those licorice candies: The Dutch are in love with “Dropje,” little licorice-flavored candies. They eat about 14 pounds per year per person! Could it be that these anise sweets are key to keeping the Dutch alive and well? Dropje began as herbal medicines and ended up being part of their culture. (The anise seed aids with digestion, flatulence, congestion, expectoration, and oral hygiene.)

And what about all that bicycle riding the Dutch are so famous for? Surprisingly, the average Nederlander doesn’t exercise all that much. According to some studies, they only bicycle between 15 and 30 minutes per day and there are no real hills to climb; most of their terrain is level. Many Dutch do not even work out in a gym. One theory is that the Dutch exercise in moderation; this reduces their stress level, making it easy for the body to remain relaxed and not gain weight.

In 2010 the Hogeschool Van Amsterdam reported that the Dutch diet consists of 17 percent protein, 50 percent carbohydrate and 33 percent fat. It is estimated that the average Dutch person consumes 3,320 calories per day. Let’s see how this breaks down:

  1. MILK! = 4-6 glasses (12-oz) of milk per day = 48-72 ounces per day (and at least one of those glasses of milk is karnemelk, which is buttermilk)
    1. Golly gee whiz! 48-72 ounces a day of milk is a boatload of milk!
    2. That’s over 1300 calories per day in milk alone! Shocking! (Man may not live on bread alone, but maybe milk…?)
    3. They generally drink whole milk and, prior to the 1980s, most of the Dutch people drank raw, unpasteurized milk. (Many still prefer the raw variety.)
    4. BREAD! (either savory or sweet and cake-like) = 6-7 slices or per day. Wow! Really? Well, wait. The typical slice of bread in the Netherlands looks like it’s about half of an American slice, so, by US standards, the Dutch are eating about 3-3.5 slices of bread a day. But all that bread is very satiating. It’s no wonder the Dutch don’t get hungry and feel like snacking between meals. But how do they not gain weight from eating all those carbs? Probably the rye. Dutch bread typically has a lot of rye bread has a lot of health benefits. It can prevent gallstones, aids with weight loss, and can prevent constipation, amongst other useful properties. (Sounds like fodder for a future blog….)
    5. Meat = 5.3 ounces per day or less (The Dutch eat 3.5 ounces of fish, usually herring, per week; good for omega 3 fatty acids.)
    6. Cheese = 1.5 ounces per day (not as much per day as one would suspect in a Gouda-rich country)
    7. Vegetables = 7 ounces per day (That’s impressive when you consider how stuffed full of bread and milk the Dutch people are.)
    8. Potatoes = 1 potato per day (eaten at dinnertime in place of bread)
    9. Coffee = 2-4 cups per day
    10. Butter = a little more than half an ounce per day (Note: Many Dutch have switched to olive oil since 1950.)
    11. Licorice drops = 4.8 grams per day (Let’s not forget that’s 14 pounds a year per person.)
    12. Yogurt = 6 ounces per day for an after-dinner dessert (if not eating about 6 ounces of vla, which is an uncultured custard). The yogurt intake is not extraordinary in itself; however, it is their main dessert (aside from vla) and that is worth nothing. It’s much healthier and lower in sugar than other desserts. And let’s not forget the probiotic content of yogurt. Could it be that the timing of their yogurt consumption is important? Could eating yogurt before bedtime be especially healthy, keeping those probiotics and enzymes working on one’s digestion overnight?

Total Estimated Calories: 2,375 (considerably lower than the estimated average.)

My Humble Conclusion:

The Dutch are too stuffed with bread and whole, raw, unpasteurized, probiotic-rich milk expanding in their stomachs and guts to ever snack between meals. (And from what I have been learning about bacteroidetes lately I wonder if the Dutch diet is full of wonderful probiotics.) –note added 4/16/14

Perhaps, along with a little moderate exercise, like 15-30 minutes of bicycling every day, keeps the Dutch stress free so they don’t gain weight as easily. The Netherlands looks like a wonderful place. I think I need to travel there and stay awhile to further my investigation…

If you are Dutch or know someone who is, please write to me. Share your wisdom and knowledge!

Thanks for reading!

*Fava Beans: I’m curious about these edibles, which are often included in traditional diets. See a more recent blog posting about these legumes. In the Netherlands, fava beans are traditionally eaten with fresh savory and some melted butter.

Thank you to My Sources: (Fun video of bicycling in the Netherlands),r:19,s:14,i:225×600/wg-copenhagen-3.jpg

Dutch Diets |


A1 vs. A2 Milk (from

This article was so interesting and informative, I copied and pasted it here in its entirety. It was written by Jeffrey L. Newswanger, DO of Hope Refuge Farm, a farm in Kentucky that raises Dexter cattle, which appear to fairly consistently test positive for the A2 gene. This article explains in easy-to-read layman’s terms the A1/A2 milk controversy. The Hope Refuge Farm website is:
Dexter Cattle at Cascade Meadows Farm in Oregon
December 5th, 2009 by jeff

What to do with A2? A Review of the A2 Milk controversy for Dexter Owners
Jeffrey L Newswanger DO
Here at Hope Refuge Farm, we recently acquired a very nice polled, red bull from the Belle Fourche farm.  The seller informed us that, in addition to his other great traits, he is homozygous for A2. At first, this information meant nothing to me. However, when I learned that A2 referred to characteristics of the milk his off-spring might produce, I was immediately interested.   Our breeding goal at Hope Refuge is to develop Dexters suitable to be family milk cows.  As a primary-care physician and small scale farmer, I am very interested in the relationship between health and agricultural.   Thus, I began a thorough review of the scientific literature in a quest to understand the mystery of A2 milk. The literature trail that I discovered proved at various times to be intriguing, confusing and occasionally downright disgusting.

Sweet Dream Eavan
A Dexter Cow at Hope Refuge Farm

Milk contains dozens of proteins. These are divided into two groups based on their function. The first, whey proteins, are small, water soluble and are closely associated with the liquid portion of the milk.  The second group is the caseins. These larger proteins are the main constituent of “milk solids.” Caseins can be divided into alpha caseins and beta caseins.  Beta caseins are further divided into type A1 and A2.  So when we speak of A2 milk, we are talking about the type of beta casein that is predominant in the milk.  This is determined by the genetics of the cow producing the milk. Researchers suspect that A2 beta-casein is the original form or “wild-type” beta-casein. Sometime, long ago a mutation took place that caused a cow to produce A1 beta-casein.  Over time her descendants have become very numerous.  In the common commercial herds of Europe and America, A1 beta-casein is the predominant type. Asian and African cows generally produce A2 milk exclusively.  Interestingly, the channel island breeds such as Guernsey and Jersey tend to produce A2 beta-casein predominantly also.

The current controversy began in New Zealand. The significance of A2 beta casein was initially suggested in 1992 by RB Elliott who observed that the incidence of diabetes among children in Polynesia was much lower than that of Polynesian children living in New Zealand. The main difference between these two groups was that Polynesians who remained in the islands prolonged breast feeding where as those in the more developed New Zealand changed to cow milk based formulas.  This observation led to a series of animal trials attempting to figure out what component of cow milk might be responsible for triggering the development of diabetes.  Eventually, in 1997, Elliott and his team published results of a trial in which genetically susceptible mice fed A1 beta casein where found to be more likely to develop diabetes than those fed A2 beta casein.  More studies were done in mouse, rat and rabbit models resulting in a growing body of literature suggesting that A1 beta casein might increase the risk of both diabetes and arteriosclerosis (the underlying cause of heart attacks and strokes). Other researchers compared rates of human diabetes and heart disease in nations where the milk tends to be high in A1 with nations in which the milk tends to be high in A2.  This effort resulted in a serious of studies demonstrating higher rates of heart disease and diabetes in the nations where people consume the most A1 beta casein.

NewHope Mignon
A Dexter Cow at Hope Refuge Farm

Now, it must be noted that these studies had serious limitations in design.  There are many other differences between nations than the type of milk produced. Also, the rodents used in the animal trials have a metabolism somewhat different from humans.  However, the striking fact is that the bulk of these studies all seem to point in a similar direction.   The few published papers that suggest there is no difference between A1 and A2 milk are from obscure journals and contain little new scientific data.

So, if the bulk of the data points in one direction, why is there still so much controversy? Unfortunately, the answer lies in politics and financial interest. In 1994, a method for determining which beta casein a cow produces was patented in New Zealand.  Soon after, the A2 Corporation was founded with the goal of creating herds of cattle that had been screened to produce only A2 beta casein.  The A2 Corporation proceeded with an aggressive and successful marketing campaign.  The A2 milk health fad grew in New Zealand and then spread to Australia and the Western United States, all under the carefully managed control of the A2 Corporation. While the A2 Corporation was funding studies confirming the dangers of A1 milk and the benefit of A2, Fonterra, the world’s largest dairy marketer, funded its own studies which demonstrated just the opposite.   And so, the exploration of this potentially important finding has run amok in a bog of financially-biased studies and public relations spin-doctors.

A2 Milk Logo

So, where does this leave us?  First of all, we do not yet have a firm answer as to the significance of A1 versus A2 milk.  Part of the reason is that more research is still needed.  Unfortunately, the infighting and money politics have impeded the ability to get these studies done.  However, another part of the reason is that the kind of experiment that would prove once and for all whether A1 is dangerous and whether A2 is beneficial would have to be done on humans and would be unethically dangerous to the people involved.  For this reason, we will probably never have the sort of proof that some are demanding.  As time goes by, the picture should become clearer.  For now, however, it is my professional opinion that there is enough data to raise concern.  I do not think everyone should stop drinking milk.  Even if the A1 is actually harmful, there are many other nutritional benefits to milk. However, if it is practical to get milk without A1 beta casein (ie: A2 milk) then there is a very good chance that this would be better for you.

This brings us back to Dexters.  Unscientific data I have obtained by conversation with other Dexter owners suggests that, although only a few have been tested, those Dexters tested have been predominately A2 positive.  We, as an association, need to know whether Dexters produce A1 beta casein.  If we can test a significant number of animals and demonstrate very high rates of the A2 gene in the population, then Dexter milk may have benefit over that of other breeds.  We must be careful not to get carried away with making claims that are unsubstantiated.  The jury is still out on A2 milk.  We do not want to hurt the reputation of the breed or the association by rash and premature statements.  However, I think it would be valuable if we could begin to understand the genetics of our breed awhile.  This information may become extremely valuable if A2 milk is proven superior to “ordinary” milk.  Unfortunately, the test to determine whether a Dexter carries the A2 trait is no longer available.  It is my hope that the Dexter associations will work to make this test available again.

For further reading: