By Valerie Orsoni, founder of LeBootcamp
For an Amish farmer, there’s no need for an intense fitness class! Harnessing the horses, pushing the plow, walking to and from the fields, and carrying heavy loads keeps them in perfect shape. Traditionally, those who work on a farm are fit. However, due to skyrocketing land prices, more and more Amish have to get a regular factory job (in fact, only 10% of Amish households receive their main income from farming). The health results are evident.
I just spent a month visiting an Amish farm and observing the lifestyle for myself. The early assumption would be that we’d find a healthful community, but the reality is that, in many ways, they aren’t.
The rigorous exercise and daily fitness demands of farming are waning. The men are, growing softer, if you will.
Women in this community are usually on the heavier side since they are less intensively active, though they do walk more than the average American woman and are constantly moving around in general. Social activities like canning and quilting keep them busy. Just as in our modern society, those social times always lead to a high consumption of treats and goodies, adding to the expanded waistlines.
Teenagers and kids are generally fit; a lot of them use foot-propelled scooters (bikes are seldom allowed) to move around. However, I came across a few overweight children, those of fathers not working in the fields anymore. Otherwise, starting at the ripe age of two, the youth help around – at their level — and are active all day long.
HOW THE AMISH EAT
On the nutrition front, I was shocked to see so many artificial flavors (roasted pecans flavor, ranch dressing flavor) and colorings (pink, red, blue, green sugars and more) used, primarily, in their baking. It is customary to use lard (very high in saturated fats, which is fine in moderate quantities) to make pie crusts, which they claim taste better than the healthier version. Artificially colored gelatin is a classic dessert, as is the shoofly pie (sugar, molasses and butter).
A classic meal consists of mashed potatoes with butter, red meat (usually beef), green beans with butter, a few slices of bacon, some casserole (usually with buttery cream), and for dessert pies and ice cream. Bread is always white (no whole grains here!). There are not a lot of raw veggies or fruits. During the winter, canned beets or their famous chow chow (a mix of several summer veggies), or pickled eggs and beets will be served.
Because of this rich diet, and even though they are on average far more active than the average American, the Amish population suffers from various cardiovascular diseases. There is one segment of the Amish population that “enjoys” a genetic mutation preventing the disease from developing.
On average though, several large studies on the Amish diet and health led to the following conclusions — that 25% of the Amish population is overweight (BMI > 25), and that 75 percent of the men and 100 percent of the women in an Amish community in Northern Indiana, where manufacturing is the most common profession, are overweight or obese.
Even with the intense physical demands and activity generally seen in these individuals, it’s not enough to offset a poor diet.