LANCASTER, PA – Traveling in Amish country last week, I stopped at a restaurant recommended for its local fare. You would imagine Amish food to be just plain home cooking, and that’s what I got. Tables and tables of it. 

It was a buffet and so I sampled alot of different dishes and ate maybe four or five times the amount of food that I normally eat at any meal.

I started out with a plate of macaroni and cheese and plain buttered noodles, along with a slab of meatloaf and several ham meatballs. For my second helping, I chose a rich beef stew, mashed potatoes and a piece of baked cod. 

I then went back for a plate of vegetables – buttered cut corn and broccoli – and I added a scoop of chicken pot pie. The pot pie was good, but like the beef stew, it was thick with lots of flour. 

This was all topped off with a wedge of apple pie. 

Much more food, I suppose, than an Amish family normally eats in one sitting, but it got me thinking. It was a meal loaded with carbohydrates and I wondered if the Amish suffer from type 2 diabetes as much – or perhaps more – than the general population. 

My theory was that they didn’t, but I wasn’t sure why that was my assumption. Maybe because despite the volume of food, it was good, healthy stuff. And most of it is probably locally grown and locally prepared. I don’t think the Amish incorporate much processed food in their diet. 

I found one study on the Amish and diabetes, conducted by the University of Maryland.

 “It’s interesting,” said Alan Shuldiner, professor of endocrinology, diabetes and nutrition at the University of Maryland School of Medicine in Baltimore. “The Amish are just as obese as the general US population because they also eat a lot, yet they actually have about one-half the prevalence of type 2 diabetes compared to the general population.

 “We believe the reason is that the Amish are very physically active and it’s been shown that high levels of physical activity can actually prevent the progression to type 2 diabetes in people who are genetically susceptible,” Shuldiner said in a 2005 interview.

 The Amish lifestyle is rich in close family relationships and great home-cooked food, but it’s no piece of cake. People mostly work on family farms and they rely on sweat and long hours to get things done. 

At Amish.net, a typical day is described in an Amish household:

 The husband: “He would get up about five a.m., go to the barn and feed the animals, milk the cows and process the milk to the cans for truck delivery to the local dairy. He would then join the family for prayer and breakfast. Depending on the season, he would work in the fields, preparing the fields for planting (late winter), planting the crops in the spring or harvesting the crops in late summer or fall. He usually works from sunup to sunset in the fields for planting and harvesting with a break for lunch. In the evening, the cows would need to be milked again.”

The wife: “She would also get up about five a.m., help with the milking, prepare breakfast, and if laundry day (usually on Monday) get the gasoline motor started on her wringer washing machine to do the laundry, hanging them out on the line to dry. She would work in the kitchen garden, preparing it for planting (with help from her husband), or harvesting vegetables for meals. If there are children, she would also get them ready for school, including packing lunch boxes, etc. Daytime household duties would be done, i.e., ironing, washing dishes by hand, baking, and cooking lunch and dinner. Depending on the season, she would can fruit and vegetables, making jams and jellies, etc. She will also sew clothes for herself, her husband and their children.” 

Compare this to an average day in the culture at large, with morning trips to McDonald’s, hours spent at a desk with a Diet Coke and a bag of Fritos, and KFC takeout for dinner. An evening of reality TV and an hour or two on Facebook.

Yes, I know. You’ve been thinking of switching to the slow roasted chicken but now you have to wonder if that will really be enough.

Photo: http://www.flickr.com/photos/jennfortune/2399699483/

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