How the Dutch stay slim

How the Dutch stay slim

Comments26 comments

Nutritionist Mandy Dunlop reveals eight secrets that help the Dutch keep the bulge at bay.

What is it about the Dutch and their great love of fattening food? If they are not nibbling on deep fried meat rolls they are happily scarfing down fat sodden oliebollen. Yet judging by their slim figures, they effortlessly manage to ward off the bulge. The Dutch after all, are one of the least obese populations in Europe. So what are their slimming secrets?  As an expat nutritionist, I went on a mission to find out.

 Dutch cheese at the market in Delft (Andrew Griffith,

1. Portion control

The Dutch love greasy foodstuff but have cleverly mastered eating in moderation. You will rarely see supersize portions served in restaurants here and one will often come away from a meal feeling satisfied as opposed to ‘'stuffed." Indeed, portion control is a fundamental tool to weight management in the Netherlands. Unlike America and the UK, who have progressively adopted a ‘go large' approach to eating, the Dutch are still a good few years behind in these food trends.

2. Milking the benefits

Dutch people like to drink milk, a lot. Luckily, milk is a healthy choice if you are attempting to lose weight. Not only is milk low in calories, but also an excellent source of calcium, vitamin D and protein, which have all been linked to weight loss. In fact, recent research have shown that frequent consumption of low-fat milk helps reduce body fat in both men and women. Flavoured milk such as chocolate and coconut are favourites of the Dutch and available fat-free (0 percent vet).

3. Guilt-free snacks

Although the Dutch might have you believe that they eat only deep fried snacks, this is normally only a weekend indulgence. To stay in control of their weight, the Dutch prefer low-fat nibbles: ontbijtkoek, Dutch ‘'breakfast cake" is a popular choice. This scrumptious cake can be bought as a sliced snack and with less than 1g of fat per serving, is virtually fat-free. Another popular bite is the eirkoeken (egg cake). These spongy delights are low in fat and high in protein-ideal for filling you up.

4. Good timing

Unlike other Europeans who traditionally eat their evening meal after 8pm, the Dutch prefer to eat earlier at about 7pm. Although eating late is unlikely to result in weight gain, it may, however, contribute to more rapid fluctuations in blood sugars, ultimately leaving you more susceptible to overeating. So, eating earlier may minimise cravings and help you to make more sensible food choices.

5. Balanced lunch

Lunch in the Netherlands is usually a quick and light meal at around 12.30pm. A popular choice is cheese and meat layered on fresh bread. This provides a sensible balance of carbohydrates, protein and fat, which, in combination, keeps blood sugar levels balanced. Having a portion of good quality protein such as ham or cheese for lunch will also leave you feeling more satisfied and less likely to snack in the afternoon.

6. Coffees not lattes

The Dutch drink a lot of coffee. In fact, after the Scandinavian countries, they are the world's largest consumers. Surprisingly however, there is not a huge selection of coffee choices available here. The Dutch prefer black coffee over commercial lattes and mochas, which is good news for weight-watchers. Black coffee is fat free with only four calories per cup whereas lattes can contain up to 300 calories. Perhaps the Dutch were onto something when they named the latte koffie verkeerd, meaning "wrong coffee."

7. Cheese please

The Dutch love this stuff. When you consider that Dutch people have been making cheese since 400 AD, it's had little impact on the nation's waistbands. The secret ingredient: calcium. Cheese is a rich source of this essential mineral, which has been shown in numerous studies to enhance weight loss. Cheese is also a good source of protein, which boosts metabolism and can help burn an extra 150–200 calories per day. The key is to eat full fat cheese in moderation and choose low-fat varieties whenever possible. 

8. Bicycles

The Dutch travel almost everywhere by bike. These two wheeled contraptions are so well-ingrained in Dutch culture that on average, each household owns at least three. Just going for a gentle 30 minute ride can burn 200 calories and if you're going out for dinner, be sure to take it along. Research has shown that leisure cycling after eating turns more of the consumed calories into heat, resulting in faster weight loss.


Mandy Dunlop is a nutritionist and massage therapist with a nutrition and wellness practice in Maastricht. She provides one to one nutrition consultations as well as an online nutritional therapy service. For more information or nutritional advice, you can contact Mandy: or visit:



Expat Fair Amsterdam

Whether you’ve lived here for days, months or years, you won’t regret attending the Expat Fair for Internationals. Sunday 8 October 2017, Amsterdam.

Get your FREE tickets and discover more about expat life in the Netherlands.


Comment here on the article, or if you have a suggestion to improve this article, please click here.

If you believe any of the information on this page is incorrect or out-of-date, please let us know. Expatica makes every effort to ensure its articles are as comprehensive, accurate and up-to-date as possible, but we're also grateful for any help! (If you want to contact Expatica for any other reason, please follow the instructions on this website's contact page.)

Captcha Note: Characters are case sensitive
The details you provide on this page will not be used to send any unsolicited e-mail, and will not be sold to a third party. Privacy policy .

26 Comments To This Article

  • suzy posted:

    on 4th August 2015, 23:02:20 - Reply

    I am very much surprised to see this article is written by a "nutritionist". First of all you are contradicting yourself. You say the Dutch are healthy (partially) because od the large consumption of milk, but then you also state they stay thin because of NOT using milk in their coffee... Also, I am surprised how you encourage the consumption of milk, as many studies have shown that milk is not that good for you at all. The body can not absorb calcium from milk. Also, milk contains many ingredients human beings do not need (do not forget milk is to a cow what breastmilk is to a human. And you do not drink that for the rest of your life either). Milk contains nutrients for calfs to grow into cows. In many African countries, people do not even tolerate milk. Also, look at the amount of lactose intolerant people and lactose caused allergies etc.
    Also I am surprised you say Dutch people love their fried stuff. That is not my experience at all. Admittetly, I come from a very health-aware family and I do not even have a fryer (I have recently bought an airfryer though). None of the people I know regularly eats fried foods. Maybe once or twice a month, but no more often than that. On the (extremely) rare occasion I end up in Mac Donalds (hate that greasy smelly GMO filled synthetic "food" dump) I do see a lot of families there who obviously do come there more often. Those are mostly people living on benefits though.
    Especially on the markets, there is a wide variety of fresh veg and fruits for a relatively low price, so even someone living of benefits is still financially capable of preparing a healthy meal.

    I do have one final question as I have red in two articles now that the Dutch drink coconut flavoured milk. Where can I buy this? It sounds awesome and I have never seen it in my 29 years of living in Holland...
  • Paul posted:

    on 31st May 2014, 21:08:42 - Reply

    I wouldn't say our diet is healthy per se. Most Dutch take in too many carbohydrates while lacking appropriate protein and fat intake. Most traditional Dutch dishes consist of mostly potatoes, which is why the balance between carbs, fats and protein is out of whack. Also, people eat a lot of sweets and the stuff served in bars is mostly deep-fried. The only thing that saves us from being as obese as our trans-Atlantic friends is the sheer amount of biking and walking we do, as well as our fondness for sports.

    As for a healthy diet, I'd refer you to the northernmost part of the Mediterranean (Spain, Italy, Portugal, southern France, Greece.)
  • debajay posted:

    on 1st August 2013, 17:22:46 - Reply

    What rubbish about American food being tastier. american portions are giant. Americans eat when they don't need to.
    I have recently visited Amsterdam. Obesity was almost unheard of. As a tourist you could guarantee anyone overweight was either from th he UK or the US. It was wasn't just guesswork but blindingly obvious. Whatever the Dutch eat, over generations had proved to work. They all have fantastic legs from cycling almost to extreme compared to us couch potatoes.
    Stop making excuses for pigging out and stick to the basics - cut down on carbs, exercise more, and keep portions small. Oh, CW, your north American friends probably sit on their butts and ride the trams all day - and eat giant cheeses!
  • CW posted:

    on 30th August 2011, 15:09:48 - Reply

    Okay, JSK...but why have so many people from North America moved here and ALSO gained weight?? That's what I'd like to know!

  • JSK posted:

    on 29th August 2011, 15:58:14 - Reply

    As someone who has spend ample time is both the us and the netherlands, i have some observations. I do not think dutch people are particularily slim but they weigh less than americans *on average* plus there is a lot less variation between people (that is: dutch people are more average in general). So if i walk around on a american college campus there are more slim people (esp. women) than on a campus in the netherlands. However, in the american Walmart you see huge people the size of which you would very rarely observe in the Netherlands.

    Why the average American weight is higher than the Dutch average, has to do with food and lifestyle, but not in the flattering way most people in the Netherlands think. Americans drive and eat more, but the reason is that automobiles are far more affordable and American food is a lot tastier (the supermarket freezer pizza of the brand "Digorno" is superior to Dutch restaurant pizza, for example). Place a dutch person in the U.S. and he'll gain 10 kilograms in no time (i'm speaking from experience).
  • Daphne posted:

    on 11th August 2011, 11:42:26 - Reply

    Actualy someone has just posted the stats on teh soapbox showing the the NL has lower rates of obesity compared to the US (and UK)....
  • daphne posted:

    on 11th August 2011, 11:37:28 - Reply

    I guess if the figures show they are slimmer than here in the US then they must do something different though? Plus, as a poster above has written the article is more about looking at why they are slimmer than the US rather than what is healthy re. caffeine. Good points though!
  • Laura posted:

    on 11th August 2011, 11:29:40 - Reply

    Well written article but I beg to differ. I don't think the Dutch are paricularly slim! In fact, kind of the opposite. Lot's of tummy hidden behind the large shirts and sweaters, and the ever expandable leggings, hmm. My obersvation is this: they eat on the run, snack quite a bit - even which biking, and their market baskets are often filled with typical junk food. I am not sure if I would follow your suggestions for a healthy diet. Too much dairy and too much caffeine are the red flags for me.
  • daphne posted:

    on 11th August 2011, 08:40:50 - Reply

    nice article thanks Mandy, I enjoyed it very much. Also, thanks to the guy above clearing a few things up. Not sure I understood a lot of the science but it sounds like you do! The article seems accurate following your explanations.

    Keep up the good work, it is nice for us expats to have interesting things to read on here!!!!
  • Barry posted:

    on 10th August 2011, 17:18:37 - Reply

    N.B. For those doubting whether the inclusion of milk in the diet has any evidence for improving body composition and helping with fat loss, please look up the work of Professor Stuart Phillips from McMaster University in Canada who has published extensively on this subject. By way of example, please read the following article: Body composition and strength changes in women drinking milk. Josse AR, Tang JE, Tarnopolsky MA, Phillips SM. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2010 Jun;42(6):1122-30. Justanother: This article is geared around lifestyle/diet and whether it is conducive to maintaining lower body fat, not about the Dutch diet and health. These are completely different discussions. Justanother/Maria: I think you may be confused, the article is discussing the merits of consuming 0% fat milk and suggesting that the (typically high fat) milk used for lattes and similar such coffees is less than ideal. Hopefully this has helped to clear this up. getalife: [edited] I am just passionate about the public understanding of nutrition and therefore feel that such inaccurate statements should be corrected. I disagree that I have insulted everyone, more pointed out errors in what they have written. Also, please simply google 'calories in 1 g of fat, protein, carbohydrate. I simply wish to set the record straight as nutrition is something we all should know more about! I see that expatica have issued a further ‘poll’! Again, can I reiterate to the expatica admin staff, this article is not about whether the Dutch eat healthily as stated, but about whether their diet and lifestyle results in lower body fat. It is difficult to have a poll on this as if anyone wishes to look up the statistics, they will clearly see that obesity is far lower in Holland than in the majority of Western Europe and the US. This is not an opinion but based on the hard evidence which has been researched extensively. I applaud an interesting and insightful article based on scientific evidence to offer interesting theories! Well done! People, try not to take things so seriously and relax (this is an expat forum after all!). Cheers all! [Edited by moderator[
  • Nevercaught1

    on 10th August 2011, 17:06:21 - Reply

    Nice article!!! i think a lot of you are missing the point of what has been written here. When you actually read this article, it is referring to the low fat or fat free milk (o% vet) for helping to promote weight loss. Lattes are nearly always made with full fat milk- unless of course, you specifically ask for a skinny latte.
  • get a life posted:

    on 10th August 2011, 17:03:19 - Reply

    @Barri - Dear Sir, [edited by moderator] This is an open forum and everybody is entitled to their opinion. You liked the article 15 other people did not. and by the way: 1kg = 2.2lbs 3500 kCal = 1lb of fat 3500 cKal * 0.2 = 700 cKal 3500 cKal * 2 = 7000 cKal 7000 cKal 700 = 7700 cKal 7700 cKal in 1 kg of fat. not 9000 Sincerely!
  • Maria posted:

    on 10th August 2011, 15:54:01 - Reply

    I don't understand. Why is it ok to drink lots of milk, but it's not ok to have it in your coffee?
  • justanother posted:

    on 10th August 2011, 15:41:42 - Reply

    Dutch eat no fruit and no vegetables. They eat the same sandwich every day, with butter, cheese and surrogate of ham. How can you call this healthy. Then the funny part is that according to the article one thing that helps is the fact that they drink black coffee instead of milk and coffee...but then at every meal they drink milk instead of water!!! [Edited by moderator]
  • Barry posted:

    on 10th August 2011, 14:54:52 - Reply

    Sorry 'Dr K' I missed you out! so much wrong where? [Edited by moderator] The point on coffee - where did the sugar come into it? The author never mentioned this and this seems obvious not to add if you wish to lose weight. whats your point? Moreover, while coffee is a diuretic, it actually does not increase the excretion of calcium, rather the concentration in the urine becomes weaker and thus a similar amount is exceted in total. This has been attributed to effects of caffeine on the kidney but at present this is relatively unstudied, so I have no idea how you can be so overconfident when no one actually knows the mechanisms! High protein diets have indeed been linked to weight loss in the absence of exercise (please see my above points on the thermogenic effect of protein as well as the effect on appetite and, as such, the enormous amount of money Industry is starting to pay out for such research to be continued. Maybe when you are thinking of exercise and protein you are referring to icnreasing protein synthesis and muscle gains? If so, this really is a different area/discussion and not relevant to the present article. Hope that helps 'Doc' ! Cheers
  • Barry posted:

    on 10th August 2011, 14:42:56 - Reply

    As a scientist who has spent a number of years working in applied human nutrition, I thought I ought to just contribute to this unbelievable 'discussion'. In general, I think the critcicims are unfair, unfounded and seem to have a very personal nature. 'buitenlander' and 'are' - unfortunately, despite your observations, and the correct statement that Dutch people are indeed getting fatter, the statistics that they are still a great deal slimmer than the US and UK do not lie. The article seems to be comparing the Dutch to other western countries where the Ducth are (quite clearly if you examine the figures) far less overweight or obese. Gym freak - you seem to be very angry! However, you are incorrect in almost all you statments. 1) 1 gram of fat = 9 calories, this 1kg fat = 9000 calories, not 7000. 2) you are correct that weight loss is a matter of calories in and calories out, however, as much as many gym goers, wannabe nutritionists and folks with a weekend course qualificatino wish it were this simple, there is more too it. This is good for people like me as we make careers out of investigating and understanding such things! Countless scientific studies have demonstarted that eating protein causes a greater 'thermogenic' (i.e. the body producing heat) than fat and carbohydrate. Thus, a certain % (approx. 20%) is actually burned as heat as opposed to only 2-4% in the case of fat. Therefore, 100 calories of protein IS NOT necessarily the same as consuming 100 grams of fat in a calories in calories out sense. 3) Of course not all vegetarians are obese, but that is totally irrelevant and seems to again demonstrate your misunderstanding. I hoep I have helped to clarify a few things for you. 4) Exercising after eating is actually extremely effective in managing weight loss. Exercsiing increases the recruitment of capillaries (blood vessels) in the working muscle leading to higher heat production and delivery and use of the food just ingested, thus effectively burning any excess calories of the meal. Furthermore, 'light' exercise has not actually never been linked with increasing appetite, this is only heavier exercise. Lastly, as opposed to 'alternive research' this is very mainstream. Please see the work of Professor Wagenmakers (Dutch, ironically enough!) from the University of Birmingham if you don't wish to to take my word for it). Gym buddy - hidden advert? of course it is an advert, see the bottom of the article - doesn't mean it is incorrect! Please see my above comments if you agree with your 'gym' colleague. Hugo/Spanishexpat - you misunderstand the point, the nutritionist refers to eating cheese as part of the diet helps to increase caloric expenditure (150 calories) likely due to the thermic effect of protein (please see my above statement). This is actually very well accepted in the scientific community and has been for some years.
    Andrea - any need to be so personal? I found the article a nice read and certainly woudln't cast such accusatinos without myself knowing what I am talking about! Please see my above point where I refer to the article comparing the Dutch to other countries as opposed to comparing with the past. [Edited by moderator] In general I applaud public discussions on nutrition. I myself give regular public lectures and am passionate about teh public becoming more aware- hence my coming across this article. However, all too often, gym goers and people who have read popular magazines cast themselves as 'experts' when in fact they know very little. It is a common problem in the field of nutrition - but one I witness most days of my working life. Particulalry on the internet people seem to get over confident, aggressive and rude Anyway, I hope I have cleared some things up for people who may have been confused, In general I very much enjoyed the article and thought it was well written and thought out. Congrats to the author! Cheers all.
  • Dr. K posted:

    on 10th August 2011, 14:25:09 - Reply

    So much wrongness here... Yes, it's true that black coffee has almost no calories at all. Regrettably, the same cannot be said of the sugar people routinely pour into it. Moreover, coffee is also a diuretic, and one of the things that goes away with your urine is calcium. So much for all the cheese and milk!

    Besides, a protein-rich diet is appropriate only to the extent that you couple it with enough exercise to turn all those proteins into muscle. Otherwise, excess protein ends up turning into fat, just as excess carbohydrate does.
  • andrea posted:

    on 10th August 2011, 13:20:22 - Reply

    I don't know where this "nutritionist" (her assertion about cheese is hilarious) lives and makes research. [Edited by moderator] Overweight and obesitas is increasing in NL, as it is in most countries and it is because of how they eat. They have coffee with koffiemelk, not with milk and they must have a cookie with it. Plus the awful squishy bread with those "salads" (mayo with unidentifiable stuff). And bottrerkoek as snack. A small note on the milk: it might be great for people from European descent that can handle milk but... how do people with lactose intolerance stay slim?
  • spanishexpat posted:

    on 10th August 2011, 13:14:07 - Reply

    Self-contradicting article. On one hand, milk makes you slimmer (what?), and on the other, skipping the latte is good news for weight-watchers.
  • appetitvoyage

    on 10th August 2011, 11:52:32 - Reply

    After reading the article yesterday, a lot of questions came in my mind, so I would like to have some more info. I am not convince with the fact that the Dutch diet helps people to stay slim,... in my mind and culture, a sandwich is not healthy nor help to stay slim. Can you perhaps explain more about this?
    The high content in dairy product in the Dutch diet, isn't it also a higher risk of cholesterol? And dairy products are quite fat,.. how exactly do they help to maintain a slim fit?
    Finally, I do agree about the bike, but is it enough to balance the calories you eat during the day?
    And what about fruits and vegetables? They are quite off the picture. Some of my relatives in visit here, was asking me if Dutch people eat fruits and vegetables. I find it really important in a diet (I am French), and I do not see a lot of vegetables in the traditionnal Dutch diet. What do they eat? potatoes, gabbage and apples? is it enough?
    I would really appreciate to have some feedback and understand better the Dutch diet and tradition.
    Appetit Voyage
  • CW posted:

    on 10th August 2011, 11:22:29 - Reply

    I gained 10 kilos after I moved here, eating a Dutch diet and cycling. Let's face it, tall skinny Dutch people marry tall skinny Dutch people and have tall skinny Dutch kids! It's in the DNA.

    As the gene pool gets more mixed, I think we'll see more of a variety of shapes and sizes.
  • the thinker posted:

    on 10th August 2011, 09:50:14 - Reply

    I think its genetics - Dutch people are tall and have lean muscles. They are not that predisposed to be fat the same way they are not predisposed to be well build. You can hardly see a really well build Dutchman as they have small bones and chests.
  • barbara posted:

    on 10th August 2011, 09:19:11 - Reply

    My Dutch husband is slim, rides his bike 2 hours a day, eats bread and cheese for breakfast and lunch, and large amount of potatoes for dinner. All of my Dutch relatives and friends are slim, and I credit this to their bike riding and a moderate amount of food. Some may disagree; I am stating what I know as fact, not a global statement that ALL Dutch people are a certain way. But while living in Holland for ten years I saw more slim than fat people. When I left in 2006, I noticed some were gaining weight, but also were biking less and eating more fast foods or in restaurants.
  • Hugo posted:

    on 9th August 2011, 16:43:32 - Reply

    What a non sense article.
    Almost all dutchs drink coffie with coffie melk.
    Cheese doesnt help to burn fat, it helps to burn an extra 150-200 calories per day ?????
    Just going for a gentle 30 minute ride can burn 200 calories (thus is better to eat cheese than ride a bike ?

  • gym buddy posted:

    on 9th August 2011, 12:46:12 - Reply

    I can not agree with you more! Sounds to me like a hidden advertisement.
  • Gym Freak posted:

    on 9th August 2011, 12:21:06 - Reply

    Key words in this article - fat free, calcium, weight loss. [Edited by moderator] 1) since when no fat means u lose weight..its all about calories - 1 kg of body fat =7000 calories. drink oil, eat cherries it does not matter - to lose 1 kg of fat u need to burn 7000 calories 2) Eating protein makes you lose weight..("...calcium, vitamin D and protein which have all been linked to weight loss"). again count the calories - what about these poor vegetarians who dont eat meat or drink milk (are they all morbidly obese??) 3) "...Cheese is also a good source of protein which boosts metabolism and can help burn an extra 150-200 calories per day) 100 gr Edam cheese = 357 cal. so how exactly do you lose weight with this (compare with 100 gr honey=300cal) 4) "...Research has shown that leisurely cycling after eating turns more of the consumed calories into heat, resulting in faster weight loss" - according to this exercising after meal is the best way to lose weight ( as opposing to simply making you hungry faster and make u eat more) - contradicts all the preexisting theories...must be a very alternative research Really!!! Please!!!