Which countries have the healthiest diets and why?

Eating healthy doesn’t have to mean eating without flavour!

Is a healthy diet limited to eating salad? Taking a look at what some of the healthiest cultures around the world eat. They prove that food can be both healthy and packed with flavour at the same time. Although these dishes are spread out across the globe, you don’t need to plan a trip to try these delicacies, most ingredients can be found in your local supermarket or with a bit of research.

Japan; hara hachi bu

Japan’s population has the second-highest life expectancy in the world, and as a result, the oldest population in the world. Cooking some of the best food in the world, Japanese communities thrive on seafood, and lighter foods such as veggies, soybeans, rice, and noodles. These foods are mainly eaten fresh or fermented, avoiding unhealthy refined food and sugars. It is not only what they eat but how they eat that makes a Japanese diet healthy. Hara hachi bu is a teaching that roughly translates to “belly 80 per cent full”, showing that perhaps it is best to eat with the mindset of quality over quantity too. The Okinawa prefecture is home to the largest population of centenarians as a result of this practise, though it must be noted that this is solely to prevent over-eating rather than eating below the body’s necessary amount. Easy authentic dishes to get a taste of this flavourful cuisine are miso soup, and Tonkatsu, crunchy pork cutlets that are a favourite late-night street food.

Israel; The Seven Species

According to the medical journal The Lancet, Israel has the lowest number of diet-related deaths (e.g. Type 2 diabetes, heart disease). Using spices, herbs, and seeds in the place of sodium or fat to create flavour, Israeli dishes are both tasty and healthy. Falafels, aubergine, a variety of salads, and mint in some form are staples of the dinner table in Israel. Healthy fats from avocado, olives, and nuts mean that meat is present in smaller healthier quantities. Interestingly, the Seven Species (Shiv’at HaMinim) have played an important role in Israeli food: wheat, barley, grapes, figs, pomegranates, olives, and honey. These are listed in the Hebrew Bible as being special products of the Land of Israel and were the only offerings that could be brought to the Temple in Jerusalem. The Seven Species are loaded with antioxidants and, although this isn’t why they featured in the Bible, it definitely contributes to the nutritional value of Israeli food. Hummus is another staple in Israel and (more recently) Britain, gaining popularity which saw it making headlines amid a global chickpea shortage, leading to a ‘Hummus crisis’ in Britain in 2018. This also happens to be an easy recipe, best eaten with pita bread or even on top of a salad.

West Africa; a market-based community

Many are gravitating towards the mouthwatering spices and dishes of West African food, with bold flavours from chillies, ginger, and lemongrass. Jollof rice is one of the most popular West African dishes to make, and this is typical of a West African diet along with yams, okra, and dried and smoked fish. Although carbs and peanut oil are used widely in dishes, the suggestion that this food is unhealthy is a misconception. Markets form the centre of communities in Ghana, Nigeria, and the fourteen other countries that make up this area. This means that their food is mostly fresh, locally-sourced, and free from the preservatives and saturated fats that make up processed foods. Using fresh local produce means that this diet is similar to the paleo diet, which is made up of foods that in the past could be obtained by hunting and gathering. A good beginner dish is pepper soup, a light one-pot dish packed with flavour. Pounded yams can be paired with this dish for a more filling meal, the West African version of mashed potatoes!

Greece; healthy fats for a healthy heart

Known for both its salad and its yoghurt, Greece is known to have one of the healthiest diets, influencing the original Mediterranean diet. Combining fresh fruit and vegetables, fish, dairy, with olive oil as the main source of fat, seems to lead to better overall health, even with the occasional glass of red wine. This can possibly be because of the abundance of extra virgin olive oil in the place of butter, using an ingredient rich in specific fatty acids that increase good cholesterol that protects the heart. The diet eaten by Nordic countries such as Sweden, Denmark, Norway, and Finland shares the same benefits. The Nordic diet of root veg, fermented milk and cheese, and plenty of oily fish is a combination shown to reduce inflammation. Greeks are also sustainable in their eating habits too, and rather than eating just the meat itself, they tend to use the entire animal in their cooking. This is primarily in home cooking so don’t worry about finding eyeballs in your Greek salad at a restaurant!

Thai; fresh, vibrant, and immune-boosting

Thai cooking combines many elements known to boost the immune system, being much more nutritious (and delicious) than wellness shots that use the same ingredients! Ginger, turmeric, and lemongrass make a regular appearance and have long been used in Asian medicine to treat a variety of illnesses. Lemongrass and coriander are known to prevent bloating and reduce stomach aches. On the other hand, whilst kaffir lime leaves are used in most homes to cleanse the mind and ward off evil spirits, they also are a digestive aid with many other health benefits! Although these ingredients may sound as exotic as som tam tastes, many of the ingredients can be sourced cheaply, with the key cupboard ingredients lasting well once bought.


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