The healthiest diets around the world and what they have in common
Asians are known for being generally healthy, but why are health problems in the region on the rise?
Harley Pasternak’s 2010 book The 5 Factor World Diet is all about the healthiest diets around the world and what makes them so nutritious. In an interview with The Huffington Post, Pasternak explains that the healthiest countries:
- DO make meals an event (multiple courses around the family table, instead of a haphazardly put together sandwich eaten in front of the television)
- DO more walking/exercise (compared to the average American)
- DON’T add lots of salt, sugar, and thickening agents to their foods.
Here are the 5 healthiest diets, according to Pasternak:
Traditional Asian Diet
Most of Asia emphasizes rice, noodles, and whole grains, as well as fruits, vegetables, seeds, and nuts. They also consume less red meat and sweets than other regions. These different countries vary when it comes to diet, but all have white rice as a staple.
On the benefits: Asian countries have less incidences of obesity and cardiovascular and metabolic diseases compared to Western countries, but this could be largely due to the typical Asian active lifestyle. As Asian countries become more urbanized and lifestyles more inactive, the high-carb, high-glycemic diet is leading to more health problems in the region.
Eaten by people in Greece, Italy, and Spain, the traditional Mediterranean diet emphasizes seasonal local produce and traditional preparations. Typical foods include:
- whole grains
- olive oil
On the benefits: According to research, olive oil can lose weight, lower cardiovascular disease risk, and reverse diabetes.
Read about The New Nordic, Traditional Okinawan, and French Paradox diets on the next page.
New Nordic Diet
The Nordic countries Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, and Sweden consume a diet that’s similar to the Mediterranean, but instead of olive oil, rapeseed oil is used. Signature foods are:
- whole grain cereals like oats and rye
- local fruits and berries
- cruciferous and root vegetables
- rapeseed oil and vegetable oil-based margarine
- low-fat dairy
- beef, pork, lamb, and reindeer
- herring, mackerel, and salmon
On the benefits: A healthy Nordic diet helps lose weight, and cuts down on type 2 diabetes risk. Because it places emphasis on using local produce, it’s also ecologically and socioeconomically beneficial.
Traditional Okinawan Diet
Hailing from Japan’s Okinawa Island, one of the poorest regions in the country before World War II, the traditional Okinawan diet boasts plenty of fruit and vegetables but less meat, refined grains, sugar, salt, and full-fat dairy. Typical foods are:
- sweet potatoes
- rice (though not as much consumption as mainland Japan)
- green leafy vegetables
- green and yellow vegetables
- tofu and soy sauce
On the benefits: Though modern-day Okinawans are adapting the eating habits of mainland Japan, some still eat the traditional diet. The island is home to one of the largest populations of centenarians in the world, and researchers believe this is due to their long-term calorie restriction.
“French Paradox” Diet
In spite of the rich food that the French eat, they have some of the lowest obesity rates in the developed world and the highest life expectancies. Typical foods include:
- full fat cheese and yogurt
On the benefits: Scientists say that the good health of the French has more to do with their lifestyle than their diet. French portions are small, and they don’t snack. They also walk everywhere, and take time with their meals. Some scientists also say that moderate wine consumption and moldy cheese may have positive effects.
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