As 2017 continues, many of us are still trying to persevere with those New Year’s resolutions made back in January. However, the more time that passes, the harder it is to resist slipping back into old habits.
Dieting is considered to be one of the hardest resolutions to maintain, and by this point of the year people are falling off the diet wagon left, right and centre. If you love food, sticking to a restrictive eating programme can be nigh on impossible to maintain full time, so it may actually be time to ditch dieting as you know it and instead adopt a whole new way of eating.
Moving overseas is a bit of a drastic step to take if you just want to shift a few pounds, but if you’re planning a move abroad anyway you may want to factor in the diet of the nation you’re planning to make your new home.
We’ve compiled a list of some of the countries with the healthiest (and most delicious) diets to help you pick an emigration destination that’s good for your waistline.
When it comes finding a food relationship that blends good food with a good lifestyle, one diet is very commonly mentioned; the Mediterranean diet.
There’s actually a good reason for this; Mediterranean countries like Italy, Greece and Spain aren’t just celebrated for the taste of their world-famous cuisines but also for the health benefits of their diets and lifestyles.
While perhaps not the world’s healthiest diet in terms of core ingredients alone (a typical Mediterranean diet tends to be higher in fat than diets in other regions), scientists and food lovers alike have found many reasons to talk up the Mediterranean diet and lifestyle. Recent studies have even suggested that those who follow a Med diet have a 30% lower chance of suffering heart disease or strokes.
Staples of the diet include olive oil, starchy food like bread or pasta, and vegetables, as well as legumes, unrefined cereals and fruit. Fish and dairy products such as cheese and yoghurt are also eaten moderately, with meat seeing quite low consumption. Many believe olive oil especially to be the catalyst to the diet’s health benefits.
Another commonly praised cultural diet is the Nordic diet, particularly the ‘New Nordic Diet’. Unsurprisingly, the New Nordic Diet is comparatively new, having been developed in Nordic nations (particularly Scandinavia) since the 2000s.
Notably, the New Nordic Diet is a marriage between locally sourced food and scientific health research and has been deemed a huge success over the last decade.
The primary focus of the diet is on a lack of processed food. Contrasting with the Mediterranean diet, refined grains such as pasta are also avoided, and rapeseed oil is preferred over olive oil.
Other key parts of the diet include the consumption of whole grains and fresh fish.
The Nordic diet guidelines generally include suggestions to eat more whole grains, fruits and vegetables on a daily basis. The guidelines also recommend higher quality meat and less of it, no food additives and an increased focus on seasonal produce.
This new diet was propelled by a group of Scandinavian food health activists and chefs from 2004 onwards, spearheaded by Danish chefs Claus Meyer and René Redzepi. Nordic governments embraced and encouraged the circulation of the diet in the following years.
After the successful opening of their ‘Noma’ restaurant, which championed this new scientifically backed Nordic diet, food professionals from various Nordic nations met in Copenhagen in order to push the diet across Scandinavia. Redzepi has told the New York Times in the past that he prefers the name ‘authentic cuisine’ to ‘New Nordic Diet’ as the focus of the diet is locally sourced seasonal food.
The ‘New Nordic Diet’ is most commonly consumed in Denmark, Finland, Norway and Sweden, as well as Iceland – which has been ranked the healthiest nation in the world on several occasions.
Japan has among the highest life expectancy rates of any country. Japanese women, in particular, are the longest lived women in the world with a whopping average lifespan of 86.8.
While this is not entirely due to the nation’s diet, there’s no doubt that Japan’s diet plays an important part in the good health and longevity of its residents. In fact, research has indicated as much.
Japan’s diet generally consists of certain carbohydrates, fresh vegetables, fruit and (often raw) fresh fish, as well as tea and water in favour of processed drinks. Japan thrives on seafood, but watch out for less healthy popular dishes like fried tempura and oily noodles.
White rice is also a staple of Japanese meals. Speaking to The Independent, British Dietic Association spokesperson Anna Daniels said ‘For people who solely believe white rice is a bad food, the Japanese are a testament to that being untrue’.
In 2005, just one year after the Nordic diet began to circulate in Scandinavian countries, the Japanese government issued its own recommended food guide encouraging citizens to eat less saturated fats, processed food and food high in carbohydrates.
Since then it has been noted that those participating in the diet had a 15% lower mortality rate and were less likely to suffer vascular diseases.
As a result of Japan’s generally healthy cultural dishes, citizens there remain healthy despite the introduction of highly processed western food, as well as Japan’s own taste for extravagant sweet treats.
One particular Japanese diet is regularly hailed for its health benefits, the Okinawan diet.
Okinawa has been noted as having the largest population of centenarians per 10,000 citizens in the world and Okinawans have an 80% lower chance of suffering heart disease than westerners. Five times as many Okinawans have lived to 100 than in other parts of Japan.
Originating from Japan’s Ryukyu Islands, the diet is named after the biggest of the islands, Okinawa. As the islands developed different culture, climate and historical connections, the ingredients for Okinawan diets are notably different from those of the mainland. Its influences include Chinese and Southeast Asian cuisine.
The traditional diet is 30% green and yellow vegetables. Legumes are common as well as a smaller quantity of white rice than other Japanese diets, favouring the Okinawan sweet potato as a staple instead. Despite its name, this purple-fleshed sweet potato originates from the Americas and was brought to Okinawa before 1605.
This diet also focuses on consuming pork and a small amount of fish. The pork is stewed for days to cook out the fat, resulting in high-protein collagen.
Compared to Japan, Okinawans used to eat far less meat, less grains and more legumes. Most importantly, far more sweet potatoes were eaten, with the vegetable making up almost 70% of the diet’s calorie intake. Other key foods include bitter melons, tofu, turmeric and shiitake mushrooms.
The Confucian practise of ‘Hara hachi bun me’ was also popular in Okinawa. Roughly translated, the phrase advises to only eat until you are 80% full, which helped diet followers to self-impose calorie restriction.
Unfortunately this traditional diet has faded in recent decades. Since World War II (when Okinawa was occupied by the US earlier than the mainland) American fast food quickly became popular, and it has only increased in popularity in the intervening years. As a result, the island’s life expectancy has fallen below Japan’s.
While the old Okinawan diet has become less popular, it’s still accessible and is a die-hard habit among the island’s older generations.
There are simply too many wonderful and delicious diets out there to focus on in detail in one article, but a few other names pop up regularly whenever it comes to looking for nations with the healthiest diets. Here are some of the other cultural diets worth talking about and salivating over.
This is a popular one. While France was mentioned in the Mediterranean section it deserves a shout out of its own as the nation’s carbohydrate-high diet but general good health has baffled researchers.
The French diet involves indulging on bread and cheese as well as red wine, but despite the focus on carb-heavy bread and fatty cheese, the nation regularly nears the tops of healthy nation lists.
That’s why they call it the ‘French paradox’, but the reasons for France’s health aren’t all that paradoxical. Some believe it’s the relaxed consumption of food (an hour or two per meal), the smaller portions, or the mould in blue cheese. Less processed food also helps considerably.
A lack of processed drinks, with people drinking, tea, water and of course red wine also helps keep the diet healthy.
Overall, France is evidence that lifestyle and attitude is a major part of what can separate a fatty diet from a healthy one.
Indian food is another mixed one as many of the nation’s popular dishes such as curries include butter or coconut milk which can be unhealthy in excess. You should definitely avoid eating too many fried snacks like samosas too.
However, the wide and exciting variety of flavours in Indian food and a high number of entirely vegetarian options make the cuisine highly popular among foodies. Even if you wish to avoid too much spice, there’s enough flavour and variety to keep sensitive palates happy.
One special ingredient used in Indian cuisine that stands out is turmeric. Turmeric is a close relative of ginger and is regularly praised for its health benefits.
The nations that tend to rank highly in terms of healthy diets tend to eat plenty of fruit, vegetables, fish and whole grains and limit less healthy food options like processed food and drinks. Nations that primarily eat locally sourced and fresh food are also typically far healthier than their convenience-led counterparts. The Mediterranean, Scandinavia and Japan also all benefit from being close to the ocean, cultivating diets based on fresh seafood rich in omega-3.
So for those looking to continue 2017 by embracing a new way of eating, or for those foodies considering a move overseas, these diets are definitely worth some consideration.
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