While there are plenty of opportunities for healthy eating in America, there are several international diets making headlines for the benefits they can add to daily life. Here are just a few.
Japan: Or, Okinawa Diet
On one of the islands with the greatest number of centenarians (or people 100 or older), you’ve got to imagine it must be something in the water—if not the food! With easy access to natural fish, whole grains, soy products, and vegetables, not to mention the tofu and konbu (iodine-rich) seaweed, it’s no surprise that the Japanese have low rates of heart disease and cancer. They also consume squid and octopus; since they are great sources of taurine, the Japanese also have lower blood pressure and cholesterol by comparison. They focus on consuming more foods with low-caloric intake and fewer foods that have a high caloric intake. Not only do the Japanese eat healthier foods, they prepare them healthier, too: steaming or flavorful stir-frying with healthy oils (like peanut or sesame). There is also a Japanese practice called Hara Huchi Bu, where they only “eat until you are eight parts full” or 80% full; in other words, they don’t eat to gluttonous proportions, only what they need to be comfortable after feeling hunger. There’s also an argument for presentation in a Japanese dinner plate, focusing on fresh, seasonal veggies makes for a pretty and filling plate! Some of the healthiest staples: yams, green tea, bok choy, seafood, shiitake mushrooms, whole soy, edamame, miso, tempeh (soybean cake with a rich, nutty flavor), brown rice, broccoli, cabbage, buckwheat noodles.
Greece: Or, Mediterranean Diet
While the two terms, Greece and the Mediterranean, are not interchangeable, they are often referred to simultaneously, as Greece is part of the Mediterranean along with Spain, Italy, and Morocco. Since we’ll be talking about Italy next, we’ll focus on Greece specifically and touch on Spain and Morocco. Though, cloaking the diets of four whole countries may seem somewhat over-simplistic, there are inconsistencies among the countries in the region. However, the diet from this region of the world has research-proven benefits in preventing cardiovascular disease for people in the later stages of their lives. Mediterraneans eat very little dairy, red meat, or sweets, and only take wine with meals in moderation. Taking on aspects of this diet has the potential to decrease risks of strokes, heart attack, and lethal heart disease. When beginning this diet, people have claimed that they don’t even feel like they’re dieting, feeling satisfied from meals and snacks made from the region’s favorite staples. Some of the healthiest staples: olives and olive oil, fruits, nuts, dark leafy vegetables, omega-3-rich fish (like sardines), poultry, high-fiber beans, lentils, eggplant, whole-grain breads, chickpeas, barley.
Known for a taking a meal leisurely, the Italians aren’t healthy simply for eating slowly. Their rich cuisine is packed with healthy benefits because of their often highlighted ingredients: tomatoes and olive oil. Cooked tomatoes, a rich source of lycopene, can help women fight breast cancer. Garlic and common Italian herbs are solid sources of vitamins A and C, while olive oil helps to lower cholesterol. Cheese is a favorite Italian staple, and they focus on grated, hard cheeses like Parmesan to flavor, while using soft cheeses like Mozzarella moderately to bind ingredients together. Avoid Americanized versions of pizza and pasta dishes, which are often loaded with fat and calories. Try to find traditional Italian recipes of your favorites for healthier options. Using gluten-free or vegetable based pastas (like spaghetti squash) can give your dishes an even healthier foundation. Not only do Italians focus on healthy ingredients, but they also make use of some of the healthiest forms of food preparation: poaching, baking, grilling, and steaming. Some of the healthiest staples: tomatoes, garlic, parsley, basil, oregano, olive oil, beans, vegetables.
Sweden: Or, Nordic Diet
There isn’t much you’d normally want to do like a Viking, but apparently the Viking diet is one that has health benefits similar to the aforementioned Mediterranean diet. Probably because they share a lot of the same staples, minus the carbs, like pasta. However, you’re still getting fiber from grains like barley and oats. The real focus is on preparation, cooking at home, and veering away from refined or processed foods, and making seasonal choices with fresh or organic produce and ingredients. Some of the healthiest staples: canola oil, oats, rye, rye flour, barley, root vegetables, leafy green vegetables, seafood (like salmon or herring), high quality meat in moderation, dark breads (rye, pumpernickel), berries, dairy.
Known more for being spicy, and it’s no joke being based with red chilies, ginger, garam masala (a cumin-based combination seasoning), and turmeric also have health benefits that go beyond making your curry curry-er. There are medical research studies that have shown these flavorings may help with certain cancers and it’s been reported that Alzheimer’s rates in India are more than three times lower than America’s. Indian cuisine also makes use of garlic and onions, which are helpful in lowering lipid levels in the blood. Red pepper and ginger help lower cholesterol. It’s often said that the more flavor and color a dish has the better it is for you; with the natural colors of most of the traditional seasonings, platters of Indian food are some of the most colorful and flavorful in the world. Some of the healthiest staples: turmeric, cardamom, cinnamon, coriander, yogurt, lentils, onions, butter in moderation, full-fat coconut milk (in moderation), tomato.