The typical Western diet is loaded with processed, sweetened, and artificially flavored foods. Food choices are made based on convenience rather than nutrition, while obesity rates continue to climb. This kind of carb, fat, and sugar-laden diet may seem like the norm, but others around the world are much different and much healthier.
Every region of the world has their own style of cuisine. But the healthiest diets focus on wholesome, natural foods, and balanced proportions. So, what do the world’s healthiest diets look like?
What Are the Healthiest Regions Across the Globe?
The knowledge that certain regions of the world are healthier than others is nothing new. But a groundbreaking study shows us exactly which parts of the world are the healthiest and why. These results are discussed in Dan Buettner’s book, The Blue Zones Solution.
“Blue Zones” are the places where the world’s healthiest and longest-living people reside. These Blue Zones have high concentrations of individuals who live to be 100 years or older and have low incidence of chronic health problems like heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and obesity.
So, what are the Blue Zones? Here’s where you’ll find them:
- Okinawa, Japan
- Ikaria, Greece
- Ogliastra Region, Sardinia
- Loma Linda, California
- Nicoya Peninsula, Costa Rica
Although unique in culture and cuisine, these regions have dietary factors in common. But these factors are not limited to the five Blue Zones. They can also be identified in the world’s healthiest diets.
What Do the Healthiest Diets Around the World Have in Common?
There are key similarities in parts of the globe where people live long, healthy lives. Portion sizes are reasonable, dishes are built from whole foods, and meals are shared with friends and family.
Here’s a quick look at some of the healthiest diets around the world:
- Mediterranean Diet – Whole grains, legumes, fruits, and vegetables are produced locally. They’re made with traditional preparations, and shared with friends and family. Fish and poultry are consumed in moderation, but meat, sugar, and salt are occasional indulgences.
- Traditional Okinawa Diet – This eating plan is a low-calorie, nutrient-dense diet. It focuses on fruits and vegetables with modest amounts of seafood and lean meat. The idea is to eat enough food to feel 80 per cent full, and there is an emphasis on sharing with others.
- Nordic Diet – Rich in root vegetables, whole-grain bread, and oily fish, the Nordic diet is high in fiber and protein, but low in sugar. Meat dishes and processed dairy products are limited, but fermented milk and cheese are common ingredients.
- French Paradox – Largely built around bread, cheese, and wine, the French diet is high in saturated fats, but limited in terms of portions. The focus is on eating smaller amounts of high-quality food rather than overindulging in unhealthy foods.
- West African – Centered on lean meat, vegetables, and cereal staples, the West African diet is low in calories and nearly devoid of processed foods. This diet focuses on traditional preparations of foods like fruit, vegetables, whole grains, and fish.
Now that you’ve seen a preview of the healthiest diets around the world, you can probably draw some conclusions of your own. But how do you apply these principles to your own diet? Here are some dietary changes you can use to model your own meals around the world’s healthiest diets:
- Focus on plant-based foods such as legumes, beans, fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and healthy fats. Enjoy fresh, in-season produce and use meat as sparingly as possible.
- Make breakfast your largest meal of the day and eat smaller meals in the afternoon and evening. Limit your portion sizes and stop eating when your stomach feels about 80 per cent full.
- Consume as little added sugar as possible. Get most of your daily intake from natural sugars found in fruits and vegetables. Save sweets for occasional indulgences.
- Choose whole, natural foods that have not been processed or altered. Eat as much locally produced, in-season food as you possibly can. And use cooking methods that preserve the nutritional integrity of the raw ingredients.
- Drink plenty of water and never drink soft drinks. Feel free to enjoy black coffee and green tea as well as red wine in moderation (one to three small glasses per day, typically with a meal).
If you want to improve your health and maximize your longevity, start by making changes to your diet. Using these world diets as inspiration, start cutting back on foods that are making you sick. Focus on healthier options like fresh fruits and vegetables, beans and legumes, healthy fats, and nuts and seeds.
It takes time to make significant changes to your diet and to your health, but there is no time like the present to get started. Best of luck!