Whether it’s emulating the Mediterranean diet or following the French approach to moderation, there are plenty of healthy eating tips and tricks to be learnt from some of the best cuisines in the world, as attested by increased life-expectancy and better health. From a reliance on natural, local produce to handy hints for food preparation, SL contributor Nina Bertok is proving healthy eating is anything but bland when it comes to the healthiest world cuisines...
The famously healthy Mediterranean diet is usually drawn from the Greek island of Crete, which boasts higher-than-average life expectancy and low risk of heart disease.
What To Eat: Dark leafy vegetables, high-fibre beans, grains, lentils, fresh fruits, olive oil and plenty of omega-3s from fresh fish, as well as nuts, cheeses, chicken, eggs and yoghurt. Try to average nine daily servings of fruits and veggies, consume grilled or baked fish several times per week, and limit red meat to just a handful of portions a month. Opt for meze or small plates to keep your meat intake low and portions manageable.
Balance, variety and moderation are key in Japanese cuisine. Residents of the island of Okinawa regularly live to over 100 and have some of the lowest rates of chronic disease because of their rich diet of seafood and fresh veggies – so it’s a diet we should all be getting on board with.
What To Eat: Plenty of cancer-fighting fruits and vegetables like bok choy and shiitake mushrooms, either lightly steamed or very lightly stir-fried. Choose ingredients according to season and add wasabi, soy sauce and tsukemono pickles provide antioxidants. Popular dishes include miso soup served with seaweed and tofu or vegetables simmered in a seasoned broth of bamboo shoots, eggplant and lotus. Plus, the Japanese practice Hara Hachi Bu, which means ‘eat until you’re 80% full’, sees food served in small bowls and plates in order to drastically slow down the eating process.
Forget burritos and tacos – traditional Mexican food is packed with beans, soups and tomato-based sauces, which can help lower the risk of breast cancer. Mexican cuisine also emphasises slowly digested foods such as fresh ground corn, which help protect against Type 2 Diabetes and also leave you feeling fuller for longer.
What To Eat: Try spicy grilled chicken or beef dishes, or any of the numerous vegetarian options that are just as mouth-watering and pack in the vitamins. Fajitas with grilled chicken strips or bits of beef are a good choice, but remember to go easy on the toppings. Also, take note of the Mexican practice of eating the day’s largest feast at midday, known as ‘almuerzo’, which is based on the idea the later we eat a meal the more weight we stand to gain, especially if it's a big portion.
The low-fat diet enjoyed by South Koreans eat a low-fat diet usually packed with probiotics for good gut health. As with most other healthy cuisines, it’s mainly vegetables, steamed foods and the addition of lots of rice, relying on green onions, bean paste, garlic, ginger, sesame and vinegar for flavour.
What To Eat: Tofu, noodles, eggs and fish, often accompanied by a side of kimchi (a fermented dish made of veggies and a variety of seasonings that’s famously great for your gut). Korean cuisine is a great diet choice for vegetarians because, similarly to Japanese food culture, there’s a variety of light and healthy dishes packed with vegetables.
Fans of intense flavours should familiarise themselves with Thai cuisine, which is known for featuring turmeric, coriander, lime, ginger, lemongrass and chilli peppers. These ingredients work to boost the immune system, aid digestion, treat colds, ease stomach aches and tackle numerous others illnesses. Many Thai dishes are also high in fibre and protein, and we love the mix of sweetness, spice and tanginess.
What To Eat:The traditional Thai dish Tom Yum Goong (made with shrimp, coriander, lemongrass and ginger) has been found to possess properties over 100 times more effective than any other antioxidants in its ability to inhibit cancerous tumour growths, so be sure to order this when you next see it on a menu.
Healthy eating is a top priority in Spain, where fresh seafood, vegetables and olive oil dominate the cuisine. However, it’s not just about the ingredients that make the Spanish population so healthy, traditional tapas helps with portion control, allowing for indulgence without going overboard.
What To Eat: Order deep-fried squid and chorizo as tapas plates to share, and a big salad on the side. Otherwise, go for the super-healthy gazpacho (full of cancer-fighting lycopene and antioxidants) or paella (with fresh seafood, rice, and veggies). Wine is a big part of the Spanish diet so feel free to order a glass, but keep drinking in check. And don’t forget to take an afternoon siesta each day to help reduce stress levels and give your body time to repair.
A far cry from a pepperoni and cheese deep-dish pizza, traditional Italian cuisine focuses on olive oil, fresh tomatoes and herbs, and the slow enjoyment of meals with friends and family. Olive oil lowers cholesterol, fights heart disease and burns fat, tomatoes contain the cancer-fighting lycopene, and traditional herbs provide vitamins A and C. Plus, an emphasis on fresh foods means citizens get the best produce and highest vitamin content.
What To Eat: Fresh beans, fish, grains, seafood, fruits, and vegetables as well as lots of parsley, onions and garlic. Dishes like Pasta Primavera are packed with nutritious veggies and serve up a good dose of antioxidants, while fresh garlic helps prevent blood clots and lower blood pressure. And if you simply can’t fathom Italian without the cheese, opt for harder types like Parmesan instead.
Indian food isn’t only incredibly flavoursome, but can also help protect from some cancers, fight Alzheimer’s and reduce inflammation thanks to the wide variety of spices used. Plus, traditional dishes favour vegetables over red meat and the inclusion of yoghurt and lentils have large amounts of folate and magnesium to stabilise blood sugar.
What To Eat: Most health benefits are in the spices, so stock your cupboards with turmeric, ginger, red chillies, garam masala, cumin, cardamom, black pepper, cinnamon and coriander. In a restaurant, opt for a vegetable curry, dal or chicken masala with chilli and yoghurt to up your probiotics. Avoid white rice and choose wholegrain where possible, whilst chicken tikka or tandoori can be healthier options than creamy curry sauces.
Despite being known for their rich cheeses and delicious pastries, the French are famously adept at consuming everything in moderation. They savour good quality food and focus on local ingredients, so whilst traditional ingredients may be quite heavy, the small quantities could explain the low rates of heart disease and obesity.
What To Eat: It’s easy to make a traditional French meal even healthier by excluding butter and using healthy oils like olive or grape seed. Similarly, heavy cream can be replaced with reduced fat milk or Greek yoghurt. The key is to cook light and enjoy what you eat – try a classic French omelette served with a side salad, and add some sautéed mushrooms, grilled salmon or roasted asparagus for extra flavour.
Among the standout qualities of Vietnamese food are the colourful vegetables, fresh seafood, lots of herbs and cooking techniques that use water or broth instead of oils. When prepared the traditional way, this cuisine relies less on frying and heavy coconut-based sauces for flavour and more on herbs, which makes it lower in calories. Popular flavours including coriander, mint, Thai basil, star anise and red chilli have been used as medicinal remedies throughout history, helping to aid digestion and fight inflammation.
What To Eat: If you’re not already a fan, try pho. The aromatic, broth-based noodle soup is one of the healthiest and most delicious Vietnamese dishes thanks to its many antioxidant spices, so feel free to indulge as much as you like. Vietnamese noodles are rice-based, which means they’re easier to digest than gluten-based kinds.
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