What is the healthiest world cuisine?
The UK diet has seen a considerable increase in global cuisines over the years as people munch their way through ever increasing levels of Chinese takeaways, Indian takeaways, pizzas and kebabs. Many of these cuisines have become adapted to the British palate, bearing little resemblance to the real thing. This leads us to wonder what is the healthiest world cuisine?
People often ask me this, but the answer is there isn’t one cuisine which is better than all others. Many world diets promote some really good eating strategies. If we learn about other cuisines and adopt their healthy practices we will get the best of all worlds.
There are some cuisines which may appear to be a contradiction, for instance, the “French Paradox”. This refers to a nation who consume a considerable amount of saturated fats (especially their soft cheeses) and yet have a low level of heart disease.
This can even be found in smaller groups such as the diet of villagers in Mylopotamos in northern Crete. Here, people consume plenty of animal fat and heaps of local cheese and yet we see a very low heart disease. Researchers find their longevity is likely linked to a single genetic variant that protects the heart!
So here are some brief ideas to get you started:
The Mediterranean diet is rich in fruit and vegetables. People in this region eat more fruit and veg than elsewhere in Europe. Italians use novel ways of including even more, like soffritto. Soffritto is a base for many traditional Italian dishes. It is made from finely chopped onion, garlic, celery, carrot, rosemary and bay leaf cooked in olive oil. It adds authentic flavour and boosts the veg content of meals.
Has one of the lowest cardiovascular disease rates in the world. Their traditional diet includes a range of foods linked to heart health, including oily fish and soya (in beans or tofu).
Nuts are prevalent in the Mediterranean diet, especially in parts of Spain; studies show regular consumption may benefit heart health, manage weight, lower blood pressure and improve cholesterol profile. It is important they are eaten in their natural state, rather than salted, sugared or dry roasted.
The South Asian diet makes good use of lentils and other pulses as a source of protein. These have the added benefit of containing soluble fibre that can help lower cholesterol levels.
Of surprise to many people was seeing Iceland make top spot in a recent TV documentary.
A number of factors were taken into account, such as rates of obesity, life expectancy, healthy diet indicators, nutritional composition, alcohol intake, diabetes prevalence, heart disease and other non-communicable diseases, diet-related cancer and cultural attitudes to food.
Icelanders scored high for their consumption of fish, meat and dairy from grass-fed livestock, offal (which is rich in protein), rye bread (which is high in fiber) and cod liver oil.
Skyr, special Icelandic strained cheese, which is high in protein, is also something consumed in large quantities and which is now also sold in the UK.
Are there some common traits all healthy cuisines share?
Research indicates that what all the nations, ethnic groups and religious groups which made it to the top of the healthy list had in common was that their diet was comprised of food that was mostly homegrown, homebred and/or homemade, not processed much and contained Omega 3 oils such as found in oily fish.