In search of the world’s healthiest diets
Emily McLaren searches through a wide variety of the world's cuisines in an attempt to discover the healthiest diets in the world.
Of all the many things that are different when you find yourself overseas, food has to be one of the most striking. If you’ve been brought up on plain, homely fare, then a stay in another country can be a bit of an eye-opener. Even countries that are geographically next door neighbours can be worlds apart in terms of their respective cuisines. If you’re in France, trying out stuff like snails in garlic butter or steak tartare definitely broadens the culinary horizons as compared to, for example, a lot of British cuisine. And passing by a shop window with a sign saying viande de cheval can be a reminder of just how different a new country can be.
And just as the style of the food varies from place to place, there’s little doubt that some locations have healthier diets overall than others. The Mediterranean diet is often talked up as one of the healthiest, and the longevity of people from the Greek island of Icaria has made news worldwide, even being described as 'the island where people forget to die'. And it looks like science is beginning to back up the claims made for the Mediterranean diet – researchers at King’s College London recently conducted a study and found that when you eat vegetables and olive oil together, fatty acids are formed that play a part in lowering blood pressure.
With one of the world’s best life expectancy figures, you’d expect Japan to have a healthy diet to match. And while it is indeed a nutritious diet packed with all the right stuff, the Japanese way of eating also appears to be keeping the nation’s body shape in check – although the country’s 'metabo law' may have something to do with the low obesity rates. The 'metabo law' (named after metabolic syndrome) sets an upper limit for waist measurement for people aged between 40 and 74, and anyone who exceeds the limit has to attend counselling.
Indian food is a firm favourite with many across the world – indeed, many global fans of Indian cuisine haven’t even visited the country this style of food originates from. It’s perhaps not something that springs to mind when the phrase ‘health food’ is mentioned – but Indian cooking packs a real nutritional punch, with many of the spices that characterise it also known for their disease-fighting abilities. The fiery peppers that give many curries their kick are full of antioxidants – the hotter the pepper, the better. Meanwhile, various studies have shown garlic to offer some protection against a range of conditions. Garlic is also used in many places as a protection against the common cold – in China, it's mixed with Coca-Cola and boiled to help alleviate those classic cold symptoms – the coughs, sneezes and runny nose.
No matter where you find yourself as an expat – whether it's in one of the world's healthy zones or one of its obesity hotspots – it’s worth making sure your diet doesn't suffer. In the early days of an expat assignment it can be difficult to cope with all the new things that you're bombarded with – such as language, traffic and public transport systems, as well as a new job. So a bit of comfort eating now and then is understandable. But even in countries such as Germany and Austria where the cakes on sale in every cafe are irresistibly good to look at, as well as plentiful in terms of choice, there's always a healthy option too – even if it means avoiding the cake temptation by not going into the cafes in the first place.
If you’re curious as to whether your country of residence is one of the places where overweight and obesity is prevalent, check out this interactive map from the World health organisation– and see where your nation fits on the scale.
By Emily McLaren
Reprinted with permission from Borders and Burpees.
Emily runs her own travel and fitness blog. Growing up in the expat world, she now travels independently around the world. You can keep up with all her travels and fitness posts at www.bordersandburpees.co.uk.
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