Although that’s true on a global level, the fact is some countries have a much better handle on health, diet and wellbeing than others.
The two-part series, World’s Best Diets (available via SBS On Demand), explores some of the world’s most varied diets. Hosts, Jimmy Doherty and Kate Quilton, travel around the globe looking at the dietary habits of countries, tribes and communities, to identify how diets have changed radically over the last 50 years, and how this has affected our health.
In episode two, they countdown to the world’s best diet and unveil the secrets to long life and good health.
Armed with the insights of expert dietitians and doctors, the diets are rated according to the types of fat eaten, alcohol intake, obesity, diet-related cancer and life expectancy. Here are 5 of the finalists that made it through to the top 10 best diets.
France, rated #8
Even though the French have traditionally high intakes of dietary cholesterol and saturated fat, they still have low rates of coronary heart disease death.
Cheese, pate, duck fat and processed meats play a huge role in their healthy diet and yet these are foods that people throughout the rest of the world are told to eat in moderation.
This contradiction in health is famously termed the ‘French paradox’. As Doherty discovers, the key to health in France may relate to the way an average consumes these foods rich in saturated fat.
Doherty reminds us that the French eat three meals a day, consume smaller portion sizes, have their biggest meal of the day at lunch over the course of a few hours, eat socially, and do not snack. Perhaps enjoying regular long, hearty lunches with friends and family is the true secret to a long, healthy life?
Kuna Indians, rated #7
Kuna Indians who live on the Caribbean islands near Panama gain the rating of having the seventh-best diet in the world because of one main food product they regularly consume: cocoa.
Studies show that they not only have very low blood pressure levels, but they also live longer than other Panamanians and have a reduced frequency of stroke, diabetes mellitus and cancer.
Kuna Indians are said to drink more than five cups of flavanol-rich cocoa every day, and also incorporate cocoa into many recipes throughout their diet.
It’s possible that the high flavanol intake may protect the Kuna against high blood pressure, ischemic heart disease, stroke, diabetes mellitus, and cancer. However, more research is needed to make this conclusion.
Seventh-Day Adventists, rated #4
Listed at number four is not a country but a religious group. The Seventh Day Adventists, a branch of Christianity that started in the USA, religiously believe in removing substances from the body that clog the mind like alcohol, sugar and caffeine.
Some Adventists do eat meat. But among this group are people who typically do not eat unclean flesh, like that of pig or certain fish.
Their diet has also been shown to be rich in fresh fruits and vegetables, low in processed foods, absent of alcohol, and rich in omega 3 oils.
Italy and Greece, rated #2 & #3
These two countries rate at number two and three respectively on the list for one major reason: traditionally their peoples follow the principles of the Mediterranean diet.
Celebrated as one of the world’s healthiest diets, the Mediterranean diet is rich in fruits, vegetables, wholegrains, legumes and olive oil. It also includes lots of fish and poultry and minimal amounts of red meat.
As we learn in episode two of World’s Best Diets, people living in the Italian town of Campodimele provide a good blueprint on how the rest of us should live to maintain a longer life and be healthy.
Most of the food consumed comes fresh from the land and is homegrown. There’s very little consumption of processed or packaged foods. Some of the locals make olive oil, sausages, tomato sauce and whole-wheat pasta themselves. Red wine is also a regular dietary staple: two glasses a day, and no more, for longevity.
Iceland takes out the #1 spot
The title of the world’s best diet goes to Iceland, according to the show.
“They have seemingly avoided many of the diseases that have plagued other countries,” says Doherty. “They have low rates of Alzheimer’s disease, stroke, heart disease and diabetes.”
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Doherty explains that traditional Icelandic diet is rich in omega 3 oils from fish, rye bread, and quality meat and dairy. While they have a good amount of protein in their diet, they also don’t consume a lot of fat.
The other factor making Iceland a haven for health, he says, is its cold, geothermic environment and lack of pollution.
“Iceland is unique,” says Doherty. “It’s isolated. We can’t replicate all the things here and spread it around the world but there are certain things we can definitely take home.
“From our journey around the globe, we learned that the onslaught of processed foods is slowly killing us and we need to return to some of our more traditional basic diets.”
Doherty stresses that around the world, good diets can all look very different from each other. “The French still manage to eat a diet rich in animal fats. While the Ethiopians eat hardly any meat. The South Koreans eat loads of vegetables and the Mediterranean diet thrives on olive oil.
“But they all have one thing in common: a dedication to eating minimally processed foods that haven’t been messed with. If we take these lessons to heart, it means that wherever we live we could be eating the world’s best diet.”
Hit the icon below and you can watch the two-part documentary series, World’s Best Diets streaming now via SBS On Demand.