Wherever you live, healthy eating is essential for health and well-being. Mounting evidence indicates that regular consumption of ultra-processed foods can increase the risks of preventable conditions such as obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, and cancers. However, in parts of the world that favor local traditional diets, people may be living longer and healthier lives.
Whole foods, careful portions, and shared meals are common factors in healthy food practices across the globe. Here’s a sampling of the world’s most wholesome eating habits.
Traditional foods in Nordic countries like Denmark, Finland, Greenland, Iceland, Norway, and Sweden may reduce low-grade inflammation in the body, according to a 2019 study. The Nordic diet highlights berries, cabbage, apples, oats, rye, root vegetables, and fermented milk.
Nordic eating also emphasizes the consumption of fish such as salmon, Baltic herring, cod, and rainbow trout, and it restricts saturated fats from dairy and red meat.
The Mediterranean diet (MedDiet) is based on centuries-old eating patterns among people in Greece, Italy, and other countries near the Mediterranean Sea. It is similar to the Nordic diet, but olive oil consumption plays a more prevalent role in this region.
People who adhere to the MedDiet tend to eat most of their daily calories, especially those from starchy foods, no later than 3:00 p.m. They also drink less than 2 alcohol units per day. A 2023 study suggests that the MedDiet offers protection from obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and other chronic cardiometabolic diseases.
Israel borders the Mediterranean Sea as well, and its traditional foods are similar. Traditionally, people start their day eating fresh fruits and vegetables that grow seasonally or year-round. About one in 20 Israelis embrace veganism, including one out of 18 soldiers.
Locally grown dates are a popular, additive-free snack that is preserved naturally with its high sugar content. Unrefined extra-virgin olive oil is a mainstay in Israeli cooking as well.
The Jiangnan diet refers to foods historically enjoyed throughout the Jiangnan region in southeast China. On average, people in Jiangnan live longer than those in other regions of China.
Traditional daily fare includes unrefined rice, freshwater fish, and plenty of dark green leafy vegetables. Dishes in this area include large portions of soybean products and smaller amounts of dairy products than the Mediterranean diet.
Indian cuisine uses an abundance of herbs and spices, including ginger, turmeric, curry, cardamom, and allspice. These ingredients add intense color, flavor, and phytonutrients that may help reduce the risk of heart disease. Crushing them by hand helps retain the heat-sensitive aromas and nutrients.
Hand-pounded pickles and chutneys elevate dishes with sweet and sour tastes, along with fiber and probiotics that can help improve gut diversity and insulin sensitivity. These condiments can also help reduce sweet cravings.
Mughai cuisine, a fusion of Indian and Persian cultures, is a highly regarded tradition in Pakistan. A Mughai dinner incorporates meat stews prepared with yogurt or turmeric. Meat and vegetable kababs are also common here.
Pakistani dishes are not typically fast food. Meat is cooked using low, slow heat after marinating. Ground nuts add a sweet undertone and protective benefits for brain and heart health.
Diets throughout Mexico vary by region, but most include maize, beans, squash, tomato, onion, and chile. More research is needed to identify specific benefits of this eating pattern, but the foods involved have strong evidence of their health advantages.
Mexico’s traditional meals have also included a variety of plant-based foods packed with micronutrients. The culture here has customarily promoted the midday almuerzo as the largest meal of the day.
The African Heritage Diet is based on the eating customs of people in Africa and the African Diaspora. Each region, whether in the U.S. or the Caribbean, shares its distinct varieties of foods. This diet promotes consuming colorful fruits and vegetables daily, in addition to whole grains, sweet potatoes, and yams.
The African Heritage Diet encourages people to eat fish, poultry, and healthy oils in moderation.
In Russia, people start their days with cereal porridge, which provides vitamins, minerals, and complex carbohydrates for energy. Gluten-free buckwheat is the most popular grain here. Russians young and old enjoy kefir, a fermented milk product full of probiotics and vitamins A, D, E, and K.
Soups of countless varieties make an ideal lunch in Russia, along with hearty rye bread.
The U.S. is infamous for its Standard American Diet (SAD), but the tide is slowly turning towards healthier eating. Locally grown foods are gaining traction, which can make more nutrients available and reduce carbon footprints.
The U.S. and other nations have access to the age-old wisdom of traditional eating from all over the globe. Understanding and honoring food customs from around the world can help us become more aware of how we can nourish our bodies and souls.
This site offers information designed for educational purposes only. You should not rely on any information on this site as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, treatment, or as a substitute for, professional counseling care, advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you have any concerns or questions about your health, you should always consult with a physician or other healthcare professional.