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.

Nordic Diet

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.

Cropped image of hands preparing food on table Maskot / Getty Images


Mediterranean Diet

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.

medittarean salad MarianVejcik / Getty Images


Israel’s Breakfast Salads

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.

Tabbouleh salad with tomato, cucumber, couscous, mint and pomegranate. Vegan Healthy Food Concept. Traditional middle eastern or arab dish. MarianVejcik / Getty Images


Jiangnan Diet

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.

Close up of young woman eating healthy and tasty poke bowl with fresh salmon and assorted vegetables on wooden table. Eating out with friend in restaurant. Healthy and natural eating concept d3sign / Getty Images


Fare in India

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.

Indian food background. Nazar Abbas Photography / Getty Images


Eating in Pakistan

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.

Nawabi food kaiooooooooooooo / Getty Images


Food Traditions in Mexico

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.

Chicken burrito bowl AlexPro9500 / Getty Images


African Heritage Diet

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.

Middle Eastern meze platter with green falafel, pita, sun dried tomatoes, pumpkin and beet hummus, olives, stuffed peppers, tabbouleh, figs. Mediterranean appetizer party idea sveta_zarzamora / Getty Images


Russian Food Customs

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.

Pouring homemade kefir Fascinadora / Getty Images


The United States

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.

Bowl of fresh salad with hard boiled eggs on white background Claudia Totir / Getty Images


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