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Diets of the Worlds Healthiest Countries

Diets of the Worlds Healthiest Countries

26th February, 2014 International Health Insurance

Bloomberg’s annual research defines the world’s most healthy countries, and we’ve found a really interesting graph revealing the world’s healthiest countries and least healthy countries by region, which delivers insight into the best performers on a geographical basis.

Facts about health by country – Interesting healthcare statistics

Here are the most healthy countries by region for 2012. Bloomberg’s findings for 2013 will be released later this year. 

  1. The Americas – The healthiest country in the Americas is Canada
  2. Western Europe – Western Europe’s healthiest country is Italy
  3. Asia Pacific – The Asia Pacific region’s healthiest place to live is Singapore
  4. Central & Eastern Europe – The healthiest nation in Central & Eastern Europe is Slovenia
  5. Middle East & Africa – The best performer in the Middle East and Africa is Israel

The reasons for the good health statistics in these five nations are probably many and varied, covering everything from education to exercise, healthcare facilities, industry, income, and all manner of social and cultural influences. But because diet tends to play a vital part in human well-being, we thought we’d take a whistle-stop tour of the national cuisine in five of the world’s healthiest countries by region.

Is your home country or adopted home country in the list of most healthy countries? Here’s some information about the traditional diets in five top performing countries.

The best of Canadian cuisine

If you’re considering moving to the Americas, a category covering the north and south of the continent, you can’t go wrong with Canada, the top scorer for good health. Is there anything special about a traditional Canadian diet compared to the poor-performing Argentina?  As Wikipedia says about Canadian food:

“Canadian cuisine varies widely depending on the regions of the nation. The three earliest cuisines of Canada have First Nations, English, Scottish and French roots, with the traditional cuisine of English Canada closely related to British and Scottish cuisines, while the traditional cuisine of French Canada has evolved from French cuisine and the winter provisions of fur traders. With subsequent waves of immigration in the 19th and 20th century from Central, Southern, and Eastern Europe, South Asia, East Asia, and the Caribbean, the regional cuisines were subsequently augmented.”

Some people feel that the ‘real’ Canadian cuisine reflects the seasons, using locally sourced ingredients that thrive in the local climate, combined with flavour, goodness and well-being in mind. Others believe the nation’s traditional dishes are still being defined, created by mixing the foods many cultures influencing the country have brought with them. It’s probably safe to say that Canadian cuisine is less about a particular dish, more about the way the ingredients are combined. Whatever they’re doing, they appear to be doing it right.

The famously healthy Mediterranean diet – Italian food at its best

Everyone knows a Mediterranean diet has a profound effect on human health. But what makes it so special when Greece, also known for its wonderful food, sits at the bottom of the table for the region? In the case of Greece, the country’s economic woes have probably played a part, with healthcare facilities under stress, household budgets tight and unemployment adversely affecting people’s emotional well-being.

The Mayo clinic website describes the famously good-for-you Mediterranean diet as follows:

“If you’re looking for a heart-healthy eating plan, the Mediterranean diet might be right for you. The Mediterranean diet incorporates the basics of healthy eating — plus a splash of flavourful olive oil and perhaps even a glass of red wine — among other components characterizing the traditional cooking style of countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea. Most healthy diets include fruits, vegetables, fish and whole grains, and limit unhealthy fats. While these parts of a healthy diet remain tried-and-true, subtle variations or differences in proportions of certain foods may make a difference in your risk of heart disease.”

Research reveals the traditional Mediterranean diet as a powerful ally in your arsenal against heart disease. Analysing over 1.5 million healthy adults shows it associated with less risk heart disease and cancer, Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s. Whether or not you decide to move to Italy or any of the other Mediterranean countries with a similar diet, their cuisine looks like a very good bet.

Fascinating food traditions in Singapore

Singapore is a place where a multitude of cultures meet, modern, cosmopolitan and tolerant. But what about the cuisine in this exotic, historic place and how does it differ from the lowest scoring Vietnam?

Singaporean cuisine reflects the country’s ethnic diversity, including influences Malaysia, Chinese, Indonesian, Indian, Peranakan, English and some Portuguese-influenced foods. Since the Brits founded Singapore in the 1800s it has experienced influences from as far away as Sri Lanka, Thailand, the Philippines and the Middle East. And everything is mixed up. If there’s such a thing as a global diet, you will find it in Singapore.

At the other end of the regional performance scale, traditional Vietnamese cooking is also admired for its fresh ingredients, minimal oil and reliance on fresh fruit and veg. In fact Vietnamese food is considered one of the healthiest cuisines worldwide, so the country’s position at the bottom of the healthiest countries in Asia Pacific list must be down to other reasons, not their food.

Slovenia scores high for healthiness

Slovenia tops the chart of healthiest countries in Central and Eastern Europe. What do they eat there that helps the people stay so healthy compared to the worst performer in the region, Hungary?

In 2006 Slovenia’s leading ethnologists split the country into twenty three different gastronomic regions. The country’s cuisine is also often separated by its origin, for example town food, farmhouse food, cottage, castle, parsonage and even ‘monastic’ Slovenian cuisine, including influences as far flung as Austria, Germany and France. Interestingly, the humble dandelion is an extremely popular salad ingredient in Slovenia, with a long and venerable tradition behind it.

What’s on the menu in Israel?

What is the first thing that springs to mind when you think of Israel? It isn’t usually the food. So is there anything special about a traditional Israeli or Arab diet that makes it so different from the lowest scorer in the same region, Algeria?

If you’re over fifty you might remember the Israeli Army diet, a fad diet based on the dishes fed to the country’s Defense Forces. In fact it had nothing to do with reality, lasting eight days and demanding that the dieter only eat one type of food for two days at a time. As Wikipedia says about real Israeli cuisine:

“Israeli cuisine comprises local dishes by people native to Israel and dishes brought to Israel by Jews from the Diaspora. Since before the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948, and particularly since the late 1970s, an Israeli Jewish fusion cuisine has developed.

Israeli cuisine has adopted, and continues to adapt, elements of various styles of Jewish cuisine and regional Arab cuisine, particularly the Mizrahi, Sephardic and Ashkenazi styles of cooking. It incorporates many foods traditionally eaten in Middle Eastern and Mediterranean cuisines, and foods such as falafel, hummus, shakshouka, couscous, and za’atar are now widely popular in Israel.

Other influences on cuisine are the availability of foods common to the Mediterranean region, especially certain kinds of fruits and vegetables, dairy products and fish. New dishes based on agricultural products such as oranges, avocados, dairy products and fish, and others based on world trends have been introduced over the years, and chefs trained abroad have brought in elements of other international cuisines.”

Are there any patterns in the diets of the world’s healthiest countries?

Interestingly, three of the countries who top their regions for the most healthy country have a varied traditional cuisine influenced by centuries of comings and goings, invasions and cultural and social change. Perhaps variety really is the spice of life? It’s also interesting to note that the Mediterranean diet is found in Italy and Israel, our other two top performers.

While it might not affect your decision about where to move, the food in a country is an important consideration. For some of us it’s just as vital to happiness and comfort as international private medical insurance, essential for a good, enjoyable life in your new country.

Getting used to the local food in your new home country

Globalisation means that wherever you choose to live, you will probably be able to track down the Starbucks and McDonalds of this world without too much trouble. But every country has its own cuisine, and discovering fresh food ideas is an enjoyable part of the expat experience.

If you’ve moved to a country where the food is very different from what you are used to, you can proceed two ways. One, dive right in with gusto and try as many new and unusual dishes in the shortest possible space of time. Or two, take it easy until your palate adjusts. Either way, a whole new world of flavours awaits you!

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Alison Massey

Group Marketing Director

Now Health International

Alison Massey is a 15-year digital marketing veteran, who has spent the last seven years using social media to help expats and soon to be expats find out what to expect from a life overseas. An expat living in Hong Kong herself, Alison is the Group Marketing Director of Now Health, the award-winning international health insurance provider.

Contact Alison Massey

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