It’s no secret that the typical American diet is unhealthy: red meat, dairy products, and processed and junk foods are all rich in saturated fat and sugar. To be honest, we’d be better off looking to other civilizations for dietary advice. Traditional Mediterranean, Japanese, and Nordic diets, in particular, have strong links to health and lifespan.
The Mediterranean Diet
The Mediterranean diet has long been hailed as a healthy eating plan by doctors and nutritionists alike. It appeals to me for various reasons: it’s simple to follow, it’s flavorful, and it provides a wide variety of health advantages validated by clinical studies. In reality, I follow many of the general dietary guidelines myself.
The Mediterranean diet combines the traditional cuisine of Spain, Southern France, Italy, Greece, Crete, and portions of the Middle East. It includes everyday essentials like high-quality fresh fruits and vegetables, nuts, legumes, unrefined grains, olive oil, fermented dairy products like yogurt and natural cheese, and fresh seafood. The diet does not completely remove red meat, but it is limited to roughly one meal per month. Similarly, chicken, eggs, and sweets are included, but not regularly; instead, they are consumed once a month. There’s also a small quantity of wine in there.
Eating Globally at home
You don’t have to completely change your diet. Instead, make a few little modifications to start reaping the health advantages.
- Go fishing: Most Americans simply don’t eat enough fish high in important omega-3 fatty acids. Because of this, the omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids ratio tend to be out of balance, which can lead to balance and which can lead to problems from depression to Dyslexia. Try to enjoy two to six servings of fish like wild Alaskan Salmon, herring, and sardines every week. If you don’t want to consume fish, get a fish oil or algae oil supplement with both EPA and DHA and take two to three grams each day.
- Vegetables should be consumed in large quantities: An anti-inflammatory diet recommends eating four to five portions of veggies per day, which these three worldwide diets easily do. Don’t be scared to try sea veggies, which can be found in many health-food stores and Asian markets at this time of year.
- Mind Your Oil: Make extra-virgin olive oil (EVOO) your primary cooking oil; search for an organic EVOO that is of excellent quality. Also, foods like walnuts and freshly ground flaxseeds are high in additional healthful facts.
- Swap in soy and mushrooms: Try meals using tofu and sautéed Asian mushrooms as protein to cut down on meat consumption. I recommend eating one to two portions of whole soy meals every day, as well as an endless supply of Asian mushrooms like shiitake, maitake, and oyster mushrooms (just never eat them raw).
The traditional Mediterranean diet isn’t only about food. However, it is part of a whole cultural package that includes regular physical activity (more than most Americans get) as well as maintaining strong social and family bonds, often developed and enjoyed around shared meals.
Studies say: For decades, researchers have noted that some Mediterranean countries seem to have lower heart disease and cancer rates. Perhaps one of the most important studies to address the diet’s impact on heart health was the 2013 PREDIMED study.
It was shown that a Mediterranean diet can reduce the risk of heart attack and stroke by around 30% and mortality from cardiovascular disease, even in individuals at high risk. The report was initially published in the New England Journal of Medicine, but it was withdrawn last summer due to mistakes that compromised data regarding a quarter of the trial’s participants.
Although the retraction made headlines, it’s worth noting that the journal also released a corrected version of the study with reanalyzed data that came to the same results. Older research backs up these findings. In 2003, researchers discovered that those who eat a Mediterranean-style diet have a 33 percent reduced risk of heart disease and 24 percent lower cancer death rate than those who follow more Western-style diets. According to research, there is a lower death rate from all causes.
Other studies have found that persons who eat a Mediterranean diet have improved cognitive function and a lower risk of dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease. In addition, the diet looks to be advantageous to postmenopausal women’s bones and muscles. Brazilian researchers found earlier this year that women who followed the Mediterranean diet most carefully had higher bone mineral density assessed at the lumbar spine and more muscle mass than women who followed the diet less strictly. Whether the subjects had previously used hormone replacement treatment, smoked, or were physically active had no bearing on the findings. Diabetes and Parkinson’s disease are also decreased in people who eat a Mediterranean diet.
The Traditional Japanese Diet
I’ve visited Japan several times and have a deep affection for the country’s culture and traditional cuisine and beverages. Although I eat a Mediterranean diet, I eat a lot of Japanese foods like shiitake mushrooms and tofu meals, and I drink green tea every day—either sencha, the traditional Japanese green tea, or matcha, the powdered form used in the Japanese tea ceremony, which is gaining popularity in the United States.
Fish, entire soy foods (edamame, soy milk, tofu), Asian mushrooms, rice, a wide variety of fresh vegetables (including sea vegetables), fruit, fermented foods like miso and pickles, and very little meat or dairy are all part of the traditional Japanese diet. It also has low sugar content. One disadvantage is the high sodium content. As previously said, green tea is a popular beverage.
In comparison to the West, the Japanese consume smaller portions and eat more deliberately. The average Japanese individual consumes 25% fewer calories per day than the average American. As it is generally served tastefully on ornamental plates and platters, Japanese food is a superb example of “eating with your eyes.”
Numerous studies have been conducted to demonstrate the health benefits of the various foods found in the Japanese diet. Compounds found in shiitake mushrooms, for example, have been shown to lower cholesterol, improve immunological function, and reduce the incidence of numerous types of cancer. Green tea’s primary antioxidant ingredient, EGCG, has been shown in test tubes to kill prostate cancer cells. Whole soy has also been demonstrated to lower cholesterol levels and may lessen the incidence of breast cancer.
However, studies have looked at the diet and found that it is heart-friendly. In one study, middle-aged Japanese men who ate a more Westernized Japanese diet were taught about traditional Japanese cuisine and told to follow traditional eating guidelines for six weeks. At the end of the study, 91 percent of patients had improved in more than one cardiovascular risk indicator. Bodyweight, LDL (“bad”) cholesterol, and triglyceride levels all considerably decreased. (April 1, 2017; Journal of Atherosclerosis and Thrombosis) The diet also appears to reduce the risk of cancer according to researchers. According to researchers, it could be due to the Japanese eating a lot of cruciferous vegetables which contain powerful anticancer chemicals.
Japanese women and men, on average, live longer and are healthier than individuals in any other country. They may expect to live to be 87 and 80 years old respectively compared to 81 and 76 for Americans; they can also expect to live an average of 75 years without handicap. Diet has a factor to play in this longevity. According to a recent study, people who followed Traditional Japanese dietary standards the most carefully had a 15% lower mortality risk than those who didn’t.
“Countless studies have highlighted the health benefits of the individual foods prominent in the Japanese diet. For example, compounds in shiitake mushrooms may lower cholesterol, enhance immune function and reduce the risk of several types of cancer.”
The Nordic Diet
Until recently, Nordic eating didn’t get nearly as much attention as the other two diets. This year, it was all over the news, with some even proclaiming it to be the healthiest country on the planet. While I wouldn’t go so far as to say it’s the healthiest of all diets, it does provide a variety of healthy options.
The diet is influenced by Norwegian, Danish, Swedish, Finnish, and Icelandic cuisines and shares many similarities with the Mediterranean diet. Vegetables and fruits (particularly root vegetables and berries), legumes, nuts and seeds, whole grains including rye, barley, and oats, and fermented foods are all included. It emphasizes fatty seafood like salmon, mackerel, and herring while avoiding processed meals and high-fat red meats like sausage and bacon. When possible, many people in the Nordic countries choose organic and seasonal vegetables, consume more wild or foraged meals, and select high-quality meats that encourage animal welfare.
The Nordic diet differs significantly from the Mediterranean diet in that it emphasizes canola oil over olive oil. Rapeseed, a cabbage family plant, is used to make canola oil. Even though it is mostly monounsaturated fat and hence healthier than saturated or polyunsaturated oils, I do not advocate it in place of olive oil. Canola oil, unlike extra-virgin olive oil, lacks the antioxidant polyphenols that protect against heart disease.
The Nordic diet has been found to help reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, despite its preference for canola oil over olive oil though not to the same amount as the Mediterranean diet. According to one study, eating a healthy diet protects against metabolic syndrome, a group of symptoms (such as elevated cholesterol, triglycerides, and blood pressure) that raises the risk of heart disease and diabetes. The diet, according to the World Health Organization, may also lower the risk of cancer.
Some of the diet’s broad health benefits may be related to its capacity to aid weight loss. It was discovered to help modulate the expression of genes linked to inflammation in a study conducted by the University of Eastern Finland. Obesity, like many chronic disorders, is linked to inflammation and the advantages extend far beyond physical well-being. Because of their concepts of hygge and lagom, Scandinavians routinely rank among the happiest people on the planet. The former inspires contentment, while the latter supports it by doing things in exactly the appropriate amount rather than restricting yourself or living in excess.
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