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The world’s healthiest (and most delicious) cuisines
Can you dine your way to good health? It may be possible if you feast on this fare. The traditional diets of the Mediterranean, Vietnam, and Japan are considered three of the healthiest in the world, and they all share a few common elements: fish and seafood, fruits and vegetables, and the prolific use of herbs and spices. Research indicates eating these foods can help to prevent a panoply of ailments common in the United States, where burgers and fries are the order of the day—from heart disease, diabetes and stroke, to high blood pressure, metabolic
syndrome, and Alzheimer’s disease.
Common to Mediterranean cuisine are antioxidant-rich vegetables and fruits such as tomatoes, artichokes, endive, and figs; nuts and legumes; herbs such as basil and garlic; heart-healthy olive oil; fish and lean meats; and red wine.
Decades of research and countless studies support the health benefits of the Mediterranean diet. One notable recent study, published in the Annals of Internal Medicine in November 2013, found that women who followed a Mediterranean-style diet in their 50s were about 40 percent more likely to reach the later decades without developing chronic diseases and memory or physical problems, compared to women who didn’t. See p. 110 for our “Mediterranean Chicken Bake” recipe.
Fresh herbs and spices, aromatic dipping sauces, and heaps of vegetables and seafood characterize the fresh, light fare of Vietnam. Pho noodle soup, brimming with antioxidant-packed vegetables and spices, is one of the most popular dishes.
Herbs and spices such as cilantro, mint, lemongrass, red chili, and star anise, among others, have been used in Vietnamese cooking for centuries, and have antioxidant, antimicrobial, and antiviral effects. For example, star anise aids digestion and even helps to ward off the flu (it’s used in the antiviral drug Tamiflu).
The World Health Organization reports that Japan has the lowest obesity rate in the world: just 3 percent, compared to 32 percent in America. Perhaps one reason for this is that the Japanese emphasize small portions, and “mindful” eating that encourages slowing down and savoring each bite.
Japanese food incorporates fish, especially salmon, tuna, and sardines, that provide healthy omega-3 fatty acids; herbs such as ginger; a variety of vegetables such as shiitake mushrooms, seaweed, bamboo shoots, and sweet potatoes; green tea; and unprocessed soy, such as tofu, edamame, and miso.
Seaweed (often found as a wrapper for sushi) is an outstanding source of vegetable protein, vitamins, and minerals. It’s also one of the few vegetable sources of vitamin B12. Shiitake mushrooms have been shown to block the absorption of cholesterol into the bloodstream, help regulate blood pressure, and boost immunity.
Green Tea has been a popular drink in Japan for centuries. Drinking green tea (or taking green tea supplements) has been linked to reduced heart disease, cholesterol, dementia, and rates of cancer, diabetes, and stroke. And because it naturally contains a compound known as EGCG, it can also enhance thermogenesis (help your body burn more fat).