It’s no surprise that the United States is high on the list of countries with the highest obesity rates at 36%. It’s only natural then, that we would want to learn a thing or two from some of the countries that have better standings.
We've curated a list of of healthy eating habits from around the world. From Asia, to Europe, to Africa, learn more about various countries cultural dishes and attitudes toward food below!
Obesity rate: 4%
What doesn’t traditional Japanese cuisine get right? From fish full of heart healthy omega-3s to plentiful vegetables, there’s nothing nutritionally lacking in this diet. Something else that we could benefit from adopting into our out eating habits is the way that the food is presented as well as the portion sizes. Portions are small but the food is varied, from different types of seafood, rice, and vegetables. This variety allows for a beautiful, colorful arrangement as well as a meal rich in vitamins and minerals.
We recommend that you avoid fish that are high in heavy metals, like mercury. Mercury is prevalent in fish such as tuna, king mackerel, and swordfish. Granted, you have to consume a lot of fish in order for this danger to become a reality, but with so many seafood options, why limit yourself?
Obesity Rate: 6%
Chopsticks are difficult to master for some, but they may be worth the trouble. Using chopsticks may lead to eating slowly – especially if you have difficulty using them. Slower eating results in less chance of over eating because your brain is able to register that your stomach is full before you go overboard.
Obesity Rate: 22%
Unlike some countries, the French view food as a pleasure rather than associate it with health benefits or concerns. Food is something to enjoy, not examine. While this doesn’t seem like a benefit, because the French don’t focus and obsess, they appreciate their food more and don’t feel the need or desire to eat in excess. France has a lower rate of obesity and cardiovascular disease than the US, so they must be doing something right. Try eating something that you normally don’t allow yourself to have and take the time to savor it. You’re likely to feel more satisfied by the end.
Don’t give in to the temptation of pastries, though. Croissants are high in carbs, sugar, and fat. This isn’t a good thing, especially if you’re eating it for breakfast! Stick with oatmeal or yogurt to fuel your day.
Obesity Rate: 4%
Indian food features numerous spices and peppers, as well as onion and garlic. Not only do such ingredients create an attractive, colorful plate that’s appealing to eat, but they contain health benefits too. Spices such as turmeric and ginger, as well as red pepper, have been shown to help lower cholesterol. Other ingredients like onions and garlic can lower lipid levels, which may lower the risk of heart disease.
Traditional Indian cuisine is also rich with creamy sauces. It’s best to avoid those if you’re limiting your saturated fat intake. Excess fat is not ideal for any diet, and because of the ghee included in many Indian dishes, it can be difficult to avoid.
Obesity Rate: 21%
Fans of rye, rejoice. Rye bread happens to be a staple of the Swedish diet. Rye is highly nutritious.1 It’s high in fiber which keeps your stomach full. It can also lower insulin response and improve your blood sugar. Whole-grain rye bread is the easiest rye based product to reap these benefits from, but there are also products like rye porridge to eat for breakfast.
The traditional Swedish diet also consists of a lot of fish and as such, a lot of sodium. If you’re at risk of hypertension, is best to avoid foods2 with a lot of salt.
Obesity Rate: 5%
Ethiopians eat a flatbread called injera, which is made from a grain called teff. Teff is not only high in calcium and vitamin C, but it can make you feel full longer3 than regular grains or bread do. Not to mention it’s gluten free, which is great for anyone with celiac disease. Traditional Ethiopian cuisine also focuses on root veggies, lentils, and beans, all high in nutritional value and low in calories.
We don’t recommend following the traditional Ethiopian serving technique, though. Their family style meals consist of sharing dishes rather than serving individual portions. This can make it difficult to tell how much you’ve eaten and lead to over eating.
Obesity Rate: 29%
Traditional Mexican culture includes a mid-day feast rather than a standard lunch. While loading up on calories, carbs, sugar, and fats at any point in the day is not recommended, eating a filling meal before dinner rather than as dinner is a wise decision. Eating a large meal in the evening may lead to weight gain, as the body is less responsive to insulin at night. Simply put, eating a big lunch well help prevent overeating later.
That being said, it would be smart not to copy everything about a Mexican diet. Refried beans, for example, aren’t great for your health. Beans themselves contain high levels of protein, fiber, and vitamins, but frying them ups the calories and fat content.
Obesity Rate: 25%
There are tons of health benefits that come from the Mediterranean diet and it’s likely that you’ve heard them all! One thing that we can learn from Greeks is portion control. Because it takes about 20 minutes for our brains to register that our stomachs are full, it’s smarter to eat smaller portions and take your time so that you don’t end up over eating. By limiting your portions, it’s easier to consume foods that are traditionally “unhealthy” for one reason or another, like oil, cheese, and meats.
A Mediterranean food that’s unhealthy no matter how little you eat is phyllo dough. It’s a buttery, flaky pastry crust that’s used to make dishes like spanakopita. It’s delicious but also contains refined carbs and a high amount of saturated fat.
Obesity Rate: 20%
Have a glass of wine with dinner. There are a bunch of health benefits4 associated with drinking a glass of red daily, mainly involving heart health and reduced risk of cardiovascular disease. Stick to just the one glass though, and keep it limited to meal times. A limited amount can be beneficial, but drinking in excess has many well-known health detriments.
What you shouldn’t imitate is the carb-heavy pasta5 diet! Pasta that is made with refined flour can be difficult to digest and contains little nutritional value. Pasta made from whole grain is a better alternative, but still high in carbohydrates, which are unnecessary if you’re eating late at night, and high in calories as well.
Obesity Rate: 36%
The United States may not be the first country that you think of when imagining healthy eating habits. But that doesn't mean that we don't have a few healthy habits of our own. Farmer’s markets and supporting local farmers has become a popular and healthy way to improve your diet. Fresh fruits and vegetables are not only guaranteed to be in season, but you know whether or not they’ve been treated with various chemicals and hormones to enhance growth.
Conversely, it’s important to avoid foods that contain ingredients you don’t know. Pre-packaged foods like potato chips are almost guaranteed to have artificial ingredients that are made from chemicals that can be detrimental to your health.
No matter where you live, one of the best strategies for staying committed to a healthy diet is to find community support. Our very own Facebook community is filled with men and women offering support, friendship, and sharing success with one another. Join today! It's free.
What was your favorite cultural healthy eating habit? What others are missing from this list? Let us know in the comments!