If you think the world’s healthiest diets exist in first-world countries like the United States or Australia, think again.
While researching information on the diets of people who live in countries with the longest lifespans, we came across some interesting and surprising information that said low-income nations, like Chad and Ghana, have the healthiest diets overall.
A study published in the Lancet Global Health journal recently surveyed the diets and eating habits of men and women — more than 4.5 billion adults — across 187 countries.
As part of the study, a team of researchers compared the consumption of 17 “key food items and nutrients by region, nation, age, and sex in 1990 and 2010” through three different assessments. First, the team looked at the consumption of ten healthy food items, including fruits, vegetables, beans and legumes, nuts and seeds, whole grains, milk, total polyunsaturated fatty acids, fish, plant omega-3s, and dietary fiber.
Second, the researchers looked at the consumption of seven unhealthy items, including unprocessed meats, processed meats, sugar-sweetened drinks, saturated fat, trans fat, dietary cholesterol, and salt.
Third, the team looked at the overall consumption based on the 17 different food items.
Though overall the study found that the global consumption of healthy foods increased from 1990 to 2010, dietary patterns reflecting the consumption of unhealthy foods had a greater increase due to the prevalence of Western snacks and soft drinks.
Even though first-world countries consumed more healthy foods than underdeveloped nations, their high consumption of junk food greatly affected their overall rating.
Those countries that scored highest overall predominantly are in Africa — and many of them are considered dangerous destinations — with one Middle Eastern country sliding into the top 10. Note, though, that having the healthiest diet doesn't necessarily mean that a country's citizens are the healthiest overall, as many of these nations suffer from malnutrition.
Somalia, located in the Horn of Africa, is one of the more dangerous destinations in the world, yet it is also found to have one of the healthiest diets all around. Somali cuisine draws influences from India, Italy, Turkey, Yemen, and Ethiopia, with dishes varying depending on the region. However, some Somali staples include milk, corn (maize), sorghum (a type of grain), onions, and tomatoes. Rice is also another major player in the Somali diet, and, given the country’s links to Italian cuisine, pasta also plays a role. For meat, Somalis often eat goat, camel, chicken, and beef.
Israeli cuisine is marked by the fresh vegetables, like eggplant, tomatoes, and zucchini, that thrive in the region. Much of the cuisine also calls for traditional Jewish “seven species”— seven super-healthful ingredients that include grapes, olives, and pomegranates — which are all rich sources of nutrients and antioxidants.