We can learn a lot from the diverse cultures of the world. We can learn about language, love, life and death, ways of looking at the world.
And then there’s food. Sampling new cuisines is one of the most exciting parts of exploring other cultures, and it often leads to delicious discoveries. Tastiness aside, many other countries and regions have figured out how to eat healthy diets in their own way, and a lot of them have been eating this way for centuries.
Americans have been inspired enough by several of these cuisines to incorporate them into their own eating habits. Here’s a roundup of four healthy diets that come from other cultures around the world.
1. Mediterranean Diet
We’ll start with one of the most popular healthy diets: the Mediterranean. The countries that line the Mediterranean Sea are, of course, very different — culturally, linguistically, ethnically — but there are some common themes that form the basis of what they eat.
One of the key components of the diet is consuming a lot of seafood, which makes sense considering the diet is named after the Mediterranean Sea. Here are some of the other tenets of this diet:
- Focus on plant-based foods, like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts and legumes
- Use olive oil instead of butter
- Season with herbs and spices rather than salt
- Only eat red meat occasionally — instead eat fish and poultry
The culture surrounding food is also an important part of this diet. Meals are meant to be eaten with friends and family; they’re a social gathering. More talking often leads to slower eating, and sometimes eating less. Drinking red wine in moderation is another popular part of the Mediterranean Diet.
Research has shown an association between this diet and decreased risk of heart disease and cancer, as well as lower cholesterol.
2. Nordic Diet
The Nordic Diet — inspired by the healthy diets and eating habits of people living in Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Finland and Iceland — is very similar to the Mediterranean Diet, with only a couple of relatively minor differences. These are the basics:
- Focus on plant-based foods, like fruits (lots of berries), vegetables (especially cabbage and root vegetables), whole grains (barley, oats and rye) and legumes
- Use canola oil instead of butter
- Eat fatty fish — such as salmon, mackerel and herring — and lean fish, like cod and halibut
- Limit meat consumption, and when you do have meat, eat small portions of locally and sustainably sourced meat
The diet heavily emphasizes local and fresh foods and sustainability, making it a healthy diet for both the environment and your body. Studies have found a link between the Nordic Diet and reduced risk for cardiovascular disease and Type-2 Diabetes, as well as the potential to help with weight loss.
3. French Diet
Americans tend to be particularly entranced by France and its culture, but more specifically, by French women’s fashion and body types. Article after article asks some variation of the philosophical question of our time: how do French women stay so thin? It’s a reductive question that relies on generalizations and ignores genetics and other factors, but it’s part of the reason the French Diet (also known as the Parisian Diet) has become a trend.
One of the most appealing parts of this diet is that the French love food and eat plenty of bread and cheese. That makes the French Diet less punishing and more enjoyable than other fad diets — the focus here is more on how you eat than what you eat. Here are some guidelines:
- Eat slowly — enjoy your food and savor it
- Have flavorful food with a lot of spices, but keep the portions small
- Don’t snack mindlessly or eat on-the-go; sit down and eat at a table
- Cook rather than eat out constantly
- Drink a lot of water
Despite eating fatty cheeses and other rich foods, French people outlive Americans on average and have much lower rates of coronary heart disease.
4. “Asian” Diet
It feels a bit ridiculous to call something the “Asian Diet,” considering Asia is an entire continent that contains an enormous range of different countries, languages and cultures. But that’s the name this diet has been given, as it pulls elements and general principles from various Asian cuisines.
This diet shares similarities with the Mediterranean and Nordic diets, especially in its focus on vegetables, whole grains and fish. Here are the main components of the Asian Diet:
- Eat a lot of vegetables
- Have rice with meals, but keep portions small — it’s a side dish, not the main course
- Soup is a great way to fill up quickly
- Have a lot of seafood, but only eat red meat once a month
- Spices (and some heat) are key
- Drink plenty of water and tea (but not with your meals)
- Use small plates and bowls to keep portions small, and eat with chopsticks to slow things down
The Asian Diet has been linked to weight loss, diabetes prevention and good heart health.