Medical journal the Lancet recently took a closer look at the health of people in countries in Europe, Asia, South America and Africa using statistics such as educational attainment, income per capita and total fertility rate. It listed the top five as the UK, Andorra, Sweden, Singapore and Iceland, but while tangible metrics have put these countries on top, nutritionists believe that they also have another thing in common: high-quality diets and eating habits. We take a look at exactly what people are eating in the world’s healthiest locations.
Surprisingly, the UK has surged ahead of some of its European neighbors in the healthy food stakes due to a take-up of popular food trends by citizens. Superfood UK nutritionist Shona Wilkinson revealed that Brits are now enjoying diets made up of local, seasonal produce rather than the processed foods sold at many supermarkets. Winter vegetables grown in the UK such as Brussels sprouts, parsnips and swedes are also “richer in nutrients such as vitamin C and contain more valuable fibre,” Wilkinson adds.
Alcohol consumption is a growing blight on the health of countries across the globe, according to the Socio-Demographic Index, but that hasn’t stopped Andorra from placing fourth in the top list of healthiest countries for food. The landlocked microstate in southwestern Europe ranks second when it comes to the rate of wine consumption, but unlike other forms of alcohol, the red, white or rosé beverage brings some health benefits. Red wine contains resveratrol, an antioxidant that lowers cholesterol and prevents other health conditions by protecting platelets and blood cells. It also prevents blood clots by thinning blood.
Sweden is the first of two Scandinavian countries to feature in the top five. It earns its place on the list thanks to a diet that is great for digestion. The Swedes are renowned for producing healthy fermented dairy products such as yogurts, and all their milk-based products are of the highest quality, according to nutritionist and author Dr Marilyn Glenville. One example of this is something called filmjölk, which is similar in texture to yoghurt but actually contains a myriad of friendly bacteria compared to standard, plain offerings.
Singapore leads the way for Asia due to its excellence in the realm of herbs and spices. These food additives are used to great effect in foods such as red prawn curries, and they are said to prevent ailments and illness. British nutritionist Lily Soutter reveals that both turmeric and ginger feature anti-nausea and anti-inflammatory components, and both of these ingredients are used liberally in signature dishes such as traditional laksa curry. Ginger is also great for enabling “more vital nutrients to reach each organ.”
Iceland has an abundant supply of fresh fish, so it’s no surprise to see it top the list of the healthiest countries in the world. Dr Glenville claims that the government’s stringent regulations for the local environment plays a huge role in ensuring that the best standards for seafood and species such as herring and salmon feature heavily in everyday dishes. These fish are rich in fatty acids such as Omega-3, which can lower blood fat levels, curb stiffness and joint pain, and regulate the release of carbs into the body. Dr Glenville also says: “They can make you feel fuller for longer and also control hunger.”
Perhaps Iceland’s favourite dish and, in turn, the world’s healthiest meal is called Harðfiskur, a simple plate of dried fish served with charcoal bread, which features a load of fibre to aid digestion. Iceland’s place at the top is also due to the fact that many people eat “good quality, complex, unrefined carbohydrates in the form of rye and pumpernickel breads, which we know are important for health.”