An Indian, Greek, and Peruvian walk into a bar… and order an amazingly healthy meal 😉
We caught the travel bug years ago and have been fortunate to experience many of the healthiest cuisines in the world. Together we have traveled to over thirty countries and Alex has traveled to over fifty.
We love discovering the healthiest cuisines and learning about the healthiest food cultures. In this article, we’ve compiled a list of the food and eating habits of eight countries that represent the best of the best.
So, let’s learn about the diets of the healthiest cultures in the world.
the healthiest cuisines in the world
Does anyone else travel to eat?
Hands down, our favorite cultural experiences surround food. We always talk about the best meals we’ve had and our most memorable restaurants.
Plus, learning about different food cultures is eye-opening. For example, our home country (the US) is likely the most unhealthy cuisine in the world.
Between the general confusion of what constitutes healthy eating and the fact that our biggest contributions to the world are likely the cheeseburger, corn dog, and tater tots… there’s a lot to learn.
So, we brainstormed about the food cultures we’ve experienced across our broad travels (including the times we’ve lived in Blue Zones).
We researched the longest-lived and healthiest people to learn not just what they eat, but how.
These are the top 8 healthiest world cuisines.
The Healthiest Cuisines in the world
So, which country has the healthiest cuisine? While several stand out, we prefer to take key foods and habits from each country and insert them into our family’s eating culture.
This list of healthiest cuisines by country will bolster your healthy eating toolbox.
1. China and its rice
How could we not start here? Ryan and I lived in Shanghai for three years when we worked as corporate engineers.
The Chinese have deep-rooted philosophies in eating styles tied directly into natural medicine. However, that could be a whole article in and of itself (yin and yang, “hot” and “cold” foods anyone!?).
Instead, there is one very practical, and surprising, mealtime rule that surprised us: rice is only eaten at the end of the meal.
In the western world, Chinese food is always eaten hand-in-hand with rice. For example, you have your kung pao chicken served on top of rice. But that is not the way it is in China.
In China, all of the individual dishes are served first. According to our colleagues, it was typical to order 70% vegetables, 20% fish, and 10% meat dishes.
The dishes were eaten tapas-style as a shared family meal.
Only until everyone has filled up on the good (and more expensive) food is the rice brought out. Therefore, rice is the last resort filler.
This is one of many reasons why China is one of the healthiest cultures in the world. Be like the Chinese and limit simple carbs for the end of the meal and only if you’re still hungry.
The Chinese also maintain a healthy weight by not drinking soda. Our colleagues referred to Coca-Cola as “liquid obesity.”
2. Costa Rica and its beans
We recently spent several months living in the famed Blue Zone of Nicoya (a zone with a high concentration of healthy centenarians).
Our little beach town on the Nicoya Peninsula was as dreamy and calm as it sounds — there’s little to stress about here!
But in addition to the full-on nature and Pura Vida lifestyle, Nicoyan natives top the longevity charts for their nutrition.
Every day they consume a full cup of magical fruit that has been called “the most important dietary predictor of longevity” by the National Ageing Research Institute.
Can you guess what fruit I’m talking about? Beans! They are loaded with fiber and are incredible for your digestive health.
If you’re new to Costa Rican cuisine, we recommend trying out Gallo Pinto, a common breakfast dish consisting of rice, black beans, vegetables, and an amazing sauce, Salsa Lizano.
No meat is needed, as rice and beans make a full protein, covering all seven essential amino acids.
Gallo Pinto is one of the healthiest dishes in the world and it’s incredibly easy to make. DO NOT follow a recipe that doesn’t require Salsa Lizano because you’d be missing out. We recommend following this recipe.
3. Japan and its Hara Hachi Bu
This popular Japanese phrase translates as, “Eat until you are 80% full.”
It means slowing down and evaluating how hungry you are, bite by bite. This is important because it takes the brain 20 minutes to register. If you eat too fast, you’ll blow past the 80% full level.
No wonder the Japanese are so trim and fit! They have one of the healthiest food cultures in the world.
In the US, we always ask each other, “Are you full?” but that spreads the wrong mentality. Over-satiating is not the goal of any meal.
After trying hara hachi bu, is your stomach still grumbling? Registered dietician, Susan Dopart, shared the following with the Huffington Post.
“It can take 15-20 meals to reset the muscle memory of the stomach to get used to less food and people need to trust that will happen. Most are used to eating until full, which is past satiation and which keeps weight on.”
For hara hachi bu to work, you can’t eat processed foods. Our stomach sends two messages to our brain before the “I’m full” light turns on.
The first message sends when the stomach is running out of space. The second message triggers when adequate nutrient levels are reached.
Since processed foods lack adequate nutrition that second message is never sent. Meaning you can eat too much and not feel full. Or, you might become hungry again in a short time.
If weight loss is your goal, hara hachi bu is an incredibly useful practice. For 14 more free and easy weight loss strategies, open the below article in a new tab.
4. Azerbaijan and its fermented kefir yogurt
This is a new one that isn’t widely spoken about. You won’t find it on any other list of the healthiest cuisines in the world.
However, you may be surprised to know that in the mountainous Lerik region of Azerbaijan, it’s extremely common to live to over 100 years old.
In fact, a (disputed and now removed) longevity record in the Guinness World Records was once awarded to Shirali Muslumov, having lived to the ripe old age of 168.
Outside of the fresh mountain air, one striking difference amongst their diets is the presence of fermented foods, like kefir (it tastes similar to Greek yogurt).
Some of the most healthy cuisines in the world have fermented foods like cultured cheese and wine in Italy and fermented soy products in Singapore.
Not only is fermented food easier to digest, but they’re heavy in probiotics, cultivating strong gut health and thus a strong immune system.
We’re totally on board with fermented foods — kimchi, kombucha, sauerkraut — with our favorite being kefir. We love it so much that we actually show you how to make kefir at home.
It’s really easy to make and it’s ten times healthier and tastier than store-bought kefir. Enjoy that newfound longevity!
5. India and its Spices
To me, there is nothing better than a spicy Indian curry.
The spices used in Indian cuisine, such as turmeric, coriander, cardamom, cayenne pepper, cinnamon, and fennel seeds, not only add taste and aroma but also impart antibiotic and antiseptic properties.
These spices show detoxifying and weight-loss benefits as well. This is why India is on the healthiest cultures in the world list!
Not partial to curry? We love adding 1/2 teaspoon of turmeric to our 2 cups of coffee. Or, add a thimble-sized piece of fresh turmeric root to your smoothie. Avoid adding cow’s milk, which can cause a negative reaction (overheating on the inside).
Instead, mix turmeric with coconut or almond milk and a pinch of black pepper. This combination makes the nutrients more bio-available or absorbable inside your body.
Turmeric controls cholesterol and blood sugar levels, promotes heart health, and reduces inflammation which aids in recovering from injuries.
Fasting is a way of worship in India that also has health benefits. Fasting improves self-discipline and gives our bodies time to focus on detoxing.
Intermittent fasting has become quite popular for these benefits along with weight loss and increased focus.
We have been intermittent fasting since 2018 and recently, in 2020, we tried our first extended 3-day fast. It was an insane, eye-opening experience and we lost a combined 16 pounds.
Open the below article in a new tab to hear our 72-hour fast before, during, and after story, results, and plan that you can replicate.
6. Greece and its olive oil
Greece has, arguably, the healthiest cuisine in the world. It’s often touted as the healthiest cuisine in Europe.
The Mediterranean Diet is a well-known diet that focuses on olive oil, fruits, fish, poultry, grains, and greens.
The diet from the Blue Zone island of Ikaria shows that families are pescatarian and only eat a few shared animals a year such as lamb.
This is in high contrast to Americans who, on average, consume 2,500 animals in a lifetime not counting fish.
Additionally, the food on Ikaria Island is fresh and almost all locally grown. These fresh foods are the most nutritious.
Almost everything is prepared with fresh olive oil. The healthy fats from their olive oil as well as high use of natural herbs keep them youthful, dementia-free, and heart disease-free.
Want to take part in the healthiest cuisine of the Greeks? Buy fresh ingredients at the farmer’s market and start your meal off with a salad. If you’re in the US, we recommend getting your produce from Imperfect Foods.
Also, how about a glass of red wine? According to the Greeks, drinking is healthy in moderation, especially when enjoyed with loved ones.
7. Peru and its superfoods
We love Peru. And Colombia and Ecuador.
We have been living in South America since 2018. We always select our home based on its proximity to healthy, local food markets.
Every day in Peru, we headed to the fresh markets and are always astounded by the wide selection of superfoods sold: chia seeds, quinoa, maca root, spirulina, camu camu, sacha inchi, and cacao.
While we had been consuming all of these superfoods for years now in our Shakeology, it was cool to see them in their natural form.
Furthermore, it has been incredible learning that the Inca Empire not only recognized their health benefits but engineered an agricultural system at various altitudes to optimize production.
Also, Peru made our healthiest cuisines in the world list because organic, fresh foods rich in taste and nutrients are so readily available.
The superfood most commonly seen in grocery stores across the world is probably quinoa. In Peru, there are up to 2,000 varieties but we typically saw red, black, yellow, and Inkan at the markets.
Quinoa is one of the few grains that contain all nine essential amino acids. We absolutely love to eat quinoa and our favorite recipe is this Southwest Quinoa Black Bean Salad.
If you want to eat more like the Peruvians, add these three items to your cart:
- Bob’s Red Mill quinoa
- Navitas chia seeds (mix with yogurt or add to smoothies)
- Navitas maca root powder (known as “Peruvian Viagra.” 1 tsp a day in your smoothie)
Or you can start drinking one of these popular superfood meal replacement shakes. Many of their ingredients are sourced in Peru.
8. Spain and its tapas
Spain was crowned as the country with the healthiest population in Bloomberg’s Global Health Index for 2020.
Spanish cuisine has the winning combination of the Mediterranean Diet with fresh, locally grown vegetables, legumes, whole grains, fish, and limited meat.
But beyond that, they’re one of the few countries that actively push portion control in the form of tapas — small plates eaten as family-style, shared meals.
It’s also arguable that Spain, like many of the countries found on this list, makes mealtime a ritual. Meals are never rushed but fully enjoyed with friends and family (and sometimes even followed by siesta!)
The dishes themselves are plated and not eaten out of Tupperware, with the food coming out a few at a time.
Since the dishes are small, the overly indulgent foods are limited and balanced out by an array of other healthy dishes.
World’s Healthiest Cuisine Takeaways
While traveling the world, we love learning about food cultures. The food culture in the U.S. is young compared to the 2,500 years of food history in Asia and India. So, there is a lot to learn.
Most interesting, we rarely see fad diets outside of the U.S. and Europe. The main problem with fad diets is that we are no longer ingesting proper nutrition, so the diet cannot be sustained.
Additionally, countries listed on our healthiest cuisines list have been minimally impacted by the industrialized or processed food era.
A lot of times people ask us what they should be eating to be healthy. Our most simple answer is, “If your great, great, great grandma can look at your plate and recognize the food, that’s a great start.”
To take it a step further, make sure you eat mostly plants.
If you have questions or experiences to share, please do so in the comments. We love learning about food cultures.
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Hey we're Ryan and Alex
The creators of Ryan and Alex Duo Life. We are a husband-wife duo and “lifestyle engineers.”
After eight years working in the corporate world as engineers, we left our high-powered jobs to tackle our true passion — helping couples engineer their best lives.
The synergy of our engineering minds and ten years of health coaching experience produced Ryan and Alex Duo Life. Our mission is to help you transform your bodies, minds, and relationship as a couple.
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