I settled down to watch this documentary on Channel 4 last night about which country had the best diet.
I was hoping that it was going to explore in depth some of the identified healthy diets from around the world.
Instead it was a top 50 rundown from The Marshall Islands (in the north Pacific Ocean) taking the 50th position with a pretty unhealthy diet of processed and tinned products shipped in from America.
Their diet took a turn for the worse after the American nuclear tests took place on the Bikini Atoll during the 1940s and 50s – up until that point they relied on home grown goods and they were pretty healthy. Now they have one of the highest rates of diabetes and the most common operation in their hospitals is for amputation from diabetes.
Fast forwarding we discovered that the UK didn’t fare too well – not a big surprise really – with Scotland at 37, Northern Ireland at 36, Wales at 35 (with the most obese children in the UK) and the UK at 34.
Not surprisingly we were ahead of America (43) but very surprisingly (for me anyway) ahead of Mexico and Australia. In Mexico, 1/3 of children are obese and this is put down to imported processed goods from America along with an average consumption of 1/2 litre a day of soda and fizzy drinks. On top of their obesity problems they also appear to have a high incidence of dental problems/decay too.
Australia was a bit of a shocker. I really thought they lived on a healthy diet of meat. fruit and veg but it seems they too have succumbed to the fast food revolution.
Ethiopia came in at a mid point at 24. Western food only appears in the cities and it was interesting to see that for most people the standard diet was made up of the teff seed. A small seed which they grind to a flour to make pancakes which they serve with lentils or vegetables.
The South Koreans (13) have some of the lowest obesity rates in the world which is attributed to a diet of fresh fish, vegetables and fermented cabbage.
And the French, who love their cheeses and high fat foods but have lower rates of heart disease show that it’s not all fresh fish and veg. But instead they like to eat three meals per day (as we did in the UK 50 years ago), some wine and no snacks between meals.
Not surprisingly the Mediterranean diet made it into the top 3 with Greece and Italy taking 3rd and 2nd place respectively. So, yay for legumes, wholegrains, fruit, vegetables, fish and lots and lots of olive oil.
I wasn’t expecting Iceland to be no. 1 but they have low rates of strokes, heart disease and diabetes and they eat lots of fish, high quality meat and dairy and lots of natural whole foods.
There wasn’t much time spent on any one diet. But the overwhelming message was that the healthiest diets were the ones that hadn’t changed much in the last 60 years and were reliant on natural foods rather than processed ones.
It didn’t seem to matter too much if you were an Innuit living on an all fat and protein diet of meat, a member of the Masai Tribe living on milk, meat and cow’s blood or a resident of Campodimele in Italy growing your own vegetables and killing your own chicken – the secret seems to be that as we progress and develop in all areas of our life, perhaps our diets should be best left alone to how they once were.
If you didn’t catch the programme, it is well worth a view – if only to see presenter Kate Quilton eat raw octopus which wriggles around as she eats it and attaches itself to her lip…I’m really not sure I could have done that – and can be seen again tonight on 4seven at 9pm or on the internet here.