Have you ever thought about the factors that make a country healthy?
Could it be any or all of the following:
- Low cancer rates?
- Clean environment?
- Extended life expectancy?
- Affordable healthcare for all?
- Effective screening for diseases before they turn into epidemics?
If you answered positively to these questions, this means you believe that these factors impact the health of a country’s citizens.
You aren’t wrong in assuming so.
However, the biggest health issue affecting global health is obesity. And, the interesting fact is that most of the obese people are regarded as malnourished.
But why’s that?
Read on to learn why obesity is the century’s biggest health challenge, and despite eating plenty of food, why obese people remain malnourished.
By doing some tweaks to your lifestyle, you can definitely live longer and improve your quality of life overall. After all, age is just a number and you shouldn’t believe all the myths you’ve heard about ageing.
By the end of this article, you’ll get to know the magic mantra of what do people from the healthiest countries eat to stay fit, and what you can do too to improve your overall health.
What We Can Learn From The Rise in Obesity Rates
World Health Organization (WHO) claims that obesity has “doubled since 1980” in the world. Over 600 million adults were categorized as obese in 2014 while 41 million children below the age of 5 were also classified as “overweight or obese.”
Assistant Professor of Global Health and author of a study about the global obesity epidemic, which was published in The Lancet, Marie Ng, state that the rising rate of obesity among children is very troubling.
“We know that there are severe downstream health effects from childhood obesity, including cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and many cancers,” states Marie Ng.
But, another interesting or rather concerning fact is that a majority of this obese population is also facing the issue of malnourishment. It’s unbelievable….right?
How can an obese person be malnourished?
There is a reason for that. Processed foods are cheaper and people including children prefer to eat them. Such foods lack nutrition and contain a high amount of sugar, calories, and other harmful ingredients. So, they end up getting fat but their health is also affected.
But, this nasty cycle is avoidable entirely merely by letting children play a lot and sit less because physical activity is vital to lose weight both in kids and adults. Diet is also an essential part of staying fit. As Nieca Goldberg, MD stated that:
“A thicker waistline increases heart attack risk.”
Don’t forget that belly fat is directly linked with high blood pressure and high blood sugar levels. Both of these issues promote heart diseases.
In the US, heart disease causes most of the deaths. So, what about other countries?
While 33% of Americans are obese, the situation isn’t so bad in other countries. Check out the rates of obesity in countries outside the US.
- France 17%
- Spain 16%
- Sweden 12%
- Denmark 11%
- Italy 10%
- Norway 10%
- China 3%
- Japan 3%
- India 0.7%
- Vietnam 0.5%
You might want to know why the figures are so low in these countries in comparison to the US.
The reason is simple; they rejected unhealthy, overly processed, and sugary foods and opted for home-cooked meals. They made it a point to spread awareness about the dark side of packaged foods and the harmful impacts of hormones and pesticides.
America has an entirely different outlook on food production, processing, and packaging though.
Let’s now assess the different cuisines of these regions to analyze how our distant neighbors are keeping themselves fit and healthy.
The Nordic Diet
You’d have come across a number of Nordic restaurants but that doesn’t really mean that you can ignore the traditional food choices of those living in Norway, Sweden, Iceland, Denmark, and Finland.
The Nordic diet is highly effective and studies reveal that it can help in reducing the risk of heart disease, diabetes, and obesity. Now that’s a diet we all need to learn more about.
Nordics enjoy an amazing life expectancy rate in this part of the world. Iceland ranks as first with the highest life expectancy rate of 81.6 years while Sweden ranks as the 5th highest with 79.9 years. So, they must be doing something right to live for that long.
Let’s admit that eating like a Viking is quite favorable if you want to live longer and healthier.
Key Foods Preferred By The Nordics
The Nordics mostly emphasize upon organic foods and they love to eat wild-caught fish. Some of the most commonly observed food choices among the Nordics include the following:
- Fatty fish (salmon, herring, mackerel)
- Dairy (fermented yogurt, milk, cheese)
- Whole grains (oats, barley, rye,)
How they Cook Their Food?
Baking and broiling seem to be the most preferred method of cooking food in the Nordic. They like cooking food on low temperature instead of frying it in carcinogens creating oils. In fact, it’s a better and healthier way to cook meals. You get to retain all the nutrition and the quality of the meal is enhanced.
Why It Is Effective?
The Nordic diet is effective because it mostly incorporates the use of fatty fishes that are rich in good fats and obviously the very important Omega-3 fatty acids. They also avoid eating heavy meat.
Fatty fishes are simply irresistible for those who want more nutrition than calories. These are the most powerful sources of some of the essential nutrients such as the following:
- Omega-3 fatty acids
- Minerals such as iodine, zinc, and iron
- Vitamins D & B12
- A higher proportion of lean protein
The health benefits of fatty fish cannot be overlooked. It is full of heart-loving components like omega-3 fatty acids. Even the American Heart Association recommends that we must eat one serving of omega-3 fatty acids twice in a week.
You’d be wondering what about veggies? Do Nordics only survive on fatty fish? Definitely Not!
The Nordics love veggies but root veggies are their favorites, for example, carrots and turnips. They also like to eat cruciferous vegetables like cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, kale, and spinach. You must note down one thing- all of these veggies are rich in fiber.
Fiber-filled veggies, as it turns out, are quite helpful when you want to feel fuller and need to cleanse your body from the inside. These veggies are a powerhouse of antioxidants. About 70% of the studies carried out on cruciferous vegetables so far conclude that these can reduce the risk of cancer to a great extent.
There are some berries that are rich in antioxidants as well as have anti-cancer properties. These include bilberries, blueberries, blackberries, lingonberries, and raspberries, etc. Nordic diet includes these healthy berries a lot most probably because these grow wild over there.
Good News: Berries are low in sugar content than other fruits like apples, bananas, and oranges. So why not eat them along with a healthy dose of fiber?
All of these food options mentioned above are rich in omega-3s and fiber so the positive impact will be on your heart and waistline both. The effectiveness of the Nordic diet was studied closely in a research carried on more than 70 patients of obesity. It was identified that the patients managed to reduce the numbers of systolic and diastolic blood pressures and also lost nearly 10 pounds. That’s highly motivational.
The Vegan-Friendly Asian Diet
Asian countries include Japan, China, and Vietnam. These countries are blessed to have the lowest rates of obesity in the world. It’d be interesting to know how they manage to be so healthy and fit.
Important Point: Asian countries also have low rates of people suffering from type II diabetes and heart disease.
But, why’s that so? What are Americans doing wrong and Asians right? Let’s find out.
What Asian Diet is All About
Low-calorie and nutritious foods are the foundation of the Asian diet while sugary foods are strictly avoided. On the whole, there is very little involvement of red meat, dairy products, and processed foods in the Asian diet whereas a wide range of multicolored vegetables and fruits are preferred. Since the food choices are low in calories, so, Asians never face the issue of overeating and don’t get overweight.
Another important factor is that traditionally, Asians prefer small servings and avoid having a single, giant meal.
Do you know the real reason why they use chopsticks?
When you eat using chopsticks, the eating process slows down and the stomach is able to send an “all full” signal to your brain. That’s a clever way to trick your brain, isn’t it?
On Okinawa Island in Japan, citizens are at least 5 times more likely to cross the 100 years mark. That’s because they’re still following the eating rules formed by Confucius, which they call “hara hachi bu”. The main principle that they follow is to eat till they feel 80% full.
This means…….Portion Size Does Matter!
WebMD mentioned a study conducted by the Pennsylvania State University where several women were served 25% smaller meals comprising of foods that offered 30% fewer calories. On average the women ate 800 fewer calories every day but, surprisingly, they didn’t feel hungry at all.
The study concluded that “people eat up to 45% more food when served bigger helpings.”
So, why not stick to smaller servings and eat less. You’ll never feel that you are actually dieting but you’ll start losing weight fast.
Key Food Choices of Asians
- Seaweed (nori, wakame, kombu)
- Soy (tofu, edamame, miso, natto)
- Cruciferous and green, leafy veggies (broccoli, bok choy, spinach, cabbage)
- Purple sweet potatoes, shiitake mushrooms, daikon, peppers, carrots, bamboo shoots
- Fish (tuna, salmon, shrimp, sardines, squid, octopus)
- Green tea
Why Is It Effective?
Just think for a second: Japanese are only 2% of the world’s population but consume around 10% of the planet’s fish. In the Asian diet, eating more fish is a common trend regardless of the region. Also, they prefer small portion sizes. The health benefits are obvious and pretty gratifying.
Asians are also the largest consumers of seaweed, which is among the top 9 foods that we should be eating a lot more than we do currently. Red, green, and brown varieties of edible seaweed contain a huge amount of fiber, calcium, vitamins, and minerals
If you’re a sushi lover you’d be most familiar with Nori, the seaweed used in sushi. Nori contains up to 47% pure protein and only 20 calories per bowl.
These are the nutritiously rich foods that you’re supposed to be eating more.
Green tea is yet another great option that is full of powerful antioxidants. It’s regarded as the healthiest drink in the entire world, so there must be a sound reason for that. And, there are more than one reasons; it not only detoxifies your body but also improves metabolism, and boosts fat-burning process. Wondering how it’s all done?
It’s all due to the amazing thermogenic properties of green tea.
The Mediterranean Diet
Mediterranean diet has remained the object of scientific studies since the 1970s because of its diversity and effectiveness. It has turned out to be the best diet to prevent heart disease and losing weight.
The Mediterranean diet served as the foundation for the DASH diet. In case you don’t know about the DASH diet, it’s aimed specifically at controlling high blood pressure or in other words it reverses hypertension.
Traditional Mediterranean diet comprises of seasonal food options usually found along the coastal side of Italy, Spain, France, and Greece.
Key Food Options Preferred by The Mediterranean
- Veggies (broccoli rabe, cucumbers, tomatoes, peppers, eggplant)
- Whole grains (couscous, quinoa, brown rice, whole-wheat pasta, farro)
- Legumes (garbanzos, chickpeas, lentils)
- Fish (tuna, salmon, sardines, anchovies, shrimp)
- Olive oil
- Red wine (not necessary, but when in Rome, as they say!)
Why It Is Effective?
The Mediterranean diet is highly effective in improving health and fitness level because it largely comprises of monosaturated fats, which keep cholesterol levels low. Olive oil is one of the main options to obtain monosaturated fats and that’s why it is a compulsory ingredient in the Mediterranean diet.
Olive oil is rich in healthy omega-3 fatty acids and eating it more increases the level of good cholesterol (HDL) and decreases bad cholesterol (LDL). Overall, it’s a great source to prevent heart disease.
In a study, it was recommended that switching to the Mediterranean diet can reduce the risk of heart attacks, strokes, and even death caused by heart disease by 30%.
Another study published in Fitness Magazine examined the impact of the Mediterranean diet by allowing a group of people to follow it for two years. It was later concluded that the participants lost more weight and sustained the weight loss in comparison to those who followed a low-fat diet.
In another study, 215 patients of type-2 diabetes followed both the low-fat and Mediterranean diets. It was identified that only 44% of those who were on the Mediterranean diet required diabetes medicine after 4 years. But, 70% of those on low-fat diet needed to take diabetes medication.
So, what we can learn is that the power of natural healing mustn’t be overlooked. We can benefit greatly from omega-rich fats and nutritional whole foods.
8 steps to follow for a healthier life in 30 days
We should always aim to try to become a better version of ourselves as our biggest hurdle comes from within.
While there isn’t a magic formula that can lead to better health and fitness, improving your health doesn’t have to be a painful process.
The problem is that crazy diet plans and intense workout routines make it a tough journey and many quit even before halfway through.
It’s about time you revisit the strategies that you adopt to improve your health and fitness level.
Could there be any solution to our fitness woes? Definitely, there is.
The following 8 steps will make you believe that weight loss could be an exciting journey.
Are you ready to jump in?
So let’s begin the joy ride to a better health the easy way.
Step 1: Clean the Mess
We analyzed three different diets from different regions. Although the patterns and preferences differ somewhat, there is a single, common factor among all.
All three diets promote eating whole foods from diverse sources and claim that moderate eating is the key to sustainable weight loss.
The first essential step is to make your home clean and healthy for your mind and body. A clean home is essential to improve your health.
You’d notice great changes in both your mental and physical health when your home is clutter free.
So, regularly clean your fridge, freezer, pantry, and throw away expired stuff.
Get rid of foods that you won’t be planning to eat anytime soon.
To fill up the fridge, choose to buy whole foods, fruits, green and nutritious veggies, whole grains, lean meats, legumes such as lentils, peas, and beans, and healthy unprocessed stuff.
Step 2: Ditch Added Sugars
If compared to the typical American diet, the Asian, Mediterranean, and Nordic diets limit the consumption of sugar, red meat, and processed carbs. On the other hand, these stress upon using whole grains and fish. Organic products are strongly favored by these diets.
You must use real fruit or a no-calorie natural sweetener for natural sweetness. Natural sweeteners are made from plants like stevia or monk fruit.
In small portions, added sugars are totally fine but it is better to avoid fat build-up and for that, you’ve got to ditch them to prevent unnecessary calorie hike.
Remember to check the labels to ensure that natural sweeteners only contain stevia or monk fruit.
Step 3: Balance Macronutrients
Macronutrients and micronutrients are the macros that you need to balance for optimal health.
Macronutrients are received from protein, fat, and carbs, and collectively these serve as our body’s primary fuel sources.
Micronutrients include minerals and vitamins, which can be obtained from fruits, veggies, whole grains, nuts, seeds, and greens.
Basically, these are the body’s fuel.
The issue is that macronutrients aren’t as easily obtained as micronutrients, and creating a balance between macros can become difficult at times.
Imbalance in your macros may affect your health. That’s why you must make sure to have a balanced diet.
If you’re lifting weights, have around 0.8g of protein per pound of body weight. The rest of your daily calories come from carbs and fats.
There is no need to count your macros thoroughly or develop a macro-filled diet. Just be mindful that balancing macros is important.
The tip to remember is that you must keep a check on your diet to create a balance between macros.
As you improve your dietary choices, you’ll see that within no time you’ll be able to dismiss the unhealthy trends of your country.
Step 4: Stay Hydrated
The best drink you can have is plain water.
You can jazz-it-up by mixing lemon or lime or prepare herbal tea, which is one of the healthiest choices.
Just focus on staying hydrated every day by drinking at least half a gallon of water (2L).
Step 5: Track Movements
Citizens in all the three regions walk way more than average Americans, which is a point to be noted. That’s the key reason why obesity rates are so low over there.
The first thing you should do soon after waking up is to sort out your activity goals for the day.
This way, you’ll be able to feel a lot more focused and energetic throughout the day. Also, it’ll prevent the “Oh! I’ve got to work out” stress that result from postponing any activity.
You’ve got to make it a rule to move for at least 30 minutes every morning and even more if you can.
In case you can’t find enough time for movement then adjust your sleep schedule in a way that you get full 8hours long sleep and some extra time in the morning for movement.
Step 6: Sleep Well
For optimum health and wellbeing, up to 8 hours of uninterrupted sleep is a must. But, most of us ignore this rule.
You MUST get enough sleep at night because our body needs 7-8 hours of sleep to function properly during the day.
Some people simply cannot feel energetic if they don’t get 8-9 hours of sleep.
That’s not surprising at all because sleep has a big impact on our overall health.
Sleep directly affects weight, digestion and hormones production. Therefore, enough rest every night is necessary and should be your top goal if you’re serious about improving your health.
Once a healthy sleep pattern is developed, you won’t be feeling constantly tired or find it difficult to fall asleep.
Besides, you’ll wake up feeling all fresh and energetic.
Step 7: Organizing Your Life
You can use multiple resources to enjoy the benefits of an organized life.
Simply by using Google Calendar, you can save a massive amount of daily hassle and also avoid that awful forgetfulness.
Don’t you remember the last time you forgot to pay the utility bills, or when you didn’t remember to send that all-important email?
It caused you so much unnecessary stress, didn’t it?
Organizing your life basically means to feel more structured, happier, and less stressed.
Through this one change, you’ll see amazing short-term and long-term changes in your weight, sleep quality and overall health.
Step 8: Be Happy
On your journey to better health, you need to learn to enjoy the process as well.
Feel excited about trying new recipes, explore new diets from different regions, find healthy eating cookbooks and identify new cooking styles.
The key is to feel happy about being healthy even if you face difficulties at times.
Don’t get stressed when you make mistakes as its part of the process.
In only 30 days, you’ll be able to get good control of your health and feel more satisfied and relaxed.