As life expectancy across the globe continues to increase, so does our awareness of our nutrition and its impact on our health. Who wants to live to 100 but not be well enough to enjoy it, right? Cardiovascular disease, stroke and cancer are among the main influences on our health-span here in Australia.Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. Health conditions, disability & deaths. Australian Government. 2017 Health-span is defined as the period of life that is healthily lived before the onslaught of significant functional decline.Heidi A Tissenbaum. Genetics, Life Span, Health Span, and the Aging Process in Caenorhabditis elegans. The Journals of Gerantology. Series A. Biological Sciences and Medical Sciences. May 2012. Today, it seems we are forever researching new and inventive ways to spice up our diets in a way that will improve our health-span. Yet with the speed at which new fads are emerging and then disappearing, it is becoming increasingly difficult to keep up. Nutrition and its links to our health have never been so confusing. But can we learn from global nutrition traditions? As a result of lower morbidity and mortality rates, countries including Japan, Greece and Finland are said to have some of the healthiest diets in the world.Towards a healthy diet: from nutrition recommendations to dietary advice. Agneta Andersson, Susanne Bryngelsson. Scandinavian Journal of Nutrition. 2007. I think it’s time we delve a little deeper into cuisine across the water and see what nutritional secrets we may be missing out on.
Japan has the oldest population in the world with almost 30% of their citizens over the age of 65.Japan Age Structure. Population Pyramid. Index Mundi. 2017. Not only this, but the Japanese also have the lowest rate of obesity (3.7%)Obesity Update 2017. OECD. 2017. and one of the longest life expectancies in the world (almost 84 years for a baby born in Japan today!)List of countries by life expectancy. World Health Organisation. 2015. And a recent study by the British Medical Journal found that those adhering to Japan’s recommended eating guidelines had lower levels of cardiovascular disease (CVD).Quality of diet and mortality among Japanese men and women: Japan Center based prospective study. Kayo Kurotani, Shamima Akter et al. The British Medical Journal. March 2016. So it’s no surprise their diet attracts huge attention from researchers.
In 2013, it was found that as a populace, the Japanese consume double the amount of fish than Australians per day, as well as 80% less animal fats and almost 60% less meat.Food Supply – Livestock and Fish Primary Equivalent. Food and Agricultural Organisation of the United Nations. FAOSTAT. 2013. When I think of Japan, I immediately think of sushi. But fish, although paramount to the Asian diet, is not the only dietary ingredient giving the Japanese health benefits. Other components of their diet include rice, soybean products and steamed vegetables.Food-based dietary guidelines – Japan. Food and Agriculture. Organization of the United Nations. Naturally low in sugar and high in fibre, brown rice is commonly consumed in Japan. And fermented soybean products, including tofu and edamame, are widely eaten. These staples have a high probiotic content and have been shown to help reduce symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome and the risk of blood clots. Most vegetables consumed in the Japanese diet are locally grown, and steamed or boiled, which reduces nutrient loss. Seaweed is eaten both during meals and as a snack and is believed to reduce high blood pressure. Green tea is very popular in Japan and is said to have antioxidant properties, helping to prevent cancer, viruses and heart disease. As part of their healthy food culture, children in Japan are taught to stop eating when they are about 80% full to prevent over eating.Why is the Japanese diet so healthy? Nicola Shubrook. BBC goodfood. May 2017. (This may be a new angle to take when feeding our kids, instead of demanding a clean dinner plate!)
Given the popularity and research into the Mediterranean diet over the past decade, it may not come as a surprise that this diet has been linked to lower cardiovascular disease. According to a recent study, the levels of CVD mortality varies considerably between Southern Europeans and the UK and Eastern Europe, with populations in Southern Europe having up to 16% fewer cases of CVD.Global coronary risk in northern and southern Europe. The Seven Countries Study. Toshima et al. 1994. Countries that typically follow a Mediterranean diet include Greece, Spain and southern Italy. These populations have low saturated fat intake and enjoy plentiful servings of fresh fruits and vegetables. The main fat component of the Mediterranean diet is olive oil. Since olive oil is a polyunsaturated fat, it works to lower low-density lipoproteins (LDL), the “bad” cholesterol, therefore lowering incidence of CVD. High saturated fat intake has been shown to increase LDL cholesterol levels. And prolonged high levels of LDL cholesterol can lead to atherosclerosis, blocking blood supply to the heart.How to lower Elevated LDL Cholesterol. Familial Hypercholesterolemia. 2013.
Unrefined cereals such as wholegrain bread and pasta are eaten daily by people following the Mediterranean diet. Other daily intakes include three servings of vegetables, six servings of fresh fruit, and two servings of dairy products. The main sources of dairy in this diet are from yoghurt and cheese – think Greek yoghurt and feta! In a week, the Mediterranean diet also includes four servings of a variety of fresh fish, and three servings of nuts, pulses, eggs, potatoes and olives. Red meat is usually only consumed 4-5 times a month. Wine is also consumed daily, but only 100-200ml per day.Mediterranean diet and prevention of coronary heart disease in the elderly. Anastasios S. Dontas et al. Clinical Interventions of Aging. March 2007.
The “French Paradox”.
Visitors to France are accustomed to indulging in the finest pastries, tasting the best wine and dining on bread and cheese. Maybe a little too often, but who can resist the temptation? Well, apparently the French can! In 2015, 15% of adults in France were obese, as opposed to almost 30% of Australian adults. And childhood obesity in France is less than 10%.Obesity Update 2017. OECD. 2017. According to research, the secret behind the French diet is small portions and eating slowly. One study found an average meal served in a French restaurants is almost 100g less than one served in America.The ecology of eating: smaller portion sizes in France Than in the United States help explain the French paradox. Rozin P., Kabnick K. et al. The Journal of Physiological Science. 2003. The high quality and richness of ingredients used in France contribute to the smaller portions without impacting satiety. And, yes, they indulge in a glass of wine with dinner, but don’t exceed the recommended four units of alcohol per day.Standard Drink Guide. Australian Government Department of Health. The French are also well known to exercise as part of their daily routine.
Countries that consume a Nordic diet include Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Finland and Iceland. Adhering to the Nordic diet has been linked to lower mortality levels, especially in middle-aged men.Healthy Aspects of the Nordic Diet are Related to Lower Mortality. Anja Olsen, Rikke Egeberg et al. American Society for Nutrition. 2011. The diet has far less sugar and fat and more fibre and fish than Western diets. Foods in these Scandinavian countries tend to be free from preservatives and are never processed or fried. The Nordic diet is quite similar to the Mediterranean in some respects, as it is high in fish and low in red meat. However, the Nordic diet tends to emphasise berries instead of other fruits due to the lack of fresh fruit grown in these cold, northern climates, and canola oil instead of olive oil. It has been proven that canola oil-based diets lower cholesterol levels, and improve insulin sensitivity which helps regulate glucose plasma levels. Up and coming research also hints at a correlation between a high canola oil intake and lower cancer risk.Evidence of health benefits of canola oil. Lin Lin, Hanja Allemekinders et al. Nutrition Reviews. 2013.
What can we learn?
So overall, what can we learn from healthy diets around the world? It is apparent these diets focus on eating what is in season that is freshly grown or produced naturally in their country. There is less emphasis on roasting, frying or preserving food. Most of the world’s healthiest diets are based on wholegrain cereals (very little white bread), fruits and vegetables, and fish over animal products. And cardiovascular disease and early mortality rates in the countries adhering to these diets are much lower than in Western nations due to a low intake of saturated fat and sugar.
A baby born today in Australia can look forward to living to age 82!Life Tables, States, Territories, 2013-2015. Australian Bureau of Statistics. 2016. So we must be doing something right? However, less than 4% of all adults in Australia meet the recommended “5 a day” serves of vegetables, and 35% of an Australian adult’s total daily energy intake is from “discretionary” foods that are generally high in saturated fat, salt, sugar or alcohol.Australian Health Survey: Consumption of Food Groups from the Australian Dietary Guidelines, 2011-12. Australian Bureau of Statistics. 2016. So as a country, we have work to do to emphasise the importance of following our own Guide to Healthy Eating. And, without changing our diets completely, we may look to healthy diets overseas and increase our focus on fish, polyunsaturated oils, a variety of fruits and vegetables, and general “freshness” when prepping our next meal in order to reap the health benefits from our food.
References [ + ]
|1.||⇪||Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. Health conditions, disability & deaths. Australian Government. 2017|
|2.||⇪||Heidi A Tissenbaum. Genetics, Life Span, Health Span, and the Aging Process in Caenorhabditis elegans. The Journals of Gerantology. Series A. Biological Sciences and Medical Sciences. May 2012.|
|3.||⇪||Towards a healthy diet: from nutrition recommendations to dietary advice. Agneta Andersson, Susanne Bryngelsson. Scandinavian Journal of Nutrition. 2007.|
|4.||⇪||Japan Age Structure. Population Pyramid. Index Mundi. 2017.|
|5.||⇪ab||Obesity Update 2017. OECD. 2017.|
|6.||⇪||List of countries by life expectancy. World Health Organisation. 2015.|
|7.||⇪||Quality of diet and mortality among Japanese men and women: Japan Center based prospective study. Kayo Kurotani, Shamima Akter et al. The British Medical Journal. March 2016.|
|8.||⇪||Food Supply – Livestock and Fish Primary Equivalent. Food and Agricultural Organisation of the United Nations. FAOSTAT. 2013.|
|9.||⇪||Food-based dietary guidelines – Japan. Food and Agriculture. Organization of the United Nations.|
|10.||⇪||Why is the Japanese diet so healthy? Nicola Shubrook. BBC goodfood. May 2017.|
|11.||⇪||Global coronary risk in northern and southern Europe. The Seven Countries Study. Toshima et al. 1994.|
|12.||⇪||How to lower Elevated LDL Cholesterol. Familial Hypercholesterolemia. 2013.|
|13.||⇪||Mediterranean diet and prevention of coronary heart disease in the elderly. Anastasios S. Dontas et al. Clinical Interventions of Aging. March 2007.|
|14.||⇪||The ecology of eating: smaller portion sizes in France Than in the United States help explain the French paradox. Rozin P., Kabnick K. et al. The Journal of Physiological Science. 2003.|
|15.||⇪||Standard Drink Guide. Australian Government Department of Health.|
|16.||⇪||Healthy Aspects of the Nordic Diet are Related to Lower Mortality. Anja Olsen, Rikke Egeberg et al. American Society for Nutrition. 2011.|
|17.||⇪||Evidence of health benefits of canola oil. Lin Lin, Hanja Allemekinders et al. Nutrition Reviews. 2013.|
|18.||⇪||Life Tables, States, Territories, 2013-2015. Australian Bureau of Statistics. 2016.|
|19.||⇪||Australian Health Survey: Consumption of Food Groups from the Australian Dietary Guidelines, 2011-12. Australian Bureau of Statistics. 2016.|