Last updated: November 10, 2023
How do you determine what is the healthiest cuisine in the world?
There’s no one-size-fits-all answer to this question since there are many cuisines around the world that can be considered extremely healthy, or the opposite, depending on the ingredients used and the way they’re prepared.
Based on scientific research of diet and lifespan, my passion and profession, here are eleven cuisines generally considered to be healthier. All other things being equal.
Which Country has the Healthiest Cuisine in the World?
Greek cuisine has long been recognized as the healthiest cuisine in the world, or at least one of the top five. Indeed, the Ikarian region of Greece is a well-established Blue Zone, a region where people tend to live significantly longer than average.
The reasons for this longevity are partially due to their lifestyle. It’s also to their preferences when it comes to eating. The Ikarian diet differs from the mainstream Greek diet only in that it contains more beans, legumes and greens.
The traditional Greek people must have the healthiest kitchen in the world! They emphasize fresh vegetables, whole grains, fresh fish, lean proteins, and healthy fats like olive oil and nuts. Yum!
Greek food is well-known for its bold, distinctive, and inviting flavors. It’s easy to fall in love with. The use of herbs give Greek dishes a delicious and unique taste. For example, oregano, rosemary, thyme and garlic. Lemon juice is also a popular flavoring.
You can find Greek food in many restaurants throughout the world, as well as countless online recipes to follow on your own at home. It seems there are dozens of variations of Greek Salad alone that you can and should try for yourself.
Greek Salad tends to be a refreshing, healthy and delicious break from the average American salad. It’s one of my favorites of all time.
Greek salad typically includes fresh vegetables like tomatoes, crunchy cucumbers, bell peppers and red onions. Feta cheese and olives, dressed with olive oil and lemon juice, are also common. Oregano, garlic, mustard and black pepper are often added for the final and perfect compliment.
While Greek cuisine can be healthy, some dishes may be high in sodium or calories. Especially those made with fried or heavily seasoned meats. These types of foods, which are often considerably cheaper, are unhealthy wherever you travel.
Okinawa, Japan is another Blue Zone, where a huge proportion of residents live to be 100 years or older. While the Japanese diet is considered relatively healthy on its own, Okinawan cuisine has a few features that stand out particularly well as the healthiest cuisine in the world.
The traditional Okinawan diet emphasizes whole, plant-based foods, with a focus on vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes, and seaweed, along with small amounts of fish and soy products. In contrast to most Japanese, the Okinawans eat very little rice and significantly more sweet potatoes and whole grains.
Traditional Okinawan meals often usually have a variety of steamed vegetables and whole grains, with perhaps tofu or grilled fish. Combined, these provide a balanced and nutritious meal.
- Edamame – These are boiled or steamed soybeans, which are a good source of protein and fiber. They make a fantastic snack as well.
- Goya Champuru – A stir-fry dish made with bitter melon (goya), tofu, eggs, and pork.
- Okinawan Soba – A soup made with wheat and flour noodles served in a broth made from pork, bonito, and kelp.
- Umibudo – A type of seaweed known as “sea grapes” that’s typically served as a cold appetizer or side dish.
What I appreciate most about the Japanese culture is that they understand that food is more than simply sustenance. It’s an experience to be savored.
When you take the time to enjoy your meal, you are fully living in the moment. As a result, you tend to not eat quite as much. Both healthy perspectives toward food, and life.
While traditional Okinawan cuisine can be healthy, the culture now is more heavily influenced by Western civilization than ever. Some dishes aren’t so healthy. There’s more of a focus now on fried food and processed meats, which should be avoided if possible.
Indian food is known for its bold and unique flavors. Many Indian dishes are made with healthy ingredients, such as lentils, vegetables, and spices, which can have a positive impact on overall health. Turmeric and cinnamon, for example, have anti-inflammatory properties.
Here are some examples of healthy Indian dishes.
- Dal – A lentil soup high in protein and fiber, and often seasoned with spices such as cumin, coriander, and turmeric.
- Chana masala – A chickpea dish, and good source of protein and fiber. It’s flavored with spices such as ginger, garlic, and garam masala.
- Tandoori chicken – Grilled chicken that has been marinated in yogurt and spices such as cumin, coriander, and turmeric.
- Vegetable curry – This dish, my personal favorite, features a variety of vegetables, such as cauliflower, peas, and potatoes. They’re cooked in a flavorful sauce made with spices, tomato, and coconut milk.
Indian cuisine can be a healthy decision depending on the choices you make, and especially if you avoid the deep-fried foods and creamy dishes. Use common sense when choosing your meals and lean away from the ones that are high in fat and calories.
Anything fried is an obvious NO to your health.
4. South Korean
South Korean cuisine is heavily focused on vegetables, seafood, and fermented foods. It’s known for bold and complex flavors, with dishes often featuring a combination of sweet, spicy, and savory flavors, usually containing at least one vegetable with every meal.
The use of ingredients like gochujang (red chili paste), doenjang (soybean paste), and ganjang (soy sauce) give Korean dishes a distinct taste.
- Kimchi for example, is a combination of fermented vegetables and a staple of Korean cuisine. It’s a good source of probiotics and other beneficial nutrients. It’s an acquired taste, but I understand well worth the effort.
- Bibimbap is a bowl of rice topped with a variety of vegetables, such as spinach, bean sprouts, carrots, and mushrooms, and lean proteins. It’s often served with a spicy chili sauce called gochujang.
- Doenjang jjigae is a fermented soybean paste stew made with vegetables, tofu, and sometimes seafood or meat.
While South Korean cuisine can be healthy, some dishes may be higher in sodium or calories, such as fried dishes or those made with fatty meats. Mostly though, South Korean cuisine is full of healthy choices that are deliciously hard to forget.
Lebanese food is typically rich in flavor and uses a variety of herbs and spices, such as mint, parsley, and sumac, which have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. Many traditional dishes are also gluten-free.
- Tabbouleh is a delightful salad made with parsley, mint, tomatoes, onions, and bulgur wheat. It’s seasoned with olive oil, lemon juice, and salt.
- Fattoush, another great salad, is made with a mix of fresh vegetables, including lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, and radishes, with toasted pita bread, herbs, and a dressing made with olive oil and lemon juice.
- Hummus is a versatile dip made with chickpeas, tahini, garlic, and lemon juice, and is high in protein, fiber, and healthy fats. It makes a wonderful dip for veggies or crackers, as well as spread for sandwiches too.
While Lebanese cuisine can be healthy, some dishes are higher in sodium or calories, such as dishes made with fried foods or cheese. As with any food, it’s important to watch portion sizes and choose dishes that are prepared with healthier cooking methods, such as grilling or baking.
Vietnamese cuisine is characterized by its use of fresh herbs and vegetables, as well as lean protein sources like chicken and seafood. Their dishes are known for their vibrant flavors, often featuring a combination of sweet, sour, salty, and spicy tastes.
- Vietnamese soups like the absolutely delicious pho and bun bo hue are usually broth-based, a healthy alternative to cream-based soups. They’re low in fat and calories and are a great source of protein.
- Goi Cuon (Fresh Spring Rolls) are light and refreshing, made with rice paper wrappers, lettuce, fresh herbs, and shrimp or pork. They’re low in calories and fat and high in fiber.
- Banh Mi is a Vietnamese sandwich made with a baguette filled with vegetables, grilled meats, and a variety of sauces. It can be a healthy option if you choose lean meats and load up on the veggies.
- Goi Ga (Vietnamese Chicken Salad) is made with poached chicken, shredded cabbage, carrots, and fresh herbs. It’s low in calories and fat and high in protein and fiber.
Some traditional Vietnamese dishes may be higher in sodium, such as fish sauce and some of the soups.
Thai cuisine can be healthy when prepared with fresh, whole ingredients and cooked in healthy ways. Their dishes often feature a variety of vegetables, herbs, and spices that provide an array of nutrients and antioxidants.
The use of ingredients like lemongrass, chili peppers, and coconut milk give dishes a uniquely refreshing taste. The use of herbs with intense flavors, such as curcumin, turmeric, and ginger, also lends itself toward anti-inflammatory properties.
Here are some examples of nutritious Thai foods.
- Tom Yum Soup is a classic spicy and sour soup, packed with flavor and nutrients. It usually contains shrimp, lemongrass, lime juice, and chili peppers, and is low in calories.
- Som tam is a refreshing salad made with shredded green papaya, carrots, tomatoes, and peanuts, and is dressed with a sweet and tangy dressing. It’s low in calories and high in fiber.
- Larb is a popular Thai salad made with minced meat, fresh herbs, lime juice, and chili peppers. It’s high in protein and low in carbs, making it a great choice for those following a low-carb or keto diet.
- Thai cuisine is known for its grilled seafood dishes, which are usually marinated in a flavorful mixture of herbs and spices. Grilled fish is a healthy and delicious option that’s high in protein and low in calories.
However, some traditional Thai dishes may be higher in calories, sugar, fat, and sodium, such as dishes that are deep-fried or contain coconut milk. Examples include pad Thai and massaman curry.
Spanish cuisine, while not the absolute healthiest cuisine in the world, is generally considered to be healthy and nutritious. They tend to emphasize fresh, whole ingredients such as vegetables, fruits, legumes, seafood, and lean meats.
- Gazpacho is a cold soup is made with tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, and garlic, and is often served as a refreshing starter or light lunch. It’s low in calories and high in vitamin C and other nutrients.
- Tortilla Española is a classic Spanish omelet made with potatoes, onions, and eggs, and is often served as a tapa or light meal. It’s high in protein and healthy fats, and can be made with a variety of vegetables.
- Pisto, a comforting vegetable stew, is made with tomatoes, peppers, zucchini, eggplant, and onions, and is a great way to get a variety of vitamins and minerals. It’s often served as a side dish or vegetarian main course.
- Spain is known for its seafood, and grilled fish is a healthy and delicious option that’s high in protein and omega-3 fatty acids. Try grilled sardines, sea bass, or red mullet for a traditional Spanish meal.
However, like any cuisine, Spanish dishes can also be high in calories, salt, and unhealthy fats, depending on the ingredients and preparation methods used. For example, some traditional Spanish dishes may contain fried foods, cured meats, or high-fat cheeses.
The Mediterranean diet, widely recognized as the healthiest cuisine in the world, is largely based on the traditional Italian diet. The Mediterranean diet emphasizes whole, plant-based foods, healthy fats like olive oil, and moderate amounts of lean proteins like fish and poultry.
In addition, Italian cuisine is known for its variety of fresh, flavorful ingredients, including fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and healthy fats, making it a generally healthy cuisine.
Here are some examples of healthy Italian foods.
- Minestrone Soup is a hearty soup made with a variety of vegetables, beans, and pasta, and is a great source of fiber, protein, and vitamins. It’s often served as a starter or light meal.
- The simply delicious Caprese salad is made with fresh mozzarella, tomatoes, and basil, and is dressed with olive oil and balsamic vinegar. It’s low in calories and high in protein and healthy fats.
- Chicken Piccata, the classic Italian dish, is made with chicken breast, lemon, capers, and white wine, and is often served with a side of vegetables or pasta. It’s a great source of lean protein and is low in calories when prepared with a light sauce.
Overall, Italian cuisine offers plenty of healthy options that are packed with flavor and nutrients. When cooking at home or dining out, look for dishes that are rich in vegetables, lean protein, and healthy fats, and avoid dishes that are heavy on cheese, cream, and pasta.
Mexican cuisine can be healthy when prepared with fresh, whole ingredients and cooked in healthy ways. Here are some examples of healthy Mexican foods.
- Grilled Fish Tacos are an incredibly popular Mexican dish that can be made with a variety of fillings, but grilled fish is a healthy and delicious option that’s high in protein and omega-3 fatty acids.
- Chicken Fajitas are made with marinated chicken, peppers, and onions, and is often served with a side of rice and beans. It’s a great source of lean protein and fiber.
- Huevos Rancheros, a breakfast dish, is made with fried eggs, tomato sauce, black beans, and corn tortillas. It’s a great source of protein, fiber, and healthy fats.
Some Mexican dishes can be high in fat and calories, particularly those made with cheese, sour cream, or fried tortillas. Examples include chimichangas, chile rellenos and enchiladas.
While there are many vegetarian and vegan options available in Mexican cuisine, some traditional dishes may not be suitable for those who do not eat meat.
Scandinavian cuisine emphasizes whole, fresh, and locally sourced ingredients. Traditional Scandinavian diets are high in fish, seafood, whole grains, root vegetables, and berries, all of which are nutrient-dense foods.
Healthy dishes, aside from staples like grilled salmon and rye bread, are as follows.
- Smørrebrød is an open-faced sandwich made with rye bread, smoked salmon, pickled herring, or other seafood, and topped with fresh vegetables. It’s a great way to get a variety of nutrients in one dish.
- A beet salad with goat cheese and walnuts is a delicious and healthy way to enjoy this nutritious vegetable. Beets are high in antioxidants and fiber.
- Porridge made from whole grains, such as oats, barley, or rye, is a common breakfast dish in Scandinavia. It’s a filling and nutritious meal that can help keep you energized throughout the day.
Studies have shown that the high consumption of fish in a traditional Scandinavian diet can lead to health benefits, such as reduced risk of heart disease, obesity, and certain cancers.
The modern Scandinavian diet however, is not the most healthiest cuisine in the world. It may include more processed and high-fat foods, such as dairy and meat products. While delicious, these can have negative health effects if consumed in excess.
Foods for Longevity
How do you compare one country to the next, when every country has something to offer and its own way of providing for its people?
The answer is in defining certain qualifications and weighing those in balance with the unhealthy aspects of the diet as well. Foods for longevity should be as follows.
- Rich in nutrients such as vitamins, minerals, fiber, and antioxidants that support overall health.
- A balanced mix of carbohydrates, protein, and healthy fats to support energy needs and promote satiety.
- Prioritizes the use of fresh, whole foods, such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins.
- Uses preparation methods that preserve the nutrients in foods and limit the use of unhealthy cooking methods, such as deep-frying.
- Limited use of unhealthy ingredients such as trans fats, added sugars, and high levels of sodium.
- Reduce reliance on packaged foods and processed meats.
- Healthy snacks as well as healthy meals on a regular basis.
What are the least healthy foods?
Fast food is often high in calories, unhealthy fats, and sodium. It can contribute to weight gain, high blood pressure, and other health problems. Countries such as the United States, United Kingdom, and Canada are known to consume a lot of fast food.
Many processed and packaged foods contain high amounts of added sugars, unhealthy fats, and sodium. These foods can contribute to chronic diseases such as heart disease, diabetes, and obesity.
Many countries around the world consume high amounts of processed and packaged foods, including the United States, Brazil, and Mexico.
Sugary drinks like soda, energy drinks, and sports drinks are high in added sugars and calories but low in nutrients. These drinks can contribute to weight gain and other significant health problems.
Countries such as Mexico and the United States are among the highest consumers of sugary drinks.
Fried foods are often high in unhealthy fats and calories. Consuming fried foods regularly can increase the risk of heart disease, stroke, and obesity. Many countries around the world consume high amounts of fried foods, including the United States, India, and China.
The consumption of unhealthy foods is not limited to specific countries. But some countries do have higher rates of consumption of these foods than others however. And this can contribute to higher rates of obesity, heart disease, and other health problems.
Commonly asked questions, with answers, about healthy food and cultures.
The Mediterranean diet is often considered one of the healthiest. It emphasizes whole foods, such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, lean proteins, and healthy fats, while limiting processed foods and added sugars.
Cultures that prioritize whole foods, a balanced diet, regular physical activity, and overall well-being tend to have better health outcomes. Mediterranean and Japanese cultures are often associated with healthy lifestyles and longevity.
Chinese cuisine can be both healthy and unhealthy, depending on the specific dishes and ingredients used. Traditional Chinese cuisine emphasizes a balance of flavors and includes a variety of vegetables, lean proteins, and grains. However, some Chinese dishes can be high in sodium, oil, and sugar, so it’s important to make mindful choices.
It’s difficult to determine which country has the least healthy cuisine as food habits can vary within regions and individuals. However, countries with diets high in processed foods, saturated fats, and sugars are generally considered less healthy.
Final Thoughts on the Healthiest Cuisines
The healthfulness of a cuisine depends on portion sizes and individual dietary needs, not just fresh vegetables, spices, lean meats and seafood. All cuisines include both healthy and unhealthy dishes. The best diets are the ones in which health is made a priority.