Which nations are the healthiest countries in the world? One marker for health is longevity and when it comes to living a long time, five countries stand out. What accounts for the remarkable longevity of these countries? More than one factor probably accounts for their good fortune, but one of the first places to look at is diet. Let’s see what people in the longest-living areas of the world sit down to when they eat a meal.
Healthiest Countries in the World: Monaco
In the United States, the average life expectancy for women is 81 years and for men 76 years. Not bad, but a child born in Monaco can expect to live almost 90 years. Being a small but wealthy sovereign, most residents of Monaco enjoy a life of privilege – they can afford healthy foods and have less stress than people in many areas of the world.
Does diet play a role in their extraordinary longevity? Most people in Monaco eat a typical Mediterranean diet with an emphasis on whole foods, plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables, nuts, whole grains, and lean sources of protein prepared with olive oil. Plus, many residents are financially secure enough to have a personal chef prepare Mediterranean-style meals for them, making it easier to eat healthily.
Low levels of stress and access to healthy foods probably explain why the residents of Monaco live so long. A number of studies show the Mediterranean diet is one of the healthiest in the world and one linked with longevity. No wonder. With its emphasis on whole foods, fiber, and healthy fats, it’s a tough diet to top.
Healthiest Countries in the World: Japan
Japan may not have the wealth of Monaco, but its citizens live a long time. The life expectancy in Japan is slightly over 85 years, on average, one of the longest in the world. In fact, the island of Okinawa has more centenarians than anywhere else on the planet. You can’t necessarily attribute their longevity exclusively to their diet since the Japanese also exercise more and have a lower rate of obesity than in most areas of the world, but diet is likely a factor.
If you were to eat a meal in a Japanese home, you’d be in for a treat. The Japanese diet is marked by simplicity with an artistic flair that engages all the senses. Portions are small but beautifully presented, making it possible to eat mindfully and be satisfied with less.
The backbone of the Japanese diet is fish, rich in omega-3s, and vegetables with small amounts of rice. The Japanese consume more plant-based protein and limit the amount of meat and dairy in their diet. One source of “green” the Japanese partake of that’s yet to be embraced by the West are sea vegetables such as nori and wakame. These plant foods are rich in minerals, including iodine. What do they wash their healthy diet down with? Not soft drinks but green tea, a rich source of natural catechins.
Healthiest Countries in the World: Singapore
Singapore is another country blessed with longevity, with the average life expectancy of its citizens slightly over 84 years. Despite eating frequently, up to 5 meals a day, less than 23% of the citizens are overweight. Singaporeans eat a variety of foods, being such a mixture of cultures, the diet stresses a fusion of foods from Oriental, Thai, Indian, and British cuisine with an underlying theme that noodles, rice, and seafood.
Being a country rich in tropical fruits, fruit is a key part of the cuisine and spices like tamarind and curry add flavor to their offerings. While not as healthy as the Japanese and Mediterranean diet, the Singapore diet contains fewer processed foods and the people enjoy more foods in their whole, unprocessed state. Rather than stopping by a fast food restaurant for a drive-by lunch, residents of Singapore are more likely to enjoy stir-fried noodles and vegetables and a dessert made from tropical fruit.
Singaporeans understand the value of physical activity, which may partially explain their longevity. The country is filled with walking, biking and running trails and fewer people have a car due to the availability of public transportation. The government also emphasizes fitness and sponsors programs to encourage citizens to stay active.
Healthiest Countries in the World: Spain
Not only do the residents of Spain have exceptional longevity, with an average life expectancy of around 83 years, but they also have a low rate of obesity, around 15%. The low rate of obesity may partially explain their health and longevity, but their clean diet that emphasizes whole, unprocessed foods also works in their favor.
The Spanish diet is closely patterned after the Mediterranean diet with an emphasis on olive oil, legumes, seafood and spices like garlic and saffron that add flavor and color to their traditional dish, paella. Spaniards eat their meals slowly and mindfully, consume small portions, and often top off lunch with a nap. Plenty of sleep, low-stress levels, and a Mediterranean-style diet add up to healthy living for the residents of Spain.
Healthiest Countries in the World: Greece
Although Greece still makes lists of healthiest countries, with an average life expectancy of just under 83 years, the rate of obesity is slowly climbing as more people adopt a Western diet and turn away from the traditional Mediterranean diet that kept their rates of heart disease and obesity low. Residents of the Greek island Ikaria, an area that still eats the traditional diet, enjoy exceptional longevity. Their diet is remarkably low in sugar and white flour and they eat little red meat and more plant-based sources of protein, especially beans. They also enjoy plenty of rest and aren’t afraid to take a mid-day nap. Are you starting to see a pattern? Lots of rest, low-stress levels and whole foods.
The Bottom Line
You don’t have to live in these countries with exceptional longevity to reap the benefits of a healthy diet. Choose more plant-based foods, seafood, legumes, nuts, seeds, and moderate amounts of whole grain foods. It won’t guarantee you’ll live to 90, but it’ll certainly increase your odds.
Health Fitness Revolution. “10 Healthiest Countries in the World”
5-Factor World Diet. Harley Pasternack, M.Sc. (2009)
The Washington Post. “A Greek island’s secrets to long life, in 11 bullet points”
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