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The Countries with the World’s Healthiest Diets Are Mostly in Africa

Alexandra E. Petri

If you think the world’s healthiest diets exist in first-world countries like the United States or Australia, think again.

While researching information on the diets of people who live in countries with the longest lifespans, we came across some interesting and surprising information that said low-income nations, like Chad and Ghana, have the healthiest diets overall.

A study published in the Lancet Global Health journal recently surveyed the diets and eating habits of men and women — more than 4.5 billion adults — across 187 countries.

As part of the study, a team of researchers compared the consumption of 17 “key food items and nutrients ­by region, nation, age, and sex in 1990 and 2010” through three different assessments. First, the team looked at the consumption of ten healthy food items, including fruits, vegetables, beans and legumes, nuts and seeds, whole grains, milk, total polyunsaturated fatty acids, fish, plant omega-3s, and dietary fiber.

Second, the researchers looked at the consumption of seven unhealthy items, including unprocessed meats, processed meats, sugar-sweetened drinks, saturated fat, trans fat, dietary cholesterol, and salt.

Third, the team looked at the overall consumption based on the 17 different food items.

Though overall the study found that the global consumption of healthy foods increased from 1990 to 2010, dietary patterns reflecting the consumption of unhealthy foods had a greater increase due to the prevalence of Western snacks and soft drinks.

Even though first-world countries consumed more healthy foods than underdeveloped nations, their high consumption of junk food greatly affected their overall rating.

Those countries that scored highest overall predominantly are in Africa — and many of them are considered dangerous kin.

#1 Chad

At the top of the list is Chad, a country that relies on grains and produce like tomatoes, okra, and onions, dairy, and peanuts. However, the diets of those in Southern Chad differ greatly from those in the northern part of the nation. In the South, for example, dairy is not a daily staple like it is in the North. The most commonly consumed proteins are fish, goat meat, and beef, all of which are typically cooked and consumed dry.

#2 Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone differs from other West African countries in that it doesn’t consume a variety of grains. Rice is a mainstay here, though its production has been greatly affected by decades of civil war. There are also many different kinds of vegetables incorporated into dishes here, including okra, jakato (a type of eggplant), onions, pigeon peas, cassava, and Chinese yam. Also common are peanuts and other groundnuts, which are ground to create a paste. Ground nuts were introduced during colonialization. Common fruits are pineapple, mango, and bananas. However, despite findings showing that Sierra Leone has one of the world’s healthiest diets, the country still has one of the world’s highest malnutrition rates, and its average lifespan is half that of Western countries.

#3 Mali

Rice, millet, and sorghum are typical grains incorporated into the Malian diet. Also common are root vegetables, including cassava, yam, and sweet potatoes. Goat, beef, and chicken are the most commonly eaten meats. Despite being one of the world’s healthiest diets, the nutritional status of the population is poor, as food insecurity still persists around the country.

#4 The Republic of the Gambia

Like many other countries in Africa, the Gambia’s diet is one that is dependent on cereals like rice, millet, sorghum, and corn (maize). Also considered staples of the Gambian diet are fish and such vegetables as okra, cabbage, cassava, onions, peanuts, and black-eyed peas. Common dishes found in The Gambia are fish caldo, a whole steamed fish flavored with lemons; pepeh soup, a spicy stew that can contain fish or beef; akra, a meal made from grounded, fried black eyed peas; and benechin, a dish typically made with fish and prepared with a handful of other ingredients, like cassava, tomatoes, onions, cabbage, carrots, and pumpkin.

#5 Uganda

In the Ugandan diet, plantain, root vegetables like cassava and sweet potatoes, and grains like maize, millet, rice, and sorghum are mainstays. Here, you’ll also find green leafy greens, banana, and pineapple. Outside the more rural areas, most dishes in Uganda contain chicken, fish, beef, goat, or mutton; bushmeat, like bush rats, is more common in the rural areas. Stews or sauces made from ground nuts are the most common foundation for dishes here. Also served with many meals is posho, which is similar to grits. It has little flavor but is a very filling component to any meal.

#6 Ghana

The Ghanaian diet uses plantain, sweet potatoes, yams, corn, beans, and grains like millet and sorghum. Most dishes are served as soup or stew or with a spicy condiment, as is common in many African countries on this list. Typical Ghanian dishes include waakye, or a spicy dish of rice and beans, which can be eaten with fried fish or chicken; red-red, or beans and plantain; and groundnut soup, which can be served with goat meat or beef.

#7 Ivory Coast

Two big staples here are cassava and plantains, and, as in neighboring countries, grains and vegetables are important as well. One of the most popular dishes on the Ivory Coast is attiéké, or grated cassava. Other popular dishes include grilled fish, grilled chicken, mafé — similar to that in Senegal —, and aloco, which is ripe banana cooked in palm oil and spiced with steamed onions and chiles.

#8 Senegal

Fish is the hero protein here, though chicken, lamb, beef, and eggs are also used in many recipes. You’ll also find couscous, peanuts, sweet potatoes, black-eyed peas, and other vegetables incorporated into many dishes, and rice is often used as a base. Popular dishes include thiéboudienne, which is chunks of fish stuffed with herbs served over rice with a side of vegetables; yassa poulet, or grilled chicken marinated in an onion and lemon sauce; sombi, or sweet milk-rice soup; and mafé, a meat and peanut stew.

#9 Israel

Israeli cuisine is marked by the fresh vegetables, like eggplant, tomatoes, and zucchini, that thrive in the region. Much of the cuisine also calls for traditional Jewish “seven species”— seven super-healthful ingredients that include grapes, olives, and pomegranates — which are all rich sources of nutrients and antioxidants.

#10 Somalia

Somalia, located in the Horn of Africa, is one of the more dangerous destinations in the world, yet it is also found to have one of the healthiest diets all around. Somali cuisine draws influences from India, Italy, Turkey, Yemen, and Ethiopia, with dishes varying depending on the region. However, some Somali staples include milk, corn (maize), sorghum (a type of grain), onions, and tomatoes. Rice is also another major player in the Somali diet, and, given the country’s links to Italian cuisine, pasta also plays a role. For meat, Somalis often eat goat, camel, chicken, and beef.

PUBLISHED: February 27, 2015 | 10:42 AM.  By Alexandra E. Petri

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