What Americans Can Learn From The World’s Healthiest Diets

With an obesity rate of 35%, America is far from a healthy country. It’s not the least healthy country in the world, but it also needs a lot of work. Americans can learn some things from other countries’ diets.

Other countries have better nutritional guides, smaller portion control, and a different meal schedule. Some cultures don’t count calories, while others have cut back on calories throughout the past decade. Here are the world’s healthiest diets and what Americans can learn from them.

Brazil Has The World’s Best Nutritional Guide

A volunteer prepares a meal for the homeless in Brazil.
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While American nutritional guides can span 600 pages, Brazil’s guides are far shorter. The Brazilian government doesn’t dog people down in calories or food pyramids. Instead, they encourage residents to cook whole foods at home.

In Brazil, eating is an essential part of social life. Officials encourage Brazilians to eat slowly and enjoy time together. They focus on eating whole foods, fewer processed foods, and limited oils. This is a far cry from America’s approach, which focuses on calories. Brazil’s “golden rule” recommends cooking at home and avoiding processed meals.

Chad: One Of The World’s Most Nutritious Diets

A woman mixes onions, beans, flour and oil in a bowl in Chad.
Scott Nelson/Getty Images
Scott Nelson/Getty Images

In 2018, scientists at the University of Cambridge analyzed healthy eating habits around the world. They reported that Chad, a country in Western Africa, has one of the world’s most nutritious diets. Chadian cuisine supplies more lean meats, vegetables, simple starches, and legumes than many other countries.

The study, published in The Lancet Global Health, noted that Chadian food offers more omega-3 fatty acids and less fat. Residents of the country rarely eat preserved food, instead opting for fresh, home-cooked meals. If you gain one tip from this article, remember to eat more whole foods.

The French Stress Portion Control

A chef adds some flowers to meals sorted into to-go containers.
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Richard Bord/Getty Images

France is well-known for its delicious meats, baked goods, and sweets. So how do they eat so healthily? The French focus on portion control. According to a study by the University of Pennsylvania, the average French yogurt is 82% smaller than American yogurt, and their candy bars are 41% smaller.

Dr. Will Clower, the CEO of Mediterranean Wellness, asserts that the French feel fuller because they eat higher-quality products. They also eat slowly; in France, lunch breaks can span up to two hours. While 39% of Americans claim to enjoy eating, 90% of French citizens adore meal time.

Spain: The World’s Healthiest Nation

A Spanish chef prepares to-go meals.
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Marcelo del Pozo/Getty Images

According to the 2019 Bloomberg Healthiest Countries Index, Spain is the world’s healthiest nations. But this hasn’t always been the case. The European Journal of Clinical Nutrition asserts that Spain’s diet has changed significantly since the 1960s, moving more toward the Mediterranean diet.

Spain’s meals include many healthy fats from nuts, olive oil, and beans. Their meals are mostly healthy carbohydrates with low protein, according to Nutrients. However, their high-fiber dishes keep Spaniards full throughout the day. Many Spaniards also eat more meals–five or six per day–that are smaller in portion.

Singapore Has Recently Cut Back On Calories

Stir-fried noodle dishes from Singapore are photographed.
Deb Lindsey For The Washington Post via Getty Images
Deb Lindsey For The Washington Post via Getty Images

In 2010, Singapore health officials realized that many of their citizens were eating 2,600 calories a day. Fearing an obesity epidemic, they worked to change the country’s diet. By 2018, more Singaporeans were eating whole grains, vegetables, and fruits than ever before.

Singapore heavily discouraged citizens from drinking soda and eating refined carbs. They replaced the food pyramid with a “food plate.” According to this diagram, every meal contains rice (or a substitute), vegetables, fruits, and meat (or an alternative). Portions are measured by dividing up the plate.

The Chinese Don’t Count Calories

A person dishes noodles into a bowl as part of a traditional Yangzhou breakfast at a teahouse.
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Zhang Peng/LightRocket via Getty Images

According to The Independent, the Chinese don’t have a word for “calories.” They view food as nourishment, and on average, they consume 30% more calories than Americans. Even so, only 6% of Chinese citizens are obese–compared to 35% of Americans in 2020.

The difference lies in how and what people eat in China. Chopsticks guarantee that people eat smaller portions. In China, full dishes that center around vegetables are standard. Soup-based recipes, which help people feel fuller, are also typical meals throughout the country.

Italians Don’t Only Eat Pasta

A plate holds four mini bruschettas.
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Natasha Breen/REDA&CO/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

If Italians eat pasta every day, why don’t they gain weight? First, they don’t only eat pasta and pizza; Italian cuisine includes soups, fish, and vegetable dishes. Dr. Eldo E. Frezza, the chief of general surgery and director at the Bariatric Weight Loss Center, says that Italians rarely add butter to their meals.

Italian dishes are also far smaller than American ones. The largest Italian meal is lunch; breakfast and dinner are often small but satisfying. They also use whole, organic ingredients that help them feel fuller. That’s why only 9% of Italians are obese.

Thai People Don’t Eat Meals

A Thai meal contains chicken, seafood cakes, and soup.
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David Silverman/Getty Images

In Thailand, meal schedules aren’t that strict. Many people eat a variety of snacks throughout the day, giving some people the impression that the Thai are “always eating.” However, these smaller meals prevent people from binging later in the day.

According to Forbes, people in Thailand also drink before they eat. People often enjoy multiple drinks, from orange juice to coffee to tea, before they receive food. This prevents people from overeating. You may find that protein makes up only a quarter of a Thai recipe.

South Africa Features Less Meat And More Fiber

A waitress serves a flatbread meal in South Africa.
Leisa Tyler/LightRocket via Getty Images
Leisa Tyler/LightRocket via Getty Images

In South Africa, daily meals vary depending on the family and their social status. But in general, South Africans eat less meat and more fiber than Americans do. According to research in Nutrition Reviews, high-fiber diets help people feel fuller. So the smaller protein sources provide enough satiety.

In 2015, researchers at the University of Pittsburgh School had Americans try a South African diet. An average South African dish had 1/3 the meat of an American meal and far more fiber. Of course, the South African diet was determined to be healthier.

The Greeks Focus On Healthy Fats

A picnic family meal is set up in Athens, Greece.
Ayhan Mehmet/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images
Ayhan Mehmet/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

For three years in a row, the U.S. World Report rankings labeled the Mediterranean diet as the best in the world. Originally coming from Greece and southern Italy, the diet focuses on healthy fats, whole grains, and plenty of fruits and vegetables.

The Mediterranean diet won Best Overall Diet, Best Diets for Diabetes, Easiest Diets to Follow, Best Plant-Based Diets, and Best Diets for Healthy Eating. Instead of relying on preservatives or trans fats, the Greeks use healthy fats such as olive oil. These help the body absorb nutrients and burn fat.

Japan Has The Lowest Obesity Rate In The World

An employee carries a tray of lunch at Tokyo.
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Japan has consistently ranked within the top ten healthiest countries in the world. According to Naomi Moriyama, the co-author of Japanese Women Don’t Get Old or Fat, Japan is “the iPod of food.” Their meals are efficient, nutritious, and well-portioned. That’s why the Japanese have a longer life expectancy than Americans.

Japan has the lowest rate of obesity in the world–only 3%, compared to 35% in America. You can credit their smaller meals. In general, the Japanese eat 25% fewer calories than Americans. And these calories are filled with fish, vegetables, and soups.

In India, Spices Reign Supreme

An Indian cake baker lays out ingredients in separate bowls.
SAM PANTHAKY/AFP via Getty Images
SAM PANTHAKY/AFP via Getty Images

When many people picture Indian food, they think of spices. Turmeric, saffron, ginger, garlic, and cumin are common spices added to Indian cuisine. Not only do they flavor vegetables, but they also provide healthy antioxidants and anti-inflammatories.

Indian dishes include several vegetables that are often cooked in different ways. Some meals don’t require any cooking oil or unnecessary fats, according to The Spruce Eats. If you want to eat more vegetables, consider cooking them Indian-style. Many dishes include organic ingredients with little to no preservatives.

Sweden Provides A Simple Food Guide

A chef dishes some food into an oyster.
Michael Campanella/Getty Images
Michael Campanella/Getty Images

The Swedish diet, which follows similar guidelines to the Nordic diet, is one of the world’s healthiest. Their cuisine does not emphasize takeout, fried meals, or fast food. It emphasizes homemade meals and eating slowly.

The United Nations lists Sweden’s food guidelines. To keep things simple, Sweden uses the same colors as a stoplight in their guide. Green tells people to eat more vegetables, seeds, and nuts. Yellow means that people should switch to whole grains and low-fat dairy. Red suggests cutting back on preservatives, salt, and fat.

The South Korean Diet Has Gained Worldwide Popularity

A chef cooks a vegan beef alternative in South Korea.
Ollie Millington/Getty Images
Ollie Millington/Getty Images

The South Korean diet, sometimes called the K-pop diet, has recently gained popularity worldwide. South Korea has a unique food culture with many benefits. According to TODAY, Korean food is minimally processed and served in small portions.

Unlike other diets, South Koreans eat pickled food almost every day. Kimchi, tempeh, miso, and pickled cabbage supply gut-healthy probiotics. Koreans stress plenty of vegetables with color variety. They eat very little red meat; instead, they focus on chicken, fish, and soy protein. And despite the popularity of boba companies, Koreans don’t eat many sweets.

People Eat Plenty Of Vegetables In Israel

Vegetables are on sale at a market.
Vladimir GerdoTASS via Getty Images
Vladimir GerdoTASS via Getty Images

Israel follows a Mediterranean diet that keeps its citizens healthy. According to a survey by the Volcani Center, 80% of Israelis eat fruits and vegetables nearly every day. As for their favorite foods, tomatoes were the most popular vegetables, and citrus fruits also received a high score.

Like other Mediterranean diets, Israel highlights healthy fats. They often serve olive oil, hummus, tahini, and legumes. Their dishes include many nutrient-dense herbs. Catherine Hezser, a member of the editorial board of the Journal Nutrition, says that fresh food makes Israeli cuisine healthy too.

Icelanders Eat Local

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Icelanders are as environmentally friendly as they are healthy. Many of their meals travel straight from the farm or boat to the table. Nutritionist Lily Soutter explains that Icelandic meals are low in saturated fats and high in omega-3 fatty acids.

Nordic chef Agnar Sverrisson says that Icelanders don’t over-stuff themselves. They eat until they’re satisfied, not full, he claims. Fish, lamb, and dairy commonly appear in Icelandic cuisine. They frequently season their meals with mineral-dense herbs such as dill, sorrel, and thyme.

Switzerland Has A Different Meal Schedule

A Swedish lunch menu stands next to a tray of sliced bread.
Tim Graham/Getty Images
Tim Graham/Getty Images

The Swiss follow a different meal schedule than most other countries. They eat breakfast early, and around 9:00 a.m., they have a snack called Znüni. This custom appears across Switzerland, from schools to work offices.

Swiss citizens also enjoy two evening meals. The first is Zvieri, which literally translates to “at four.” The second is Znacht, which happens at night. According to diet expert Orsolya Szathmári, this schedule offers many benefits. The Swiss rarely snack, and they eat smaller meals that prevent binging later in the day.

Try A Well-Balanced Vietnamese Meal

A woman eats Vietnamese nem nuong grilled pork.
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Traditional Vietnamese cuisine is quite healthy. Like other Asian nations, the Vietnamese eat white rice during almost every meal. Despite all the carbs, Vietnamese meals are low in fat, mostly gluten-free, and nearly dairy-free. You won’t find many dairy products across the country.

Nearly every meal offers some vegetables and nutritious spices. Some people in the country eat soup (such as pho) for breakfast. With an obesity rate of only 2.1%, it’s no wonder why Vietnam is considered a healthy country. Their meals are well-balanced and have few preservatives.

Uganda’s Diet Is Quite Different From America’s

A  Ugandan citizen carries a plate of
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The Ugandan diet is quite different from American diets, which is probably why it’s so healthy. Most of the meals consist of cereals such as maize and roots such as cassava and sweet potatoes. You will often find seeds, nuts, and vegetables in the dishes. In cities, many people are replacing grains with rice.

Ugandans eat many raw foods, including seeds, fruits, vegetables, and nuts. According to research in The Journal of Nutrition, raw fruits and vegetables stabilize cholesterol. But no one needs to clarify that organic nuts and produce are healthy!

Norwegians Choose Healthier Bread And Cheese

Some of the 3,500 cheeses are laid out during the World Cheese Awards in Norway.
MARIT HOMMEDAL/AFP via Getty Images
MARIT HOMMEDAL/AFP via Getty Images

Norwegians are no strangers to bread and dairy products. However, they tend to choose healthier foods than Americans do. Most of their bread is dark, whole grain, and sliced thinly. They eat a lot of yogurt, which provides gut-healthy nutrients and protein.

Norway’s government is serious about healthy eating. The Norwegian ministries promote healthy eating guidelines to schools, hospitals, and workplaces. You will hardly find any fast-food restaurants in the country. According to the International Journal of Nutrition and Food Science, 69% of Norwegians eat vegetables several times per week.