Weighing up the options
Eating habits have taken a healthier turn as people become more conscious about what they eat and actively search out options that are both tasty and good for them.
With the rates of diabetes and obesity on the rise across the region, awareness is at an all-time high and healthy food outlets are cropping up all over the UAE. Hotels have followed suit and begun offering meals tailored to those whose health is at the front of their mind when sitting down to a meal.
A recipe for well-being: What’s inside
If you are unsure of what the most nutritional foods are to put on your plate, there are some eating plans that are considered better than others and taking a look at some of the healthiest diets from around the world can provide a good base for building a plan.
The Mediterranean diet ranks highly on the list of the world’s healthiest. Based on the age-old dietary traditions of Crete, Greece, and southern Italy, the Mediterranean eating pattern is abundant in fruits, vegetables, fish, olive oil, nuts and seeds, beans and whole grains.
Studies have shown this way of eating is beneficial to your health. The New England Journal of Medicine published a study that showed following this type of reduced-calorie diet was just as effective as a diet low in carbohydrates. The study found that this eating pattern helped people lose more weight than a low-fat diet, and helped those with diabetes to better control their blood-glucose levels.
It also showed that it reduces inflammation, a risk factor for heart attacks and strokes, and may even ward off depression and lower the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease.
Another eating plan considered healthy by world standards is the DASH diet – which stands for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension – and centres on consuming less sodium. This eating pattern is rich in fruits, vegetables, fat-free or low-fat milk and milk products, whole grains, fish, poultry, beans, seeds and nuts. It is also lower in saturated fats, trans fats and cholesterol, and rich in nutrients that are associated with lowering blood pressure, mainly potassium, magnesium, calcium, protein and fibre. Although originally established to help people reduce their blood pressure, the diet is recommended for anyone because of its health benefits, which can include preventing osteoporosis, cancer, heart disease, stroke and diabetes.
It has been well documented that the lifestyle of the Japanese is one the world looks on favourably when it comes to longevity. The indigenous Okinawa islanders have an interesting diet that is 20 per cent lower in calories than an average Japanese person consumes, and is thought to improve health and slow the ageing process.
The Okinawa diet is made up of mainly green, orange and yellow vegetables, fruits, roots and tubers, which provide a rich source of antioxidant vitamins such as vitamin C and vitamin A. The diet is low in fat and limits sugar intake, which can help prevent coronary heart diseases and lower the risk of stroke. It includes a small amount of fish, but almost no meat, eggs or dairy products.
Other diets worth mentioning are the flexitarian and vegetarian/vegan diets. A flexitarian diet is a marriage of flexible and vegetarian and has been touted as “the mostly vegetarian way to lose weight, be healthier, prevent disease and add years to your life”. Essentially, it involves being vegetarian for most of the week, but allowing meat on some days. Following this type of diet involves eating all five food groups rather than eliminating them. There is a focus on “new meat” (tofu, beans, lentils, peas, nuts and seeds), fruits and vegetables, whole grains and dairy. Flexitarian meals revolve around plant proteins rather than animal proteins, which is not dissimilar to a vegetarian diet, although those who follow a vegetarian diet cut out meat completely.
Research shows that people who follow a vegetarian diet experience many health benefits including lower blood pressure, reduced risk of heart disease, lower cholesterol and a lower risk of diabetes. But, it is worth mentioning that when cutting out meat entirely you mustn’t ignore protein. Good sources of plant-based protein include lentils, whole soy, peanut butter, quinoa, black or red kidney beans, chickpeas and peas.
So, if 2015 has been marked as your year of healthy eating, then perhaps these diets are worth taking at closer look at. After all, we can all do with living longer, healthier lives, can’t we?
Updated: April 23, 2015 04:00 AM