Let’s face it. The average American diet is in desperate need of a makeover. Our “foods” are loaded with fillers, binders, trans fats, preservatives, flavor enhancers, excessive amounts of sodium and sugar, and numerous additives. We tend to eat on the run, eat too much and fry everything from Twinkies to turkeys.
Luckily, we can learn a lot from the culinary styles of other countries. Plus, the world’s healthiest foods are familiar, readily available, affordable and delicious.
If you are looking to update your own diet, incorporate these eight staples from around the world into your weekly diet.
1. Mexico: Mexican food is spicy, bold and full of variety. Chili peppers, the backbone of Mexican cooking, contain capsaicin–a spicy compound that has been found to fight cancer, prevent sinusitis, protect the heart, relieve congestion and reduce inflammation. Fresh chili peppers, red or green, are a rich source of vitamins, antioxidants and minerals including vitamin C, vitamin A, iron, potassium and copper. Plus, the chili pepper helps burn fat!
2. India: The Indian diet contains ghee, a clarified butter renowned for its medicinal and rejuvenative qualities. Ghee is a great alternative to cooking oil; it works in all kinds of recipes, adds an incomparable richness to any dish and resists smoking at higher temperatures. In India, ghee is understood to provide nourishment and to increase the body’s capacity to nourish. It keeps the digestive tract lubricated and reduces bloating while aiding in the elimination of toxins from the body.
3. Japan: Japanese cuisine offers a number of can’t miss meals because it based on a large variety of veggies, tofu and fish. Shiitake mushrooms are regarded as a symbol of longevity in Japan due to their health-promoting properties. Studies show that the shiitake can effectively lower cholesterol, strengthen the immune system, help prevent the growth of cancerous cells and aid in weight loss. Basically, the shiitake is a nutritional powerhouse that can be used in most any recipe. Shiitakes even make a great meat substitute because of their robust flavor and firm, plump texture.
4. The Caribbean: When the pineapple was first discovered in the Caribbean, it was called “anana” or “excellent fruit” because of its juiciness and vibrant tropical flavor. Since then, we have learned that pineapples have anti-inflammatory and digestive benefits. Pineapples also offer antioxidants, immune support and protection against macular degeneration. Serve your pineapples slices plain or throw a few slices on the grill with a sprinkling of brown sugar for a unique summer dessert.
5. Thailand: Thai food often incorporates coconut milk, which we are now lucky enough to find on the shelves of most grocery stores in America. The benefits of coconut milk cannot be understated; it’s packed with calcium, vitamin D and vitamin B12, and is an excellent alternative for those who are lactose intolerant. It works deliciously into recipes ranging from chicken satay to chocolate cake.
6. Mediterranean: The Mediterranean message is pretty simple: eat from the source. For example, don’t just use olive oil in your cooking – eat the olives. Dozens of health-protective nutrients have been identified in olives including hydroxytyrosol, a phytonutrient linked to cancer prevention and bone loss. Olives also provide iron, fiber and copper. One quick serving idea for olives: create an olive tapenade by putting pitted kalamata olives in a food processor with olive oil, garlic, lemon juice, fresh parsley and salt and pepper. It makes a great low calorie dip, spread or topping.
7. France: The French are well aware of the benefits of grapes, and those benefits are not just limited to the wine industry. Red and purple grapes are especially recognized for reducing the instance of cholesterol that causes heart disease, fighting off some of the signs of aging and, according to research, reducing the possibilities of cancers. In France as well as Greece, grapes may be served as a dessert.
8. Ireland: The Irish are well known for serving potatoes with nearly every meal - mashed, roasted, shredded or baked. But the potato is more than an easily accessible, relatively inexpensive comfort food; it is naturally low calorie, high fiber powerhouse that offers significant protection against cardiovascular disease and cancer. Plus, potatoes are a good source of vitamin B6, vitamin C, copper, potassium, manganese, and dietary fiber. Problematically, many Americans reduce the potato to its least healthful forms: greasy fries and chips, or overload their baked potatoes with fats such as butter, sour cream, melted cheese and bacon. Such treatment can negate the potatoes benefits and even make it a potential contributor to a heart attack.