What we put into our bodies is important at every age, but even more so later in life.
As we grow older, we become more at risk from age-related health conditions, including diabetes, heart disease, dementia, and cancer. Good nutrition can not only help reduce this risk – it can actually help you live longer.
Healthy eating is proven to improve mood, enhance cognitive function, strengthen bones, boost immunity, and keep your mind and body feeling their best.
In this article, we’ll look at why good nutrition is so important as we age, and how we can learn to adopt healthy eating habits from some of the world’s healthiest countries.
Where are the world’s healthiest populations?
Author Dan Buettner and National Geographic have spent over a decade identifying hot spots, or “Blue Zones,” of longevity around the world.
These places dotted across the globe have high concentrations of people living over 100 years, and groups of individuals who have aged without typical age-related conditions such as heart disease, cancer, or diabetes.
And it seems that nutrition and healthy eating habits play a significant role, with diets rich in healthy fats, vegetables, soybeans, grains, nuts, and non-processed foods. These communities include:
- Loma Linda, California
- Nicoya Penninsula, Costa Rica
- Ogliastra Region, Sardinia
- Okinawa, Japan
- Ikaria, Greece
There are also several health-conscious counties identified by The Bloomberg Global Health Index (ranking countries based on variables such as life expectancy, environmental factors, and health risks), that focus on clean and healthy eating as well as physical activity.
6 of the world’s healthiest countries
Here are six of the healthiest countries, where nutrition and the healthiest diets are a part of everyday life.
Israel has the lowest number of diet-related deaths in the world, thanks to a diet rich in fish, dietary fibre, fruits, unsaturated fat, and vegetables and limited amounts of unhealthy foods. Israelis eat less saturated fat than most Westerners and have among the lowest rates of cholesterol in the world.
Studies have also shown that the diet of Israelis actually improves with age, with adults in their 50s and 60s eating the healthiest foods.
A typical Swedish diet is low in carbohydrates and high in healthy fats, and many of the population enjoy long daily walks and cycling. Swedes also have a high average life expectancy of 82 years.
Though they typically consume less fresh fruit and veg than in some countries, they enjoy diets rich in berries, fish, dairy, rye, and locally and quality-sourced meats.
Japan has the oldest population in the world, and what the Japanese eat plays a crucial role. Because Japan is an island, it enjoys a natural abundance of fresh fish, which its residents complement with carbohydrates, vegetables, fruit, and meat. In Okinawa, they live by hara hachi bu – which means stopping eating when you’re 80% full!
An abundance of delicious fresh fish and locally sourced free-range meat are two of the main components of Iceland’s healthy eating habits. Their diet is naturally low in saturated fat and high in omega 3, which is essential to help prevent heart disease and stroke, as well as protecting against cancer.
While the thought of paella might make you question the idea of Spain being one of the healthiest countries, the Mediterranean diet is actually incredibly good for you! In fact, Spanish cuisine is packed with healthy fats such as high-quality olive oil, lots of fresh locally produced vegetables, grains, fish, and lean meat for protein.
South Korea is home to one of the world’s healthiest populations, thanks to a diet consisting of rice, fish and vegetables. These include Korean favourite kimchi – a delicacy consisting of fermented vegetables and seasoned with garlic and chilli – and bibimbap, which involves rice, vegetables, and a small portion of meat.
While the South Korean diet includes a lot of carbohydrates, they stick to healthier, unprocessed versions, such as brown rice and grains.
Why are healthy eating habits important for older people?
Despite the fact that new cells regenerate in your body, your bones, organs, skin, teeth, brain, and nervous system still age, and become less resilient over time. As a result, there are challenges that older bodies face more than their younger counterparts.
Nutritional deficiencies in older age can contribute to inefficiencies in your body’s ability to fight certain diseases and conditions. Put simply: what you eat can make a difference. For many age-related diseases, balanced, healthy nutrition can play a vital role in modulating these conditions.
When we eat well, we age well. So, what can we learn about the eating habits of some of the world’s healthiest populations?
Healthy food options for older adults
As well as making sure you remain active as you age, the countries that have the healthiest people concentrate on incorporating healthy, natural, locally sourced, and unprocessed food into their diets.
There are key food groups, components, and eating habits we can learn from this that can help you and your body feel healthier, so incorporating them into your diet is crucial.
To improve your health and help reduce the risk of contracting age-related diseases, try including these foods in your diet on a daily basis:
- Drinking enough water – aim for up to eight glasses a day.
- Antioxidants protect you against disease. Enjoy foods such as artichokes, blueberries, strawberries, beans, raspberries, kale, spinach, beets, goji berries, red cabbage, and even a bit of dark chocolate.
- Vitamins, from food and supplements if you need them. Key vitamins to ingest include vitamin A, all the B vitamins, vitamin C, vitamin D, vitamin E, and vitamin K.
- Fibre-rich foods such as beans, lentils, broccoli, berries, popcorn, whole grains, apples, and dried fruit.
- Lean protein such as chicken, turkey, fish, dairy products, oats, egg whites, beans, legumes, broccoli, almonds, and Greek yoghurt.
- Healthy fats, including olive oil, avocados, nuts, salmon, trout, herring, vegetable oils, walnuts, and canola oil.
Remember to choose foods with little or no added sugar, and avoid saturated fats and salt where you can.
Make healthy eating habits a part of your life at Santhem
No matter your age, eating well and focusing on nutrition is key for improving your health, and keeping your body and mind feeling well.
To find out more, give our friendly team a call today and we’ll be happy to answer any questions you might have.