Food

This is the Country with the Healthiest Food in the World

Did you know that a 2019 study identified poor eating habits as the leading cause of death in the world? Poor diet leads to a myriad… Samantha Davis - February 15, 2022

Did you know that a 2019 study identified poor eating habits as the leading cause of death in the world? Poor diet leads to a myriad of chronic conditions, including cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, and various types of cancer. From these totals, it’s estimated that unhealthy food choices strongly contributed to 1 in 5, or 11 million deaths annually. On the opposite end of the ranking of healthy and unhealthy foods are countries like Uzbekistan. In Israel, only 89 people out of 100,000 die every year as a result of unhealthy diet. The rate in Uzbekistan for diet-related deaths is 892 out of every 100,000, which more than 10 times the rate in Israel.

The risks associated with unhealthy eating habits are clearly not worth it. So, where can you turn for inspiration? This same study named Israel as the country that has the healthiest food in the world. Israeli cuisine is full of vegetables, whole grains, and healthy fats. Their food is also made using real ingredients, rather than the heavily-processed, high sugar foods predominant in some of the more unhealthy cuisines around the world. What is it about Israeli cuisine that makes it so healthy? From the different cooking methods that are used to the ingredients they use to prepare their foods, there’s lot of reasons that the food in Israel is some of the healthiest you’ll find anywhere in the world. Let’s take a closer look.

Access to fresh fruits and vegetables makes healthy eating choices easy. Shutterstock.

1. Easy Access to Fresh Fruits and Vegetables

Israel has a temperate climate that lets crops grow year round. Even during the coldest month in the year, January, the average low is 8 degrees Celsius, or 46 degrees Fahrenheit. Some of the staple crops in Israel include crops like chickpeas, wheat, ground nuts, and sunflowers that are available year round. Other popular produce includes tomatoes and cherry tomatoes, eggplant, apples, oranges, strawberries, melons, peppers, mangoes, grapes, pears, apricot, plums, avocados, herbs, carrots, potatoes, lemons, and grapefruits, depending on what’s in season.

Eating enough fruits and vegetables is incredibly important to a healthy diet. They are full of vitamins and minerals important to maintaining health and preventing disease. Fruits and vegetables are also high in fiber, which is important for health. Research from Harvard shows some of the benefits of eating enough fruits and vegetables include lower blood pressure, reduced risk of stroke, heart disease, and cancer, digestive benefits, benefits for eye health, regulated blood sugar, and so much more.

Access to seasonal fruits and vegetables lets produce retain it’s maximum nutritional benefit.
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2. Produce is Picked and Eaten Seasonally

Not only do the farmers around Israel grow 95% of the crops for domestic consumption, but they also ship to different countries around the world. Fresh fruits and vegetables are a major staple in cuisine and their incredibly accessible. All around populated areas of Israel, there are little markets called shuks. These are roadside stands where people sell fresh and dried fruits and vegetables, nuts, fish, and more. Not only are the goods really reasonably priced, but people can barter and make deals, too.

When produce is picked and then transported to other places, there are usually some steps taken to preserve the taste and texture during the shipping process. Unfortunately, these human interventions don’t preserve the nutritional value of the produce. Research shows that produce loses as much as 30% of its nutritional value within the first three days of being picked. Since a lot of the produce is picked and then sold at market while it is in season, it’s higher in nutritional value than produce exported elsewhere.

Olive oil is full of healthy fats for cooking.
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3. They Cook with Olive Oil Instead of Butter

Cooking and food preparation in Israel is much different than in some other countries. Israelis do not cook with butter that is loaded with saturated fats, preferring to use olive oil. Not only is olive oil healthier than butter, but it is also locally sourced. Israel produces around 16,000 tons of extra-virgin olive oil every single year from more than 81,000 acres of olive orchards, as well as smaller farms run by Jewish and Arab farmers.

Olive oil contains high levels of monounsaturated fatty acids, with a volume of about 75%. Monounsaturated fat sources are the kind that are good for you because the reduce bad LDL cholesterol and improve your overall cholesterol levels. There is also research that shows olive oil lowers blood pressure over time. One study showed that supplementing with olive oil reduced the need for blood pressure medication in 48% of people. Olive oil is also full of antioxidants that help fight inflammation through the body. Research shows that these antioxidants help prevent Alzheimer’s and reduce the risk of cancer by stopping oxidative damage to the cells. It also improves heart health and benefits the lining of your blood vessels.

Sunflower seeds are a popular and healthy snack.
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4. Their Diet is Rich in Seeds, Nuts, and Fish

Seeds, nuts, and fish are major staples of Israeli cuisine. It’s a major fishing industry because Israel has three major bodies of water, including the Sea of Galilee, the Gulf of Aqaba, and the Mediterranean Sea. Israel also has 28.8% agricultural land, so there are many acres of fields and orchards where seeds and nuts are grown. Sunflower seeds have a long history of being a favorite snack in Israel and they also consume pine nuts, pistachios, almonds, cashews, peanuts, and hazelnuts.

One of the reasons that seeds, fish, and nuts are all healthy is because they have a high content of healthy fats. Fish is high in Omega-3 fatty acids. Some of the benefits of consuming omega-3 fatty acids include healthy brain function, reduced blood pressure, better heart health, reduced inflammation, improved mental health, and reduced risk of diseases including Alzheimer’s, diabetes, arthritis, and heart disease. Seeds and nuts are full of fiber, as well as rich in healthy fats that reduce inflammation through the body. These fats also reduce bad cholesterol, help manage blood pressure, and even reduce the risk of heart disease. As an added benefit, nuts and seeds have nutrients like B vitamins, vitamin E, minerals like zinc, calcium, and potassium, as well as antioxidants.

Israeli cuisine is similar to the Mediterranean diet, which has many health benefits.
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5. Israeli Cuisine Has Similarities to the Mediterranean Diet

While Israeli cuisine is a melting pot of different cooking techniques and cultures, at the heart of it is many similarities to the Mediterranean diet. The Mediterranean diet has basic tenets of reducing the amount of processed foods, red meats, and sugar consumed in the diet, in favor of fresher foods and a diet rich in whole grains. According to Harvard University, there are many benefits of the Mediterranean diet, including reduced cardiovascular disease, stroke, and overall mortality, decreased inflammation in the brain for more graceful aging and a reduced risk of Alzheimer’s and dementia, and decreased risk of cancers.

The traditional food eaten by Israeli people natural aligns with the Mediterranean diet. They eat staples like fish, fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and nuts and seeds because they have extensive agricultural land and access to fish. Not only is it more nutritious, but it is more affordable because it is not stored or shipped anywhere. Instead, it’s sold in markets to the people of the country and visitors, with only a small percentage of food leaving the country as exports.

Eating together with family and community has many benefits.
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6. The People of Israel Share Communal Eating

Eating is something that brings people together in Israel. Even families that do not practice Judaism have Shabbat dinners on Friday and it’s common practice for communities to eat together. Barbecues, large dinners, and celebrations are common even when it isn’t a major holiday. This relaxed way of eating has many benefits, from giving you the chance to create new connections and strengthen bonds to helping you control portion size.

Not only do families eat together, but children are also encouraged to help with food preparation. This encourages bonding in the family unit and also gives children a chance to learn about food preparation. As they learn more, many of the ideas behind Israeli cuisine are passed down to future generations. This ensures longevity and good habits are passed down as well.

7. Israeli People Choose Healthier Meats Because of Kosher Eating

The country of Israel was established in 1948, following the second World War with the idea that it would serve as a new homeland for Jewish people. Its cuisine has been heavily influenced by the surrounding countries of northern Africa, including Egypt, Tunisia, and Morocco, as well as the countries of Jordan, Lebanon and Syria. Israeli cuisine has also been influenced by the foods that were most available, which is why their diet is based on crops that they grow, animals that they raise, and fish that they catch. Fish, lamb, pork, and poultry are some of the most popular meats in Israel. Cattle is also imported, but Israel’s

Meat Law of 1994 prohibits importing cattle unless they are raised and slaughtered according to Kosher practices, so most beef is kosher. Pork is also available, though pigs are considered a non-kosher meat and it is not eaten by practicing Jewish people, which make up 73.3% of the total population of Israel. The Israeli population is also 21.1% Arab, who also practice Kosher eating. With Kosher eating, you always know what is in your food because Kosher food must be prepared in a certain way. It is also prepared without additives. Produce and livestock also are inspected for quality, so it’s easy to get the best quality product with the most nutritional value. Furthermore, since meats and dairy products cannot be prepared together, some high-carbohydrate and high-fat foods like lasagna, pizza, and cheeseburgers.

Israel has the highest vegan population in the world.
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8. Israel is Very Vegan-Friendly

Many people in Israel are vegan, which is no surprise with all the fresh produce and meat alternatives available to them. A 2017 survey of the population showed 5% of the population was vegan, with 13% identifying as vegetarian. This is the highest vegan population in the world, with 300,000 Israeli people being vegan. One of it’s largest cities, Tel Aviv, is even considered the Vegan capital of the world, with 28 Vegan restaurants in this city alone.

With so many people being vegan, there are plenty of options at fast food restaurants and roadside stands. Israel’s temperate climate that allows so many crops to be grown also makes it easy to be vegan. Shuks and markets offer plenty of options for people who choose this lifestyle. Plus, the widely varied diet of Israel that incorporates protein-rich vegan food sources like nuts, chickpeas, and whole grains makes it easier to find balanced nutrition. There are many benefits of incorporating more fruits and vegetables into the diet, vegan or not. Following a plant-based diet encourages healthy digestion and reduces certain cancers like colon cancer, reduces cholesterol levels, reduces the risk of heart disease, makes it easier to manage weight, and helps manage blood sugar and reduce the risk of diabetes.

Israel street foods are affordable, delicious, and made from healthy ingredients.
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9. Street Vendors and Restaurants Offer Healthier Prepared Food Choices

In the United States, it’s nearly impossible to drive through a populated area without seeing a fast food restaurant. This is not a big surprise, since there are 204,555 fast food restaurants like McDonald’s, Wendy’s, and Taco Bell in the United States alone.

Even though Israel does have fast food restaurants, they don’t have anywhere near the amount found in the United States. People are much more likely to buy their food from street vendors that prepare traditional Israeli dishes that are both healthier and more affordable than stopping at the local McDonald’s. Even the fast food restaurants there have taken steps to be healthier with Israeli healthy eating initiatives. McDonald’s came out with a vegan burger made from wheat and soy in 2018.

Furthermore, the locals and people traveling through Israel are much more likely to stop at a roadside vendor. Street vendors can be found all over Israel, particularly in busy downtown areas where they can literally be found on every corner. It’s not uncommon to find pita stuffed with delicious meats, hummus, kebabs, roasted nuts and seeds, and so much more. Meats are much more likely to be prepared on a grill than it is to be fried and even their drinks like coffee and fresh fruit/vegetable juices are healthier.

Israeli cuisine has less sodium, reducing the risk of several diet-related conditions.
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10. Lower Sodium Intake Reduces the Risk of Cardiovascular Disease

In Israel, processed foods are not as readily available as they are in countries like the United States. While there are fast food restaurants, many prefer the food prepared by vendors using more traditional and healthier cooking methods. According to the CDC, the primary source of sodium in the average American’s diet comes from prepared food and processed foods, rather than salt added at the table and during the cooking process. Israeli cuisine is one of the most healthy because salt isn’t used as heavily when you are cooking with fresh food. They season meats, vegetables, and sauces, but the total sodium content is much lower than what is found in processed foods.

By reducing salt intake, people also reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, and other conditions that may ultimately lead to death. In countries like America, many people exceed this recommended amount. The average American consumes 3400 mg of salt every single day, much higher than the maximum amount recommended by the American Heart Association, 2300 mg and the ideal amount of 1500 mg. This surplus of sodium causes spikes in blood pressure that leads to chronic high blood pressure, narrows and hardens the arteries, and raises the risk of cardiovascular disease, heart attack, and stroke in the long-term.

Hummus and other healthy condiments add nutrition to food instead of empty calories.
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11. They Use Healthier Condiments

Some of the most popular condiments in countries like the United States are ranch, mayo, ketchup, and cheese-based sauces. These are full of fat and sometimes even sugar, adding extra calories to foods that might not have been so healthy to begin with. In Israel, the condiments are full of ingredients that are good for you. In addition to adding flavor to food, Israeli condiments add nutritional value. Some of the most popular condiments in Israel include:

  • Labneh– Labneh is a creamy, white spread that is made from the whey leftover when Greek yogurt is strained. The result is a thick, yummy mixture that tastes great spread on pita bread with meats or roasted vegetables, as a dipping sauce with falafel balls, or spread on other bread products. Labneh is rich in probiotics and high in calcium, even though it is easy to digest by people who have lactose intolerance.
  • Tahini– This paste is made using ground sesame seeds and has a sweet and savory taste. Olive oil is sometimes added for a smoother, richer consistency. Tahini can be stirred into soup, eaten with falafel, drizzled on toast, or even used as a dip with fresh veggies. Sesame seeds have a lot of nutritional value and contain many vitamins, including manganese and calcium.
  • Hummus– Hummus is made by blending chickpeas with tahini, olive oil, lemon, garlic, and sea salt. It can also have other flavors added to it. Hummus is used for almost anything, from spreading on sandwiches to dipping veggies. The main ingredient, chickpeas, are high in fiber, as well as nutrients like calcium, iron, folate, and manganese.
Whole grains are rich in dietary fiber and nutritionally better than processed grain products.
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12. They Eat Whole Grain Carbohydrates

Whole grains are another food group commonly enjoyed in Israeli cuisine. Unlike processed, white grains that are popular in some countries, whole grains are made while leaving the kernel of grains intact. Even though processing grains makes it easier to keep them fresh, the grains also lose significant nutritional value.

Eating a diet rich in whole grains is important for many reasons. Bran and fiber break down more slowly than glucose, so they help maintain healthy blood sugar levels instead of causing spikes, which can help manage diabetes or prevent it. There has also been research that shows fiber stops the formation of blood clots to reduce the risk of heart attack and stroke and lowers blood cholesterol. Additionally, fiber helps with healthy digestion and benefits the digestive tract.

Spices are predominant in Israeli cuisine and offer numerous health benefits.
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13. Israeli Food is Rich in Spices for Added Health Benefits

Did you know that eating enough of the right spices is beneficial to your health? Spices are something prominent in Israeli cuisine. Individual spices are sold all over markets and they also sell spice blends like Za’atar, which is a blend of different herbs native to that region. Here are some health benefits associated with popular spices in Israeli cuisine:

  • TurmericTurmeric is a bright, yellow color that is known for fighting inflammation through the body because of its antioxidant powers. Since low-level inflammation is responsible for most chronic western diseases, it’s no surprise that it reduces the risk of cancers, prevents Alzheimer’s disease and cognitive decline, relieves arthritis symptoms, and reduces the risk of heart disease.
  • Cinnamon– This spice is another popular additive to spice blends because of its warm aroma and taste. It also has many health benefits, including being an antioxidant, lowering cholesterol, boosting metabolism, and lowering blood sugar.
  • Cumin– Cumin has a distinct flavor common in many types of cuisine. It is a nutrient-dense spice, having potassium, phosphorus, and thiamine. It also has digestive benefits and helps many conditions associated with diabetes.
  • Cloves– Cloves have a strong taste and an even stronger antioxidant content, having the most antioxidants out of all common spices and herbs. They are a common additive to spice blends and teas, especially since they are a natural painkiller and antiseptic.
  • Nutmeg– This warm spice also tastes great in Israeli spice blends, especially with the slightly nutty flavor. It has powerful anti-inflammatory compounds and also helps purify the kidney, which is essential for removing toxins from the body.
Nutritious Israeli salad is eaten with most meals.
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14. Israeli Salad is Incredibly Popular

It’s not uncommon for Israelis to eat salad with every meal. In some countries, salad is loaded with so many high-calorie toppings that it isn’t really healthy anymore. By contrast, Israeli salad is generally made from cucumbers, tomatoes, and onions. Tomatoes and cucumbers are incredibly hydrating. Plus, tomatoes are full of a powerful antioxidant called lycopene, which has been linked to reduced rates of heart disease and cancers. Israeli people eat plenty of them, with statistics showing that they eat an incredible 140 tons of tomatoes every single year.

The salad vegetables are dressed are dressed with a blend of olive oil, vinegar, lemon juice, and seasonings. This dressing is a much healthier option than the “ranch” popular in other countries. On average, two tablespoons of ranch contains around 140 calories, 14 grams of fat, 260 mg of sodium, and just under two grams of carbohydrates. Even though the olive oil does add some fat to Israeli salad dressing, it is healthy polyunsaturated fats. The dressing is also significantly lower in sodium.

Healthier beverages like fruit and vegetable juice are also popular in Israel.
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15. Israel Has Healthier Drink Choices

In many Western cultures, drinks are full of sugar. Sodas are popular and juices, which are supposed to be healthy, contain so much sugar that a lot of the health benefits are lost. People in Israel drink a lot of water, especially during the hotter summer months. The government has even discouraged sugary drinks by imposing a tax on them, in an effort to encourage healthy beverage choices. There are many healthy beverages popular in Israel, including:

  • Fruit and vegetable juices– With so much fresh produce available, it’s no surprise that fruit and vegetable juices are popular. These are fresh, though, which lets the juice retain its nutritional value. They also don’t have sugar, preservatives, or other unnecessary ingredients added. Pomegranate juice is one of the most popular, but there are many others, too.
  • Limonana and Rimonana– Limonana is made with lemon and mint and it’s most popular during the summer months. Rimonana is made from pomegranate juice and mint, which is more popular during the fall and winter because of the growing seasons.
  • Water– Israeli people also drink a lot of water, especially during hotter months. The people of Israel have many water conservation processes because fresh water in the area is limited. Most of their water comes from the Mediterranean Sea and is de-salinated before use.
An Israeli breakfast plate provides fuel for the day.
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16. They Eat Big Breakfasts

In Israel, big breakfasts are common. Eating breakfast has a lot of health benefits. It gives your body energy to move and do what it needs to during the day, rather than relying on reserves and reduces brain fog. Starting your day with breakfast is also important for preventing insulin resistance. If you are skipping at least 5 days a week, there is a 55% greater chance that you’ll develop Type 2 diabetes later in life.

Of course, the food you’re eating for breakfast matters, too. An Israeli breakfast isn’t full of sweet, processed breads and high-carbohydrate foods like pancakes or waffles. Instead, Israeli breakfast has healthy components like traditional Israeli salad, fresh vegetables, and high-fiber porridge. Healthy sources of calcium and protein are also included with sides of cottage cheese and labneh. One of the most popular breakfast dishes is shakshuka, a tomato-based dish that has been topped with eggs and baked. People may also dip toast in it, but of course the bread in Israel is made from whole grains full of fiber that are a healthier option for breakfast, too.

Pomegranate seeds are high in fiber and the juice has high vitamin C content that reduces inflammation in the body.
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17. Pomegranate is a Popular Choice

Pomegranates are one of the seven indigenous fruits mentioned in the bible, alongside other choices you can find through Israel including dates, figs, olives, grapes, wheat, and barley. It’s most common to see these on the table around Rosh Hasana, or the Jewish New Year, because pomegranate trees ripen in early fall. In addition to eating the beautiful red seeds raw, the people of Israel drink pomegranate juice and use it in dressing and marinades.

When eaten raw, the seeds themselves are full of fiber and other nutrients. The juice of a pomegranate is full of antioxidants and even has 40% of your daily value of Vitamin C. In fact, pomegranate juice contains three times the amount of antioxidants as red wine or green tea. These antioxidants fight inflammation and free radicals throughout the body. Some of the diseases they fight off include various cancers, heart disease, arthritis, and Alzheimer’s disease. There’s even some research that pomegranates reduce the risk of insulin resistance and help manage conditions like diabetes and high blood pressure.

18. Israel Loves Dried Dates

Locally-grown dates are another popular item that you can find at roadside stands and shuks. Dates are incorporated into the average Israeli’s diet in several ways. They are most commonly eaten in their dried form and might even be stuffed with walnuts. The people of Israel also use the nectar from the dates. It can be added to sauces, stews, and marinades and even swapped out for sugar and used as a healthy sweetener.

One of the unique things about dates is that they preserve well, so they can be dried without ingredients like sulfur dioxide or potassium sorbate. Plus, dates have tons of incredible health benefits from being a fiber-rich food that’s also full of antioxidants. Research shows that dates are high in iron, which helps prevent anemia. With them having high concentrations of sugar and fiber, they are great for an energy boost. It’s even common for them to be used during fasting periods in Israel and other Middle Eastern countries for this reason. Dates also have other key vitamins and minerals, including calcium, phosphorus, zinc, selenium, several B vitamins, and more.

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