Did you watch The World’s Best Diet’ on Monday night? Presented by Jimmy Doherty and Kate Quilton, Channel 4 dedicated a whole 90 minutes (albeit to a super-quick trip) round the globe to find the most healthy diet out of a pot of 50. Having read several reviews on this programme, some of which were pretty amusing (like this one), the general picture was that of cynicism and criticism. So the journalists don’t necessarily have a food / nutrition background, but considering the dire situation we are in regarding global obesity levels, why make such a mockery of this programme. Perhaps I am too naive. Perhaps I am too much of a ‘glass half full’ person but I genuinely thought people might actually be shocked by what they watched and just maybe, they might learn or even think about what they eat. I was both shocked and saddened to see such poor health across the globe and then felt angry towards the giant food producers Grrrr!
What the programme did do was identify the culprits in the most unhealthy diets. Unsurprisingly for me, dropping out of the bottom half were countries that rely heavily on imported processed foods and drinks. Tinned vegetables, spam, ready meals, bottles of fizzy pop full of high fructose corn syrup and sugary cereals.
England came out at 34 closely followed by Scotland (35), Wales (36) and Northern Ireland (37). We may smile smugly as the UK beat Australia and the US but out of 50 we have a long way to go. A bit embarrassing really.
So on a more positive note, here are the top 10 (taken from the Metro, 30th June 2014):
Now unless we all move to Iceland, or plan to retire in the Med (I wish!) we can’t replicate these diets exactly. But we can take note about what they do well. The common foods amongst all these countries were those that were unprocessed. Repeatedly the programme emphasised the importance of not messing with your food. The message is simple – go back to basics and eat real food!
Perhaps some viewers found it cheesy but I felt inspired by the 90-year-old Italian man growing all his own vegetables with his wife. They chopped wood and harvested their produce, made their own olive oil, pasta and passata. Now I am not saying we all need to get down the allotment and get digging but eating more fresh produce will make a huge difference to our health.
The French Paradox was explained beautifully. A country that is famous for its wine, cheese and meat, yet they have one of the lowest incidences of heart disease. Although their saturated fat intake is higher than ours at 15%, they balance this out with lots of healthy fats. In fact all of the Mediterranean countries consume a fair bit of red meat. But it’s not in huge amounts, it’s not messed with and they use traditional cooking methods. They also take time to enjoy food. The programme showed a leisurely lunch enjoyed over a relaxed conversation and I thought of the few times I actually get a decent lunch break as usually I am sat in front of my computer………Then those that were interviewed reported they stick to 3 meals a day, with fruit as a snack and portion control! You don’t have to be Einstein to appreciate this do you?
Japan was interesting. Although the thought of wriggling octopus and fermented skate was a bit much for my stomach to handle, the principle of eating lots of fish was there. In fact all of the top 10 countries ate fish regularly – at least 5 times a week, and not of the battered variety! Japan only came in at number 5 as the high intake of soy sauce (high in salt) let them down. Probably the main contributor to their high incidence of stroke.
So being positive about this programme, I am not going to say don’t eat this or that I am saying eat more of this and that.
This is what we CAN DO:
- Eat less processed food
- Cut down on sugar
- Eat more fibre
- Eat more fresh fish
- Eat more fruit and vegetables
- Eat more beans and pulses
- Watch our portion size
- Think about what we are eating; don’t eat mindlessly, eat mindfully
- Be more active
The programme ended in Iceland with Jimmy in a hot tub along side 50yr old Magnus Scheving. The star and creator of a kids TV programme called Lazy Town. He is probable the best advert for a healthy diet (looking like a 30yr old athlete) as he struts out into the snow, rolls in it then calmly steps into the hot tub. Now I won’t be rolling in the snow but I can do the hot tub if that’s going to make me healthier, provided I try to do more of the above! 🙂
Now if it was this easy, our obesity crisis would be solved. This is not an easy problem to solve at all. It needs a multi-pronged approach from the Government, food producers, consumers and advisors (and many others) but if you can just make small steps in the right direction it can really make a big difference.
If you missed The World’s Best Diet, it’s still available on 4oD here