One of the things I love the most about Vancouver is the cultural diversity that thrives throughout the city. It makes it nearly impossible to walk down Granville Street, Downtown, without playing the guess-that-language game or getting on a Translink bus without people of, at least, six different ethnicities on board. But what’s better than a multicultural society? The diverse selection of ethnic cuisines it offers, of course.
However, not everyone is willing to indulge on a food splurge. So, be it for the summer body you’ve worked so hard for or the healthy lifestyle you’re trying to maintain, here’s our list of the Top 10 Healthiest Ethnic Cuisines, compiled from similar lists by nutrition writers, Annie Corapi (of huffingtonpost.com), Angie McGowan (for babble.com) and Adrienne Turner (of askmen.com). Keep an eye out for these healthy options, not just in Vancouver, but wherever you are!
After examining various articles and studies, the verdict is universal and unchallenged. Mediterranean cuisine has been deemed THE healthiest ethnic diet. Meals in countries like Greece and Lebanon often include, a balanced combination of fresh fruits, vegetables, “dark leafy greens”, fish, grains and beans, with olive oil used as a staple ingredient. Looking for evidence? According to research conducted by Harvard University, adopting a Mediterranean diet reduces the risk of cancer and heart disease by 25%. Additionally, due to the fact that Mediterranean cuisine is comprised of healthy fats, it leaves you feeling satisfied for longer periods of time thus leading to weight loss!
And at #2 we have the Californian diet…Surprised? The United States holds one of the highest rates of obesity in the world and because of this, there is a stereotype that American cuisine consists of pretty much everything you can find at McDonald’s. However, health experts now agree that the state of California has one of the healthiest cuisines in the world. This is attributed to the fact that a majority of California’s fruits and vegetables are freshly and locally grown, indicating meals rich in nutrients (nutrients that diminish when produce is shipped around) that have little or no preservatives, and require simple preparation before being served.
Traditional Vietnamese cuisine strays from frying, rather, it depends on broths and water to cook red meat, fish and vegetables. For flavor, Vietnamese dishes are based on fresh herbs that are filled with vitamins, low in calories, and are believed to be natural remedies for ailments such as indigestion and inflammation. All these elements can be found in the popular Vietnamese noodle soup called pho – pronounced “fuh”. Pho is composed of a delicious broth that is often loaded with basil leaves, bean sprouts, freshly squeezed lemon, spring onions, cilantro, mint leaves and chili flakes, with your choice of chicken, beef or pork. A healthy fusion pho-sure!
Did you know that the oldest person on record, Jiroemon Kimura, was a Japanese man from Kyotango who lived to be 116 years old, before passing away on June 12, 2013? Or that the oldest living person at present is Misao Okawa, from Osaka, who celebrated her 115th birthday on March 5, 2013? Coincidental? I think not. So maybe eating raw fish isn’t an appetizing idea for everyone (trying it won’t hurt you!), but this doesn’t change the fact that authentic Japanese cuisine is considered to be one of the healthiest in the world. From slices of fresh, raw salmon and lean tuna to whole-soy delicacies and seaweed, the abundance of seafood and vegetables puts Japanese cuisine at #4.
This one’s for all the spice and curry lovers out there! The fusion of coconut milk and aromatic spices creates the base broth of curry dishes that Indian cuisine is internationally known for. Traditional Indian spices such as turmeric, coriander, cumin, ground chili and ginger, to name a few, are ingredients that are believed to help prevent cancer and Alzheimer’s disease. With your choice of chicken, beef or lentils, Indian curries hit the spot when you’re looking for something spicy, savory AND healthy, to eat!
When you’re watching your weight you’re probably not thinking about consuming an abundance of carbohydrates, which is what pasta, the well-known Italian staple, is made up of. But health is more than just about maintaining a healthy weight. It is primarily about providing your body with the right nutrients, which is what this frequently, yet often overlooked, ingredient used in Italian cuisine offers: tomatoes. Tomatoes contain a chemical compound called lycopene that has shown signs of helping women and men avoid breast cancer. In addition to the use of tomatoes, freshly cut or mixed into a sauce, healthy herbs such as basil, parsley and oregano are prevalent in Italian dishes as well.
A Spanish diet consists of copious amounts of vegetables and seafood, along with the regular use of olive oil. A popular Spanish dish that makes use of all these components is paella, a kind of Spanish stir-fry. If you want to lay off the carbohydrates however, a great alternative would be searching for a restaurant that serves Spanish food the Spanish way…the tapa way! Tapas are small plates of food that allow you to try everything on the table and make a meal out of it! Nutritionists suggest that this approach to eating can help some people consume smaller portions per meal but, in my opinion, it could backfire by making others feel like they have more freedom to keep eating.
Three words: Tom Yum soup. That’s all I have to say. According to studies being done in universities in Japan and Thailand, Tom Yum soup may have the capability to protect against the “cancerous-tumor growth”. The research began after it was observed that cancer, mainly cancers of the digestive tract, occurred less in Thailand compared to other countries. Similar to Vietnamese and Indian cuisines, Tom Yum owes its healing properties to the array of herbs and spices used to create the soup: coriander, turmeric, ginger and lemongrass, to name a few. Traditionally cooked with shrimp and vegetables, making it delicious and nutritious, this cancer-fighting dish definitely deserves a spot on the list!
Okay, so maybe having Mexican cuisine may seem like it’s a long way from a healthy diet but according to the University of Utah, picking the right Mexican dishes can be really beneficial for your health. Search for Mexican plates that contain the following: high-fiber beans, corn, bell peppers and tomatoes (all of these can usually be found in a majority of Mexican soups!). Similar to Italian cuisine, the use of tomatoes in salads, soups and entrees, is suspected to help guard against breast cancer. Moreover, beans and corn have the potential to prevent diabetes. Keep in mind that these nutrients can be found in authentic Mexican recipes…Taco Bell does not count.
I bet French cuisine was the last ethnic diet you thought you’d see on this page, let alone a photograph of French pastries and desserts. Yet, nutritionists, like Adrienne Turner, are strong advocates of the French diet. “It’s challenging to find an overweight person in France. Conversely, it’s hard to walk down a street in France without running into a bakery, chocolate shop or wine store,” says Turner. Despite this fact, the French have one of the lowest obesity and disease rates in the world and it is all thanks to the way they eat. When it comes to eating, the French believe that having a little bit of everything and anything is the key to keeping your taste buds satisfied. The compensation? Self-control from overeating.
The bottom line is that, yes, cuisines like Japan’s may be ranked as one of the healthiest in the world but if you decide to eat deep fried gyozas and tonkatsu the next time you’re at a Japanese restaurant…well, you get the picture. On the other hand, if you do decide that your buds are craving for something drenched in butter or covered in chocolate, do what the French do. Take your time, control your portions and enjoy every single bite. Bon appétit!