West African diets are among the healthiest in the world

West African diets are among the healthiest in the world

Eating habits are deteriorating around the world, but some countries are doing quite well.

A West African food stall in London, UK. The eating habits between the two countries are very different.

What we eat has a huge impact on our health, but we don’t pay as much attention to it as we probably should. It’s not hard to see that the world doesn’t really eat healthy – global obesity has tripled in the past 50 years and over 2 billion adults are overweight (and childhood obesity is also on the rise ). At the same time, almost a billion people suffer from malnutrition.

There is no doubt that we still have a lot to discover when it comes to the global food system. Part of this problem can be attributed to How many we eat, but another part is What we eat. In 2015, a group of researchers studied what people around the world eat.

Around the world in 2000 calories

The study only looked at the nutritional quality of what people eat, not how much they eat. In other words, they analyzed how many healthy and unhealthy foods tend to be in diets around the world, and how the two sides balance out. The study simply analyzed how diets around the world would compare if they all came to 2,000 calories per day (an important distinction given that the average American consumes 3,600 calories per day and one in 4 people in sub-Saharan Africa suffers from malnutrition). So with this important distinction, how do diets compare in different countries?

It’s probably safe to say that few people would expect the United States to top the list when it comes to healthy eating, but one would plausibly expect wealthier countries to have better diets – after all, they can afford it. But that’s not at all what the researchers found. People in sub-Saharan Africa (and West Africa in particular) rank significantly higher than wealthier countries in Europe and North America.

Surprisingly, European diets have been grossly inadequate, while some diets in parts of Africa and Southeast Asia have fared much better. Image credits: Imamura et al, 2015.

The main conclusion of the study is that in much of the world, eating habits are deteriorating. Global consumption of healthy foods has increased, but in high-income countries that have often been overtaken by rising consumption of unhealthy foods, the study found. Other countries, such as India or Uruguay, are also doing relatively well.

The team looked at the consumption of healthy foods (like vegetables and legumes) and unhealthy foods (like processed meat). They found that in many wealthy countries, the consumption of healthier foods is increasing, but this is offset by the consumption of unhealthy foods. Basically, they eat a little more healthy stuff, but a lot more unhealthy stuff; so overall, in much of the world, the quality of diets is declining.

The West African diet is high in starch and vegetables, and light in meat. It also contains a lot of fat. The staple dish in some cultures in this region is a dish called fufu, which mixes root vegetables such as yams or cassava with soup or stews. West African cuisine also features more seafood and leafy greens than the rest of the continent.

People all over the world eat many different things. Some are healthy, some less so. If you want to draw conclusions from the study, you don’t necessarily have to draw inspiration from a particular area, but you can follow certain trends. In general, diets low in processed foods are healthier, as are those low in saturated fat and red meats. Diets that contain lots of plant-based foods tend to be healthier and, of course, not eating too much (or too little) is essential for healthy eating.

The study “Diet quality among men and women in 187 countries in 1990 and 2010: a systematic assessment” was published in Cell.

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