Written by Anastasios Tsitlakidis
It's dinnertime, and you're craving something with a little flavor. Maybe you'll grab Indian takeout or whip up a taco salad. But, uh-oh, these days it's easy to find yourself biting into the ethnic version of a triple burger and fries.
Enjoy global cuisines in their purest state, on the other hand, and you get meals that are light, nutritious, and incredibly yummy. So we asked experts to rank the 10 healthiest cuisines and reveal what makes them good for you.
There's a good reason docs love the Mediterranean diet: Traditional Greek foods like dark leafy veggies, fresh fruit, high-fiber beans, lentils, grains, olive oil, and omega-3-rich fish deliver lots of immune-boosting and cancer-fighting ingredients that cut your risks of heart disease, diabetes, and other diet-related ailments.
In fact, eating a traditional Mediterranean-style diet is associated with a 25 percent reduced risk of death from heart disease and cancer, according to Harvard University research. And people lose more weight and feel more satisfied on this type of diet, which is rich in healthy fats, than on a traditional low-fat diet, another Harvard study suggests.
This cuisine also ranks high because of how it's eaten, says Miller, who is also an associate professor of family medicine at the University of California, San Francisco.
"The Greeks often share small plates of food called meze," she says, having just a bite of meat along with low-cal, healthy Greek staples like fresh seafood, slowly digested carbs (beans, eggplant, or whole-grain breads), and small portions of olives and nuts.
If you're eating out, order grilled fish and spinach or other greens sautéed with olive oil and garlic.
"This dish gives you the anti-inflammatory combo of olive oil and greens with the blood-pressure-lowering effects of garlic," Miller says.
Danger zone: Unless you make it yourself and go light on the butter, the classic spinach pie (spanakopita) can be as calorie- and fat-laden as a bacon cheeseburger.
2. California Fresh
You don't have to live on the West Coast to reap the body benefits of the California style of cooking. California Fresh is all about enjoying seasonal, local foods that are simply prepared -- and that's a healthy style you can adopt no matter where you live, says supermarket guru Phil Lempert, a leading consumer trend-watcher.
Eating plenty of disease-fighting, naturally low-cal, nutrient-rich fruits and vegetables from a local farmers' market or farm is good for your body, and it's satisfying, says Frances Largeman-Roth, R.D., Health magazine's senior food and nutrition editor.
"Foods grown locally are going to taste better and may have more nutrients," she explains, while produce that's shipped cross-country after being harvested can lose vitamin C and folate, not to mention flavor.
And what should you whip up from your local riches? Chef Annie Somerville at Greens Restaurant in San Francisco serves orrechiette with mushrooms, broccoli rabe, Italian parsley, hot pepper, olive oil, and Parmesan cheese, or grilled veggie skewers over quinoa or couscous.
Danger zone: Relying on high-fat cheese to flavor veggie-based dishes is not a waist-friendly move, Largeman-Roth warns.