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Health habits from around the world

Mark Gale

Mark Gale

Author

Health & Wellbeing

Get more from your hols than just R&R by bringing back some inspirational health habits 

Nordic Nations Healthy Diet & Hygge

We could learn a lot by eating like a Viking. The traditional Nordic diet, rich in omega-3-packed fish, nutritious berries, healthy rye bread, mixed grains and vegetables (particularly cabbage and root veg) can cut the risk of a heart attack in women by nearly half and by nearly a quarter in men*. Finnish birch water is appearing on our supermarket shelves, too, as the latest ‘superdrink’. It keeps you hydrated, flushes toxins from the body and has just five calories per 100ml.

Nordic wellbeing trends have come to the UK, too. Last year we discovered hygge, Danish for ‘cosiness and contentment’, a philosophy embracing the joys of nature and getting together with family and friends, which boosts the feel-good hormone oxytocin. The latest Scandi buzzword is the Swedish lagom, meaning ‘just the right amount’ or ‘don’t overdo it’.

Top Tip Try to eat at least two 140g portions of fish a week, one of which should be an oily fish such as mackerel, salmon or fresh tuna.

New Zealand Nature Walks & Manuka Honey 

New Zealand has breathtaking open spaces and some of the world’s cleanest air. Take a leaf from the Kiwis’ book and discover local beauty spots to walk in. Regular walking, ideally for at least half an hour a day, can significantly cut your risk of stroke and heart disease. Getting out into nature can lift your mood, too. Find short walks near you at ramblers.org.uk. And add some immune-boosting New Zealand manuka honey to your diet. It soothes inflammation and fights colds, too.

Top Tip Try a good quality manuka honey. The higher the UMF (Unique Manuka Factor) number, the more potent the honey. Spread it on toast, drizzle on porridge, and use it in baking or in drinks.

India Spices & Mindfulness

Over 50 clinical trials have shown that curcumin, the yellow pigment in turmeric, is a potent health protector. It may guard against a variety of cancers and both lung and brain disease, as well as relieving arthritis and other inflammatory conditions such as bowel disease and lupus. A US study found that it can slow down the build-up of plaques on the brain – thought to be a prime cause of Alzheimer’s – by up to 50 per cent.

Although Indian food has a reputation for being high calorie, lower-fat options include tandoori or madras chicken with plain rice, rather than a creamy korma or passanda with pilau rice. As well as turmeric, the chilli, ginger, cardamom, cumin and heart-protective onions and garlic in Indian food are good for your overall health.

Top Tip Try mindfulness to boost your mental health. Take just a few minutes each day to ‘think in the moment’ by relaxing and focusing on your breath as it flows in and out of your body.

Spain Good Food and a Stroll

We’ve all heard about the wonderful benefits of the Mediterranean diet, which is not only delicious but is also scientifically proven to give us long life. A Harvard University study found that people who ate a Mediterranean diet were 40 per cent more likely to live to the age of 70 and less likely to develop chronic diseases, including diabetes, heart disease, Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s. The lifestyle is important, too. In Spain the tradition of an evening stroll (el paseo) boosts heart and bone health, and the social interaction is good for mental wellbeing.

Top Tip Try to eat like a Spaniard: more fruit, veg, fish and pulses; less red or processed meat and butter.

France Cheese & Wine

The French have surprisingly low rates of heart disease and obesity, even though their diet tends to be rich in cholesterol and saturated fat. This is thought to be linked to their love of red wine and even their cheese habit.

The French eat twice as much cheese as we do, but research by Aarhus University in Denmark shows that eating cheese produces higher levels of butyric acid, which boosts your metabolism and decreases your risk of obesity. And the antioxidant resveratrol in red wine may be a factor in reducing heart disease, stroke risk and cancer.

Top Tip Try red wine instead of white, but limit it to one small glass a day.

*Research by Copenhagen University

Photos: iStock, Plainpicture

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