Plenty of flavorful foods around the globe are equal parts delicious and nutritious.
Many local cuisines in all corners of the world rely on natural and unprocessed ingredients and time-tested preparation methods. Fortunately, you don’t necessarily need to hop on a plane to try some of these tasty dishes.
Read on to learn which countries not only serve up delicious cuisine but also healthy fare. Then hit up an authentic restaurant, buy a good cookbook, or start planning your own gastronomic vacation.
Greek food features many of the ingredients that make other Mediterranean cuisines so healthy, including fresh fruits and vegetables, olive oil, and yogurt.
Interestingly, the Mediterranean diet originated in Crete, the largest and most populated Greek island (
According to some research, Cretans have a high life expectancy and lower risk of heart disease than many other countries, largely because of the foods they eat (
But you don’t have to book a flight to Athens to get your hands on some good, authentic Greek food. Larger cities, including Chicago, have plenty of Greek restaurants, and you can even find authentic restaurants in smaller towns or at Greek food festivals.
For an easy way to enjoy both the flavor and health benefits of Greek food, look for simple dishes like grilled fish, souvlaki, and louvi (black-eyed bean salad).
Not all Greek food is nutrient-dense, so aim to enjoy richer dishes, such as spanakopita (spinach pie), baklava, and moussaka in moderation.
Traditional Japanese diets are rich in seafood and fresh vegetables, which may be one reason why Japan has the highest average life expectancy in the world (
Fish, in particular, is a staple in the Japanese diet, which is often rich in heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids (
Fermented soy products like miso also contain probiotics, a type of beneficial bacteria that promotes gut health (
Look for meals in which these nutritious ingredients take center stage, such as sashimi, miso soup, and veggie stir-fries. Balance those with smaller portions of noodles, rice, and fried dishes like tempura.
Rich in beans, fruits, and veggies, traditional Mexican food is delicious and healthy.
Beans, which are often used in Mexican dishes, are a great source of micronutrients like magnesium, iron, potassium, and zinc (
Similarly, avocados, corn, tomatoes, and chili peppers are jam-packed with key vitamins and minerals (
Some of the dishes you’ll see on restaurant menus today — think loaded nachos or enchiladas topped with cheese and sour cream — are Americanized versions of more traditional Mexican foods.
Authenticity is key here, as you’ll find plenty of vegetable-heavy dishes prepared in healthy ways if you’re selective about your choice of restaurant.
Korean food continues to become more popular in the United States, which is great news since Korean food is both delicious and healthy.
Among the healthiest dishes in Korean cuisine is kimchi, a fermented vegetable dish.
It’s not only considered a probiotic but also features healthy ingredients like ginger, red pepper, and garlic, and it may benefit your cholesterol levels (
Many dishes are also made with condiments like gochujang, a fermented red chili paste that adds lots of flavor and doubles as a source of gut-boosting bacteria (
There are many nutrient-rich options to choose from, including steamed or stir-fried dishes, as well as soups, stews, and rice bowls that are rich in veggies. Note that because many foods are fermented, sodium can be high in some Korean meals.
Thai food is filled with intense flavors and tends to be rich in vegetables, making it one of the healthiest cuisines on the planet.
Among the spices and flavors that make Thai food stand out are turmeric, coriander, ginger, lemongrass, and chili peppers.
In particular, turmeric contains a compound called curcumin, which has been studied extensively for its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties (
Thai food also often uses ingredients like garlic and onions, both of which have anti-cancer properties and have helped slow the growth of cancer cells in test-tube studies (
When ordering Thai food, opt for dishes that include plenty of vegetables and seafood. Enjoy noodle-based dishes, spring rolls, and fried rice in moderation.
Spain is another Mediterranean country where healthy eating is a top priority.
Fresh seafood and vegetables are common here, as are tapas, which are small plates of food that are typically shared during a meal.
In addition to keeping your portion sizes in check, tapas make it easy to add more diversity to your diet by enjoying a variety of dishes in a single meal.
Next time you go to a Spanish restaurant, order heavier items like patatas bravas (fried potatoes), calamari, and croquettes as tapas, and enjoy a large salad packed with veggies as your main course to balance your meal.
We’re not talking about deep-dish pizzas and calzones stuffed with extra cheese, but rather Italian cuisine that focuses on olive oil, fresh tomatoes and herbs, and the slow enjoyment of a meal with friends.
In fact, traditional Italian cuisine places a strong emphasis on fresh foods like seafood, whole grains, fruits, veggies, and legumes, along with lots of herbs, spices, and seasonings.
Italian cuisine also limits heavily processed foods, which have been linked to a host of health problems ranging from heart disease to type 2 diabetes, obesity, and certain types of cancer (
Salads, soups, seafood, and pasta dishes with plenty of vegetables are great options when eating Italian food. Add in an occasional glass of heart-healthy red wine, and you’ll see why Italians are celebrated for their cuisine.
Indian food is packed with flavor and typically includes a wide range of powerful herbs and spices.
For example, cinnamon, a common ingredient in Indian cuisine, has been linked to decreased inflammation, stabilized blood sugar levels, and slowed cancer cell growth (
Turmeric, cardamom, and coriander are other Indian staples that have been well studied for their anti-inflammatory effects (
Plus, many Indian dishes are vegetarian and rich in nutrient-dense ingredients like fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds.
Some Indian dishes are made with ghee, a type of clarified butter, which can bump up the calories and saturated fat in your dishes. Fried samosas, kormas, and curry dishes with coconut milk can also be high in calories, so balance them with other choices.
Tandoori chicken, kebabs, or veggie-based dishes are great alternatives, such as chana masala, aloo gobi, or rajma chawal.
Although French cuisine has plenty of indulgent dishes, that isn’t true across the board, as French cuisine can vary quite a bit by region.
For example, foods in the Provence region are rich in olive oil, seafood, tomatoes, and fresh herbs and spices. On the other hand, areas like Normandy are known more for their meat, cheese, and poultry.
However, it isn’t just the menu items that make French cuisine healthy.
In addition to offering a diverse array of dishes, French cuisine tends to focus on food quality, use local ingredients, and practice mindfulness, which involves paying closer attention to the way your food looks, smells, and tastes (
A few flavorful French recipes to add to your repertoire include ratatouille, coq au vin, niçoise salad, and bouillabaisse.
Lebanese cuisine has much in common with Greek food and is often considered the home of the world’s favorite healthy dip option — hummus.
While there are also some higher calorie meal options — mainly those that are lamb-based or feature butter — ordering a meze will present a host of healthy options, such as potato-garlic dip, eggplant dip, beans, salads, and grilled meats.
Sharing a selection of small plates when you order Lebanese food may help prevent overeating and will allow you to sample a variety of dishes to find your favorite.
Besides hummus and pita, some other healthy options to add to your list include tabbouleh, labneh, shakshouka, and mujadara.
Eating healthy doesn’t have to mean sticking to salads, tuna, and grilled chicken.
Instead, you can expand your palate by going global and enjoying a wide range of delicious delicacies from countries around the world.
Check out a few of the nutritious options listed above, and don’t be afraid to explore cuisines from other cultures as well.
Just one thing
Try this today: Nearly every cuisine offers healthy options, as long as you know what to look for. As a general rule of thumb, look for steamed, sautéed, baked, or grilled dishes that feature lots of vegetables. Enjoy fried foods and dishes that are high in added sugar and sodium in moderation.