Which nation eats most healthily?

Jimmy Doherty has some surprising answers in The World’s Best Diet


In tonight’s The World’s Best Diet Jimmy Doherty tours various countries to find the best diet on offer. The results are, he says, surprising…



If I say Ethiopia, what do you think of? Bob Geldof, Live Aid, famine. Think again! We can learn from the traditional rural diet, which is still eaten in the village I visited in Chencha in southern Ethiopia. It’s a menu born out of necessity: very little meat, many wholegrains and pulses, and no processed or packaged food. My favourite discovery was an amazing grain called teff, which would be the next wonder-food if more people knew about it.

The upshot is that the Ethiopians have a very fast metabolism and very low rates of bowel cancer. Where it takes the average European two and a half fays to process a meal, it takes 12 hours for the average rural East African. I tested my colonic activity against a villager’s and go beaten – I’ll spare you the details!

Why is it good for you?

Teff is a wholegrain, making it high in fibre, but it is also rich in nutrients such as vitamic C, calcium and iron (due to tiny amounts of soil mixed into the grain). As teff is very small, more of the grain proportionally is fibre compared with other, “fatter” grains, especially domesticated modern wheat.

Experience African cuisine in Africa, with Radio Times Travel, see here for more details


We’re always being told we need at least five portions of fruit and veg a day and eating a lot of animal fat will increase our risk of heart disease. Not in Iceland! They eat rich dairy products, a lot of fatty lamb and very few vegetables – yet have very low rates of cardiovascular disease and diabetes. Their secret? Animals aren’t industrially farmed and only graze on pasture or hay. During the long, dark winters, Icelanders rely on preserved meat like pickled ram’s testicles or fermented shark. As far as I’m concerned, that was the downside to the Icelandic diet: the shark was pretty hard to stomach!

Why is it good for you?

Meat and milk from grass-fed animals contain more unsaturated fats than intensively reared animals, including omega-3 fats that have been linked to heart and brain health. Dairy foods and red meat are also high in protein, which help us feel full for longer.

Experience food in Iceland with Radio Time Travel, see here for more details

South Korea

“I’ve always eaten a lot of vegetables but since coming back from South Korea I’m trying to double it,” says The World’s Best Diet co-presenter Kate Quilton. “Over there every meal is a veritable vegetable patch – even breakfast! Their government doesn’t need five-a-day guidelines because 99 per cent of South Koreans eat vegetables every day, compared to 73 per cent in the UK. Every meal also includes a fermented vegetable side dish – the most popular is called kimchi, which is made from raw cabbage, red pepper paste, onions, ginger and garlic. It’s frowned upon to be fat in South Korea. If you’ve put on a few pounds, they’re not shy about pointing it out!”

Why is it good for you?

Fermented foods promote healthier strains of bacteria in our gut, helping to reduce the risk of bowel disease. They are also more digestible, nutrient-rich and acidic – which helps to ward off pathogens.

Experience food in South Korea with Radio Time Travel, see here for more details


See The World’s Best Diet, tonight at 9:00pm on C4