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The World’s Best Diet (ESA)

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Eygló Svala Arnarsdóttir's picture

After rolling tires at the playground for about a half an hour on Wednesday afternoon, my one-and-a-half-year-old son suddenly wanted to go home.

He’s usually not the one who decides that play time is up—and often gets extremely cross at me for interrupting his game—but apparently he was starving.

Relieved that I had prepared dinner the previous day, I quickly cut some liver sausage into bite-size pieces and enjoyed watching him gobble it down.

I found it particularly enjoyable because I had made that liver sausage (lifrapylsa) myself from scratch and took pride in him having such a big appetite for the highly nutritional, traditional and completely unprocessed food.

Skyr, special Icelandic strained cheese, which is high in protein, is also something he loves. I buy it unsweetened and unflavored and mix it with bananas and strawberries.

Also before my son was born, I was conscious about upholding Icelandic food traditions and eating fish and unprocessed meat. But little did I know that I had the world’s best diet.

To my surprise, among all the world’s nations, Icelanders eat the healthiest food. This is what Jimmy Doherty and Kate Quilton of Channel 4’s The World’s Best Diet concluded after traveling the globe and comparing food habits in different countries.

When compiling the list, dietary and medical experts were consulted, as well as the World Health Organization (WHO), International Diabetes Federation (IDF), the UN Food and Agriculture Organization Food Balance Sheets, and the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).

A number of factors were taken into account, such as rates of obesity, life expectancy, healthy diet indicators, nutritional composition, alcohol intake, diabetes prevalence, heart disease and other non-communicable diseases, diet-related cancer and cultural attitudes to food.

Doherty and Quilton found that what all the nations, ethnic groups and religious groups which made it to the top of the list had in common was that their diet was comprised of food that was mostly homegrown, homebred and/or homemade, not processed much and contained Omega 3.

Icelanders scored high for their consumption of fish, meat and dairy from grass-fed livestock, offal (which is rich in protein), rye bread (which is high in fiber) and cod liver oil (lýsi). A rather low intake of fruit and vegetables didn’t tip the scales.

High longevity rates—Icelandic men are the longest-living in the world—and a clean environment (to a large extent due to the use of geothermal and hydropower) also contributed to Iceland placing first.

The oldest generations of Icelanders are the people who have stuck to the aforementioned diet their entire lives. However, it’s hardly the typical food choice for the average Icelander today.

Some other countries, like Japan, were marked down for the influence of Western food culture, but Icelanders’ love for fast food wasn’t mentioned at all. Fish and fish liver oil consumption has declined substantially between the generations and young Icelanders aren’t eating enough fish.

In the 1980s it was difficult to find an overweight child in Iceland, but today Iceland ranks 13th among industrial nations when it comes to obesity among children. In 2012 it was reported that 4.8 percent of nine-year-olds in Iceland were obese and 18.5 percent overweight.

Even though the situation is improving, the dietary habit of Icelanders remains alarming; children aren’t consuming enough fruit, vegetables, fish or lýsi (which would explain the lack of Vitamin D), and get around a quarter of their energy needs from cookies, cakes, soft drinks, juice, confectionery, snacks and ice cream.

I admit that I take pleasure in a greasy hamburger and cheesy pizza now and then and snacks and sweets over television. Ice cream is a favored dessert at my home on weekends, we sometimes have pastries with our coffee and we could and should eat fish more often.

Although I try to eat healthy most of the time and provide my son with optimal nutrition, my diet isn’t any more perfect than in most other Icelandic households. Although I’m not willing to give up on sinful treats altogether, there’s always room for improvement.

While overlooking a number of facts, Channel 4’s program was interesting and made some good points. What we should take from it is that we could have the world’s best diet—if we wanted to.

Eygló Svala Arnarsdóttir – eyglo(at)icelandreview.com

Views expressed here are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Iceland Review.