Israel is one of many Mediterranean countries praised for their amazingly healthy diets. In a survey of diet quality in about 187 countries, Israel is one of the highest ranked among developed countries.1 Here’s why Israel has a great diet.
1. Fresh Fruits And Vegetables
A majority of Israelis eat fresh fruits and vegetables at almost every single meal. In fact, an average Israeli person consumes about 160kg of fresh fruit and veg each year!2 Salads accompany almost every meal. A simple chopped salad of tomatoes, cucumber, and lettuce, dressed simply with olive oil, salt, and pepper is very common. Eggplant, zucchini, bell peppers, and onions are also quite popular. Israel grows most of its own fruit such as oranges, grapefruits, bananas, apples, plums, nectarines, grapes, dates, strawberries, and pomegranates.3 Dessert often consists of fresh fruit.
2. Spices And Herbs
Spices like turmeric, cumin, cardamom, and sumac(a tangy red powder obtained from dry flowers) are also extremely common in Israeli cooking. Turmeric has amazing anti-inflammatory as well as antibacterial properties which can ward away diseases and boost immunity.4 They also use plenty of fresh herbs like parsley. This combination of spices and herbs provides deep, complex flavors instead of the excessive amounts of sodium and fat common in processed western food.
Legumes provide much of the sustenance and protein in an Israeli diet. Hummus is immensely popular as are plain chickpeas, lentils, and kidney beans. These legume-based dishes keep one satisfied and reduce hunger between meal times thanks to their slow-release of energy. People who consume a variety of legumes often have lower incidences of type-2 diabetes, hypertension, and weight gain.5 They often show lower levels of cholesterol as well. They contain almost no fat and provide B vitamins, iron, copper, magnesium, manganese, zinc, and phosphorous.6
Fish is widely available in Israel thanks to its coastlines as well as its lakes. Fish is usually served whole, grilled or fried, dressed only with fresh lemon juice. It can also be served baked with vegetables. Often these recipes include a healthy helping of olive oil, tahini(sesame seed paste), nuts, and fresh herbs like mint or basil. Fish is a great source of omega 3 fatty acids, selenium, and vitamin D. Eating fish may reduce the risk of heart disease, stroke, and Alzheimer’s disease.7
Soft white cheeses and a kind of thick yogurt product called ‘labneh’ are also widely consumed. Labneh is a cultured dairy product and therefore provides the probiotic benefits of yogurt, increasing gut flora and therefore gut health. There is a belief that dairy can lead to weight gain when in fact, most researchers believe that dairy, when included in a healthy diet, can be beneficial for weight loss, even when these products are full fat.8 Dairy can even provide essential nutrients for bone health and prevention of diseases like osteoporosis and osteoarthritis.9
6. Olive Oil
Olive oil is one of the country’s best products. Extra virgin olive oil is full of healthy antioxidants and heart-healthy fats.10 Israeli cooking includes plenty of olive oil in things like salad dressings, sauces, and marinades. It’s the most commonly used cooking oil in the country
Eggs are a big part of the Israeli diet. Some may say that the cholesterol content in eggs is something to be wary about. But, in moderation, eggs are a great source of protein, vitamin A, vitamin D, and have been seen to keep you full for longer.11 Eggs are served poached, fried and hard-boiled with a variety of dishes. One of the most popular dishes is shakshuka which is simply eggs poached in a spicy tomato and red pepper stew.
Israeli food is definitely one of those cuisines that has it all. It’s fresh, vibrant, tasty as well as healthy. It has some great health benefits which are evident from the health statistics of Israeli citizens. Israel ranks low on most lifestyle diseases like heart disease, diabetes, and hypertension. It also has one of the highest life expectancies in the world, clocking in at an average of 81.6 years.12 This is likely, thanks to their incredible diet. Try incorporating some of these habits into your own daily diet to experience a healthier lifestyle.
|↑1||Imamura, Fumiaki, Renata Micha, Shahab Khatibzadeh, Saman Fahimi, Peilin Shi, John Powles, Dariush Mozaffarian, and Global Burden of Diseases Nutrition and Chronic Diseases Expert Group (NutriCoDE. “Dietary quality among men and women in 187 countries in 1990 and 2010: a systematic assessment.” The Lancet Global Health 3, no. 3 (2015): e132-e142.|
|↑2, ↑3||Gur, Janna. The Book of New Israeli Food: A Culinary Journey. Schocken Books Incorporated, 2008.|
|↑4||Prasad, Sahdeo, and Bharat B. Aggarwal. “Turmeric, the golden spice.” (2011).|
|↑5, ↑6||Polak, Rani, Edward M. Phillips, and Amy Campbell. “Legumes: Health benefits and culinary approaches to increase intake.” Clinical Diabetes 33, no. 4 (2015): 198-205.|
|↑7||Fish: Friend or Foe? Harvard School Of Public Health.|
|↑8, ↑9||Rozenberg, Serge, Jean-Jacques Body, Olivier Bruyere, Pierre Bergmann, Maria Luisa Brandi, Cyrus Cooper, Jean-Pierre Devogelaer et al. “Effects of dairy products consumption on health: benefits and beliefs—a commentary from the Belgian Bone Club and the European Society for Clinical and Economic Aspects of Osteoporosis, Osteoarthritis and Musculoskeletal Diseases.” Calcified tissue international 98, no. 1 (2016): 1-17.|
|↑10||Tripoli, Elisa, Marco Giammanco, Garden Tabacchi, Danila Di Majo, Santo Giammanco, and Maurizio La Guardia. “The phenolic compounds of olive oil: structure, biological activity and beneficial effects on human health.” Nutrition research reviews 18, no. 1 (2005): 98-112.|
|↑11||Vander Wal, J. S., A. Gupta, P. Khosla, and N. V. Dhurandhar. “Egg breakfast enhances weight loss.” International journal of obesity (2005) 32, no. 10 (2008): 1545.|
|↑12||At a glance: Israel. UNICEF.|