Walk through Israel’s markets and you’ll find an eye-catching array of fresh fruits and vegetables. Unlike other countries, we don’t import our produce. Consequently, the availability of fruits and vegetables is always changing.
Israel is a Mediterranean country, which means that we follow the same principals of the famed Mediterranean diet, often called the healthiest diet in the world. Our foods are a little different from other Mediterranean countries, but our diets all share certain characteristics. Our diet consists mainly of fresh vegetables, nuts, grains, legumes, fruits and healthy fats, primarily olive oil. Of course, we eat some eggs, dairy and meat, too – but not as much as other Western countries.
No one really knows for sure why the Mediterranean diet is so healthy, but it may have something to do with the high antioxidant content. Some of our staple foods, like tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, figs, dates and pomegranates are rich in antioxidants as well as other vital nutrients.
Olive oil, our primary oil and fat, is also high in antioxidants. And extra-virgin varieties, according to Authority Health, contain the most bioactive substances as well as vitamin E and other antioxidants.
Another reason why our diet is so healthy is because it’s high in two types of healthy fat: omega-3 fatty acids and monounsaturated fat. Studies have found a link between these ingredients and higher cognitive performance as well as a lower risk of dementia.
Green vegetables and berries also help protect against neurodegeneration, which is a key characteristic of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. And we love to fill our plates with vegetables in every color of the rainbow – if we can.
New research also shows that Mediterranean diets may help lower symptoms of depression and improve brain health. Our focus on eating fresh fish likely has to do with both of these effects. Omega-3 fatty acids are vital to the brain. Diets deficient in DHA, a type of omega-3, are associated with learning and memory deficits. In older adults, a DHA deficit can actually make the brain smaller, which is a sign of accelerated aging.
EPA, another type of omega-3 fatty acid, is associated with reduced depression symptoms, although doctors still don’t know how it creates this effect.
Fatty fish, like salmon, contain both EPA and DHA, which make it a well-rounded part of a healthy diet.
Israel’s inclusion of eggs, dairy and meats – all in moderation – allow for a well-rounded diet that steers clear of processed foods. Processed foods, most would argue, are the true enemy. Try eating like a typical American for a few weeks and you’ll quickly realize why it’s so important to eat fresh, healthy foods.
While the Israeli way of eating has the potential to be a model diet, we do have to be realistic. Our nutrition isn’t perfect all the time. We, too, indulge in soft drinks and desserts. Our schools don’t serve hot lunches and many children go without eating breakfast in the morning. We’re not perfect, but the core principals of our diet are a step in the right direction.