DURBAN - South African bobotie scores poorly in the health stakes in new research evaluating the national cuisines of countries around the world.
Research from travel experts Hayes & Jarvis found the healthiest and unhealthiest diets from 34 countries around the world. Hong Kong's sweet-and-sour chicken and rice comes out on top for breakfast with low salt and saturated fat, and high Vitamin C, while a classic chicken tikka masala, fares poorly, ranking 64th on the list out of 102 meals. South Africa came 28th out of the list of 34 countries.
The study identifies how close the nutrients in a meal are to the recommended proportions per calorie, and is built from popular breakfasts, lunches, dinners and claimed national dishes. And it’s not just keeping trim that the research keeps track of – it features full nutritional profiles of the meals, including vitamins and nutrients, as well as cholesterol and macronutrients like protein and carbohydrates.
At the top end of the scale, the healthiest countries were:
- India: While masala dosas are on the bulkier side for a lunch option, they’re comparatively healthy, calorie for calorie, as saturated fats are lower than you might expect, fibre is very high, and micronutrients like Vitamins C and A are well balanced.
- China: Keeping to recommended carb limits and remarkably low sugars for the number of calories per meal, steamed buns, kung pao chicken and beef chow mein also keep cholesterol quite low.
- Sri Lanka: The vegetable, fish, and chicken curries that make up some of Sri Lanka’s most popular dishes all make for a lighter diet with no fatty red meat and plenty of nutrients, including the best balance of calcium across all national diets.
- Australia: Australia’s zucchini (courgette) fritters, and avocado and vegemite toast, mean that vegetable options are high. With a complement of chicken parmigiana for an evening meal, the Australian micronutrient profile is robust and salt is low.
- Oman: Much of Oman’s dietary advantage comes from its micronutrients, with vitamins, iron, and calcium all being close to recommended levels. On a larger scale, it’s not quite as healthy as the rest in the top five – but the mixed rice dishes of kabsa, the “upside-down” pot of meat and vegetables maqluba, and the porridge-like harees are worth a little indulging.
South Africa was measured on a breakfast of mielie pap, a lunch of potjiekos and dinner of babotie. which proved high in saturated fats and carbohydrates and moderately high in sugar and salt.
The unhealthiest country for a culinary tour proved to be Brazil – while it didn’t offer the unhealthiest meal around (which went instead to the meat-heavy chorizo, pork, and beef meal from Argentina), the high sugars of local granola bars and saturated fats in their moqueca de camarao (shrimp stew) drag the country down.
While the overall most nutritionally balanced meal was grilled sweet-and-sour chicken and rice from Hong Kong’s menu, it can be a bit of a heavier meal, with a standard recipe coming in at 560 calories. For those looking to keep calories down but still get a taste for a different culture, these are the healthiest light meals worldwide:
- Smoked marlin fishcakes: A meal common in Mauritius, it’s one of the healthiest meals on the study’s menu – and as well as a great nutritional balance, they tend to be lighter on calories.
- Kumara fritters: New Zealand kumara, known elsewhere as sweet potato, is a wonderfully healthy vegetable and often a great alternative to normal potatoes. As fritters, they can remain light on calories while still tasting crispy around the edges (and delicious).
- Fanesca: Though you’re unlikely to see it in Ecuador outside of the week before Easter, if you do get the opportunity make sure to try this flexible soup which usually features figleaf gourd, pumpkin, and beans – especially as it’s high in protein and generally low in calories.
- Mahamri: Despite being a Kenyan snack that most resembles a doughnut, mahamri or mandazi are small, fluffy, and usually less sweet than American equivalents. And since they’re made with coconut milk, there are still vitamins and nutrients in this bitesize, fluffy, fried dough.
Lesley Rollo, managing director at Hayes & Jarvis, said: “Food can be one of the best parts of travelling abroad. Trying new things and tasting authentic flavours is all part of the holiday experience. However, for travellers who want to stay healthy and stick to certain diets while away, it can be difficult to identify which local cuisines are best.
“This tool can’t cover every meal in the world, but offers a fantastic overview into what different cultures cook and the type of delicacies that can be found around the world. We hope the tool helps influence future travel plans and inspires travellers to try new holiday destinations and local cuisines whilst away.”
For more meals around the world, and to see the full country list click here.