1) Spain: Olive Oil
Olive oil is mandatory at every meal in a typical Spanish home, and for good reason: The country makes more than 40 percent of the world’s supply.
Benefits: Antioxidant-rich olive oil protects against heart disease by controlling LDL (bad) cholesterol levels while raising HDL (good) cholesterol. New research also shows olive oil contains a compound that has anti-inflammatory properties similar to those found in ibuprofen.
2) Japan: Soy
Soybeans are used in everything in Japan from soy sauce (as ubiquitous as ketchup) to vegetable oil, tofu and the fermented soybean paste called miso.
Benefits: Protein-packed soy is high in isoflavones, estrogen-like substances linked to the prevention of cancer and osteoporosis. But its biggest draw may be the dozens of studies showing soy is good for your heart.
3) Greece: Yogurt
The thick, creamy, rich kind of yogurt that’s traditional in Greece has been integral to Grecians’ healthy diet for thousands of years.
Benefits: Yogurt improves lactose intolerance, builds stronger bones, enhances immunity, lowers blood pressure, promotes intestinal and vaginal health and may even have anticancer and weight-loss effects. A plus for Greek yogurt, in particular, is that it doesn’t give you the sugar overload of what you usually find in U.S. grocery stores.
4) India: Lentils
India is the world’s biggest producer and consumer of lentils. Known as dal, lentils typically are served at every meal with steamed rice or bread.
Benefits: This “superfood” gives you protein and cholesterol-lowering soluble fiber, as well as about twice as much iron as other legumes. And lentils are higher in most B vitamins and folate, important for women of childbearing age because folate reduces the risk of birth defects.
5) Korea: Kimchi
Koreans eat so much of this super-spicy fermented cabbage (40 pounds of it per person each year) that natives say “kimchi” instead of “cheese” when getting their pictures taken.
Benefits: Kimchi is loaded with vitamins A, B and C, but its biggest benefit may be in its “healthy bacteria” lactobacilli, which helps with digestion.