THE ETRUSCAN DIET
The media often present the benefits of the Mediterranean and the Japanese diet, arguably some of the healthiest diets on the planet, however there is one diet that has not yet been discovered by the media, yet it is associated with longevity, a low rate of disability caused by chronic medical conditions, increasing average stature of the population, and is conducive to productivity and innovation.
So far the healthiest diets have been ranked as
The Mediterranean diet
The Japanese diet
The Scandinavian diet
But what is the Mediterranean diet? Has anybody clearly defined it to you? The most commonly understood version of the Mediterranean diet was presented by Dr Walter Willett of Harvard University School of Public Health and is based on "food patterns typical of Crete, much of the rest of Greece , and Southern Italy in the early 1960s". Good luck figuring out what that means in practical terms. I will try to help you figuring that out later on.
And what about the Japanese diet? Ever tried to make miso at home? It can take 6 months to properly prepare it. Where can you get seaweeds? And sushi has to be eaten fresh, since it will not keep. All of this poses some logistical problems for a westerner.
Trying to establish which diet is the healthiest I looked at a number of statistics including:
Rates of Overweight and Obesity
Rates of disability due to chronic medical conditions (excluding accidents)
Average stature (you would want your kids to get as tall as they possibly can, right?)
Incidence of cardiovascular disease
My conclusion is that the best diet is the “Etruscan diet” from Northern Italy.
Northern Italian regions have longer life expectancy (better than southern Italy, and rivaling even Japan), lower rates of overweight and obesity (amongst the lowest in Europe), taller statures than the rest of Italy, lower incidence of cardiovascular disease and some of the lowest rates of disability due to chronic medical conditions in the world. The Italian Government keeps meticulous records about births and deaths, so we have good data about the longevity of Italians. Japan has been plagued by scandals involving family members collecting pensions on behalf of the elderly for decades after their deaths. Some supposed Japanese centenarians still collecting their pensions were in fact dead, having died 10 or 20 years longer. In the face of such sloppy record keeping by the government, I do not think that we can rely on official statistics of life expectancy in Japan. See these articles:
The rate of disability from chronic disease is rather low in Japan, which is a positive thing, but following a Japanese diet in Western Countries may prove impractical. There is way too much sugar in Japanese Dishes. The rice used for sushi is held together by sugar, and there is lots of sugar in Teryaki sauce. And would a Japanese diet allow your child to achieve his/her maximum genetic potential concerning stature? The Mediterranean diet of Southern Italy results in a slightly higher rate of obesity between 9% to 12% (which is still much lower than the rates of of obesity in the rest of Europe or the 33% registered in the United States) compared with the Northern Italian diet. Genetic differences in the population may also play a role.
Here are the data on longevity of the various Italian regions:
and here are the data on Obesity of the different Italian regions:
As it can be seen, the “Mediterranean” regions do not do as well as the Northern Regions, with regards to longevity and obesity. Furthermore, Northern Italy, and especially Lombardy is the wealthiest, most productive and innovative part of the country. Well fed people are healthy, able bodied, long lived and productive. The statistics suggest that the diet of Northern Italy correlates with high productivity and innovation in a modern industrial society. I argue that this is the best diet in the world. If a whole country switches to the paleo diet or a gluten free diet, in 100 years we will see if they will achieve the same longevity, and low rate of obesity as the Northern Italians of 2013. Until then the benefits of those diets remain speculative.
If you ever visit Milan, go to the Temple of Etruscan food: http://www.peck.it/en
I guarantee you have never seen anything like it, and in an instant you will convert to a new gastronomic religion.
Why do I call it the “Etruscan Diet”?. Emilia-Romagna and Tuscany are famous in Italy as the top culinary regions and they were also the center of Etruscan Civilization (see map below). The Etruscans also impacted world history in many ways:
The “Sea Peoples” which in 1200 BC invaded Egypt and the Levant included the Etruscans
Rome was an Etruscan colony/protectorate during her early years. Several of the Roman Kings and many of the Consuls of the early Roman Republic were Etruscans. In its first centuries Rome was run by an Etruscan Elite.
The Renaissance started in Tuscany, the ancestral land of the Etruscans
Modern Italian is the dialect of Florence, and emerged during the Renaissance in the land of the Etruscans.