How Labneh led Lebanon high on world health rankings
Despite its conspicuous consumption of tobacco, Lebanon recently found a distinct badge of prestige after being ranked as the healthiest Arab country.
The six-million strong nation was placed first among Arab countries and 32nd out of 163 countries overall in the Global Health Index, which measured life expectancy, causes of death and health risks.
For highly acclaimed Lebanese food blogger Bethany Kehdy, the news comes as no surprise and comes firmly as a result of the country's world famous cuisine.
Lebanon's much-reproduced Mediterranean diet sees an abundant use of whole grains, fruits, vegetables and fresh fish, with olive oil religiously replacing animal fat.
"For the most part when we consider the Lebanese diet, traditional cuisine and eating habits we notice that firstly and most importantly it revolves around the season which means you're eating food that is fresh, and in its nutritional prime," Kehdy, author of The Jewelled Kitchen cookbook, tells The New Arab.
For Kehdy, nutritional variety is key to Lebanon's healthy lifestyle.
"The [Lebanese] diet also revolves around vegetables with sprinklings of meat with weekends dedicated to letting loose and enjoying a lavish meat-laden grills. Fruits are also still celebrated and often as a form of dessert," she adds.
Meals are mostly balanced and include copious amounts of garlic, olive oil and lemon juice.
"A typical lunch is very balanced with a salad, stew, not overdosed on meat and a good serving of grains. The diet also involves lots of fermented foods – pickles and yoghurt always grace the table – so lots of probiotics and natural digestive aids," Kehdy says.
She also adds that cultural habits, and especially light dinners, are key.
"If we go back and really consider the traditional eating culture we notice that dinners were often simply yoghurt and cheese which much lighter and easily digestible in comparison to the balanced lunch of stew, grain and salad. The old saying goes: have lunch and nap, eat dinner and walk."
As testified by hordes of customers filling Lebanese restaurants from Rio de Janeiro to Tokyo, Lebanon's cuisine had long ago found world-wide fame.
|The old saying goes: have lunch and nap, eat dinner and walk
Kehdy says despite recent trends within the country itself, Lebanese cuisine remains the go-to option the country's citizens.
"Even though I notice our eating patterns have 'globalised' more, I think the fact that we have an excellent and varied cuisine that Lebanese remain fond of goes to show that the food offerings in themselves are very healthy!"
Other Arab states that made it on the Index list include Qatar, which ranked as the second healthiest Arab state, followed by Bahrain, the UAE and Oman.
The famous link between a Mediterranean diet and overall health was once again confirmed in Bloomberg's ranking which put Italy as the world's healthiest nation, followed by Iceland in second place and Switzerland in third.
Sarah Khalil is a journalist with The New Arab. You can follow her on Twitter: @skhalil1984