What Can We Learn From W. Africa's Eating Habits?

The West African diet, with its prevalence of fruits, veggies, whole grains and lean meats, trumps that of many of the world's developed nations. (Photo: marco mayer/Shutterstock)

Let's make one thing clear from the start: The people of West Africa do not have enough food to eat. The percentage of the population that is malnourished is higher in Sub-Saharan Africa than anywhere else in the world. But when it comes to quality, a new study has found that the West African diet is healthier than the diets of many other places on the planet. And it's one point that the rest of the world should look at more closely.

For the study, researchers ranked self-reported diet surveys from 187 countries on the basis of nutrition. They evaluated the surveys based on the consumption of healthy foods — fruits, vegetables, beans and legumes, nuts and seeds, whole grains, fish and milk — as well the prevalence of unhealthy foods such as red meats, processed meats, sugary beverages, saturated fats, cholesterol and sodium.

The result? As a whole, the world is eating more healthy foods than ever before. But we're also eating a lot of foods that are horrible for us. And the winner for the diet with the most healthy components and the least junk goes to the nations of West Africa, namely Chad, Gambia, Mali, Senegal, Sierra Leone and Côte d’Ivoire. It turns out, the West African diet of lean meats, vegetables, beans, legumes and rice trumps the kale chips and asparagus water sold as "health foods" in many developed nations. The nations of West Africa ranked better on the survey than wealthier countries across North America and Europe.

To be sure, we are doing a better job in this country of eating healthier foods like fruits, veggies and lean meats. But we cancel out those healthy foods every time we serve them up with a side of bacon or hit the drive-thru for fries after work. And it's not just our American penchant to super-size our meals that has us in trouble. The same pattern was seen in developed nations around the world. Consumption of healthy foods has increased, but it can't compete with the skyrocketing demand for junk food.

Unfortunately, the report also found that, as a whole, young people eat more poorly than older adults, a sign that the trend of the consumption of unhealthy foods will get worse instead of better.

It comes down to this: If you want to follow a healthy diet, skip the fad diets and pass on the latest superfood. Keep it simple by eating lots of fruits, veggies and lean meats while avoiding processed foods, sugary drinks, and yes — even the bacon.