Who are the world’s worst eaters? And what can we learn from the diets of Ethiopians and Inuits?
14 Aug 2015 - 10:54 AM  UPDATED 19 Jul 2019 - 11:19 AM

World's Best Diet is a two-part documentary series that sees Jimmy Doherty and Kate Quilton travel around the globe, looking at the dietary habits of countries, tribes and communities. Ahead of episode 1, which airs this Monday night at 9.30pm on SBS, here are some digestible facts, stats and ranks that this 2014 documentary series brings to the table. 

1. Turkey-what now?

The Marshall Islands might look like a tropical paradise, but this sea-bound nation is home to the world’s highest rate of death by diabetes. Why? The American Occupation in 1944 brought an end to the inhabitants’ hunter-gatherer diet and initiated a dependency on imported – often canned – food. Today, cheap items, such as Spam, corned beef and the ultra-fatty turkey tail, have replaced fresh vegetables and even seafood. World ranking: #50.


2. Not so ‘thrifty’

Marshall Islands’ inhabitants are also thought to possess the ‘thrifty gene’, which means their bodies put on weight quickly in times of abundance in order to survive periods of famine. This gene leaves them in greater danger of developing diabetes. The disease has become so prevalent, it’s the leading cause for amputation at the local hospital.

3. Cut down on zee vodka!

There’s one simple reason the Russian diet is ranked so poorly on the decent-to-disastrous scale: the nation loves a tipple. Nearly one-quarter of Russian men die before the age of 55 and alcohol, namely vodka, is a big contributor. The esteemed spirit leads to liver disease, alcohol poisoning, liquor-related accidents and drunken fights. Scorecard: #49. (There's plenty to like about Russian food, though. Try this vegetable-laden 'pink soup' from Golubka Kitchen.)


4. Sugar rush

Mexico comes in at #44. Traditionally, the country’s diet was based on corn, beans, vegetables and, wait for it, worms, but today one-third of Mexicans are obese. Since the nation signed a free trade agreement with the USA in 1994, junk food, sweets and sugary drinks have become pervasive. Mexicans drink, on average, half a litre of soda per day. (For healthy Mexican recipes, head here.)


5. For the love of fructose

Ah, America… home of the brave and a whole lotta fast food. We can thank President Nixon for the mass-production of high fructose corn syrup, a cheap sugar substitute now in thousands of processed products. The liquid is linked to weight gain and Type Two diabetes. The US, you rank #43. 

6. Aussie, Aussie, Aussie! Obese, Obese, Obese!

Tourists might think of Australia as a sun-kissed land of beach-worthy bodies, but it turns out we have one of the fastest-growing rates of obesity in the world, weighing in at #38.

7. Ready-made calorie overload

In the 1960s England, one per cent of males and two per cent of females were obese. Today, both of those figures sit at a startling 25 per cent! England consumes more microwavable meals than any other European nation, meaning many families are living on an unsustainable diet of meat, dairy, wheat, sugar and vegetable oil. Rating: #34.

8. Dark and stouty

Fans of Irish stout will be happy to note the dark beer contains fewer calories than many popular beers. Perhaps the Irish – rating better than Scotland, Ireland, Wales and England at #33 – are onto something. (Try this house-made stout mustard, and invite your friends over.)

Homemade stout mustard

9. Not so quinoa

Bolivia might be home to a superfood, but this South American nation doesn’t receive 'Super Healthy' status, coming in at #31. It’s said the demand for quinoa has turned the seed from a cheap staple into an unaffordable luxury for locals. We grow this great little grain in Australia too. Try this Tasmanian grower(Check out our quinoa recipe collection or try this quinoa quiche.)


10. Seed the difference

Malnutrition affects many Ethiopians, but those who can afford to shop at the outdoor markets predominantly purchase grains, pulses, vegetables and the ‘wonder seed’, teff. This unprocessed grain is high in soluble fibre and iron, and makes up two-thirds of the protein Ethiopians consume. It’s most commonly ground into flour to make injera, a flat, savoury pancake served with lentils, vegetables or, on special occasions, meat. Studies show this high-fibre, low- or no-meat diet can significantly lower the risk of colon cancer. Ethiopia, you place #24.

Ethiopian bread (injera)

11. Making light of meaty issues

For the Masai tribe of Southern Kenya and Northern Tanzania, meat, milk and cow’s blood are always on the menu. Despite the high-fat content, this diet ranks #23 in the world, as the Massais are known to possess consistently low cholesterol levels. Some believe this is a biological adaptation to the diet.

12. It’s the Inuit diet, innit?

It wouldn’t be too far-flung a theory to say the Inuits are the original Atkins eaters, gaining their energy from protein and fat, not carbohydrates. The Inuit diet, which includes seal liver, raw brain and whale skin, is surprisingly high in Vitamin C and other nutrients. That said, it’s not for everyone. Many explorers died of scurvy while consuming similar fare. Ranking: #22.

To find recipes by cuisine, head on over hereWorld's Best Diet is a two-part documentary airing 9.30pm Monday, July 22 and July 29 on SBS and then via SBS On Demand right here.