A global mindset is also not a bad way to go when thinking about what to have for dinner. We can learn a lot about healthful eating from traditional diets around the globe.

Share story

On Nutrition

It’s time to celebrate World Food Day, Oct. 16. An annual event initiated by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations in 1945, this year’s theme is “Climate is changing. Food and agriculture must, too.”

Many of the world’s poorest people — many of whom happen to farm or fish — are being hit the hardest by the increase in temperatures and weather-related disasters brought on by climate change. At the same time, food waste on a global level is huge.

Thinking globally is important when supporting actions today that will help ensure a sustainable and secure food supply tomorrow. A global mindset is also not a bad way to go when thinking about what to have for dinner. We can learn a lot about healthful eating from traditional diets around the globe.

We want our food to taste good, and the abundant use of herbs, spices and other health-boosting ingredients like lemon and lime juice, ginger and garlic makes global cuisines satisfying to our bodies and taste buds. Traditional diets have a rich culinary history, which give you a sense of culture and geography whether you are a globe-trotter or armchair traveler.

Traditional Mediterranean diets are the best studied, and arguably the best known, of world cuisines, but all traditional or “heritage” diets have certain things in common. They evolved before the current era of highly processed foods, so they don’t rely on sugar, salt and refined grains. They highlight vegetables, fruits, legumes, whole grains, nuts and seeds because these were the diets of everyday people who lived close to—or off — the land.

When exploring the world’s cuisines with an eye toward health, steer away from “Americanized” versions (authentic Mexican food isn’t slathered in cheese). One way to do this is, of course, to cook it yourself.

Here are some cookbook recommendations to help guide your fresh, flavorful, global explorations.


• “The New Mediterranean Cookbook: A Delicious Alternative for Lifelong Health” by Nancy Harmon Jenkins is a wonderful introduction to a Mediterranean lifestyle.

• “The Slow Mediterranean Kitchen” by Paula Wolfort, who lived and traveled in the Mediterranean for many years and is rightly known as the Queen of Mediterranean cooking.

• “The Cooking of the Eastern Mediterranean,” also by Wolfort, focuses on Macedonia, Turkey, Syria and the countries of the Black Sea.

Middle East and African

• “The New Book of Middle Eastern Food,” by Claudia Roden, casts a culinary net from Iran to the Eastern Mediterranean to North Africa.

• “The Food of Morocco” by Paula Wolfort. Wolfort’s last book (she retired to become an Alzheimer’s activist) picked up a James Beard award in 2012.

• “The Soul of a New Cuisine: A Discovery of the Foods and Flavors of Africa” by James Beard Award-winning chef Marcus Samuelsson. Part cookbook, part travelogue.


• “Lemongrass and Ginger Cookbook: Vibrant Asian Recipes” by Malaysian-born popular food blogger Leemei Tan.

• “At Home with Madhur Jaffrey: Simple, Delectable Dishes from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka.” Jaffrey makes the recipes she grew up with accessible to home cooks.

Latin America

• “Rick Bayless’s Mexican Kitchen,” Bayless’ second book came out in 1996, but it’s a classic.

• “The South American Table” by Maria Baez Kijac, is an award-winning collection of 450 authentic recipes. This book is also rich in information about South American cuisines.

• “Gran Cocina Latina: The Food of Latin America” by Maricel E. Presilla was the James Beard Foundation Cookbook of the Year in 2013. It offers more than 500 recipes.