Your holiday destination could help protect your health

Your holiday destination could help protect your health

Rob Hobson identifies 5 of the best holiday destinations for good health

It’s that time of year when many of us look forward to a well-deserved holiday to chill and restore our wellness, but could our choice of country and its typical cuisine help to match some of our key long-term health concerns?

Brits abroad

Where we choose to spend our holiday varies and the choice boils down to many factors, but according to a survey carried out by ATOL, of over 4000 Brits, the top ten most popular destinations include:

  1. Spain
  2. USA
  3. Italy
  4. Greece
  5. France
  6. Portugal
  7. Caribbean
  8. Australia
  9. Canada
  10. Cyprus

Nutrition gaps amongst the UK population

The National Diet and Nutrition Survey (NDNS) is a rolling program that assesses the dietary intake of the UK population.  This latest version of the survey is a combination of years 7 and 8 (2014/15 – 2015/16) and provides insight into the foods people eat, nutrients gleaned and adherence to public health guidance around nutrition.  The findings from the latest survey show that there are still gaps in the diet of many adults and this could be contributing to their state of health.  

Overall findings:

  • Not enough oily fish
  • Too much sugar
  • Too much salt
  • Too much saturated fat
  • Not enough fibre
  • Not enough fruit and vegetables
  • Low intakes of magnesium, iron, potassium, selenium, zinc and vitamins A and B2 amongst a significant percentage of the adult population

Key health concerns and leading causes of premature death in the UK

Protecting our long-term health is a major concern, particularly as we get older.  According to data from the Office of National Statistics the leading causes of death are:

  1. Heart disease
  2. Dementia and Alzheimer’s disease
  3. Stroke
  4. Flu and pneumonia
  5. Cancer

Research has shown how diet may play a key role in all of these health conditions.  The specific foods and food groups highlighted by research could allow you to make the most of the cuisine at your favourite holiday destination and may help to inspire and influence the way you eat.

Heart Disease
Portugal – Oily Fish

The term, ‘coronary heart disease’ describes the effects of a blocked or interrupted supply of blood to the heart, which is often the result of a build-up of fatty substances in the arteries.  Over time, arteries can become furred up with fatty deposits by a process known as atherosclerosis.  Diet related risk factors include high cholesterol, high blood pressure and diabetes, which are often linked to body weight.

Maintaining a healthy body weight and eating a balanced diet have been shown time and again to reduce the risk of heart disease.  One food in particular that is often associated with protection against heart disease is oily fish.  These fish include fresh salmon, tuna, trout, herring and mackerel but intake in the UK is low.  Oily fish contain omega 3 fatty acids that need to be obtained from the diet.  Omega 3 fatty acids are thought to increase good cholesterol, thin the blood and reduce inflammation.

Research carried out by the Farming and Agricultural Organisation has shown that Portugal has the highest yearly intake of fish amongst the EU member states at 53.8kg per person, which is over two and a half times more that the global average of 19kg.

Dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease
Italy – The Mediterranean Diet

Dementia currently affects 850,000 people in the UK and is fast becoming one of the leading causes of premature death.  There has been lots of research associating nutrition to a reduced risk of dementia but as of yet, evidence is still lacking.  It does appear though that people who follow the Mediterranean style of eating tend to have a lower risk of dementia and that by protecting your heart against disease you could also be future-proofing your brain health.

Italy offers the best of the Mediterranean diet with an abundance of fresh fruits and vegetables, fish and wholegrains.  Olive oil is at the heart of Mediterranean cuisine and is rich in both healthy monounsaturated fats and antioxidant compounds that help to reduce inflammation.

Stroke
Caribbean – Low Salt Diet

One of the key dietary risk factors for this cardiovascular disease is sodium (salt), which in excess can lead to high blood pressure.  Often termed, ‘the silent killer’, high blood pressure is difficult to detect unless you get checked out by your GP.  Average salt intake in the UK is higher than recommended at 8g per day (no more than 6g is the guidance) and this is often consumed through processed foods.

A review of global salt intakes published in the British Medical Journal showed that the Caribbean had the 4th lowest intakes above certain regions of Africa and was part of the 25% of countries with intakes considered to be low.

Flu and Pneumonia
France – Probiotic Yoghurt

Influenza is a debilitating virus that raises your body temperature and causes symptoms such as aches, coughs, headaches and nausea.  The condition is more perilous to vulnerable people such as the elderly or those already ill with a weakened immune system. 

Probiotics are bacteria shown to benefit health.  The most widely researched strains include Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium.  Whilst closely linked to gut health, research is beginning to reveal the many other potential roles that gut bacteria may play.  One area of research is centred around immunity and it is understood that as much as 70-80% of immune cells are located in the gut.

Probiotics can be taken as a supplement such as Healthspan Super 20 Pro (£18.99 for 60 capsules) or in foods such as live yoghurt.  Of all the most popular holiday destinations, France has the highest intake of yoghurt with an average of 280 servings (125g) per year.

Bowel Cancer
Greece – Wholegrains (fibre)

Bowel cancer is the fourth most common cancer in the UK and is responsible for more than 16,000 deaths each year.  It is also one of the most preventable cancers and the World Cancer Research Fund estimates that about 45% of cases could be prevented in the UK each year through healthy lifestyle changes that include eating less red and processed meat, drinking less alcohol and maintaining a healthy body weight through diet and exercise.

Recent research findings from the World Cancer Research Fund and the American Institute for Cancer Research have revealed that eating more wholegrains such as brown rice or whole-wheat bread can reduce bowel cancer risk.  Eating three servings (90g) of wholegrains a day appears to reduce the risk of bowel cancer by 17%.

Average adult intakes of fibre in the UK are below the guidance of 30g per day with less than 10% achieving this recommendation.  According to the Global Dietary Database, Greece has one of the highest intakes of fibre amongst the most common holiday destinations at 21.6g per day.

 

Whilst diet might be the last thing on your mind during your holiday it could be that the influence of your destinations cuisine may help to protect your health.

Rob Hobson is a nutritionist and head of nutrition at Healthspan, visit his website Rob Hobson