Israel Has One of the World's Healthiest Diets. Do You Eat Like an Israeli?

How often do you eat vegetables, and how do you like your salad? See how your eating habits measure up.

Vegetable salad.
Vegetable salad. Limor Laniado Tiroche

Do you eat like an Israeli?

An extensive study last year that looked at residents of 187 countries found that Israelis have one of the most healthful diets in the world. 

That may not be a huge surprise - Israel sits in the Mediterranean crescent, a region praised for its diet rich in vegetables, fish and unsaturated fat. Indeed, Israel’s neighbors also ranked high.

But what does that mean for Israelis on a day-to-day basis? A recent survey conducted on behalf of the Volcani Center, Israel’s government-sponsored agricultural research organization, quizzed Israelis about their fruit and vegetable consumption.

Some 80% of the 499 respondents said they eat fruit and vegetables nearly every day. Another 10.9% said they eat these foods only two to three times a week.

The survey, conducted by the TNS Institute, also questioned Israelis about their favorite fruits and vegetables. A full 41% said their favorite fruit was various citrus fruits, while another 35% declared it was watermelon. Grapes came in a far third, at 12%. 

In terms of vegetables, tomatoes were by far the most popular, topping the list for 44% of respondents. More than half of Israelis - 54% - told the surveyors that they like their tomatoes in salads, while another 18% said they eat their tomatoes plain, and 11% said they like them cooked into shakshuka.

The second most popular vegetable was lettuce, topping the list for 19% of respondents. Cucumber, that staple of Israeli chopped salads alongside tomatoes, was the favorite for 17% of respondents.

The surveyors also inquired how the Israelis eat their salads. Some 57% of respondents said they put at least four different vegetables into their salads, while 38% said they generally put only three vegetables into their salads.

Asked what they like least about fruits and vegetables, some 19% said that they disliked the strong smell given off by certain produce, while another 17% said they disliked having to peel them.

Volcani Center director Prof. Yoram Kapulnik said the survey indicates that most Israelis do indeed have a Mediterranean diet. Furthermore, it found no major difference in responses from residents of Israel’s north, center or south, he added.

The 499 survey respondents are considered a representative sample of Israelis age 18 and up. The margin of sampling error is 4.4%.

Plenty of studies have praised the Israeli diet. The global survey, led by Dr. Fumiaki Imamura and published in The Lancet Global Health Journal last February, ranked the Israeli diet ninth overall in the world. 

But that figure obscures the fact that Israel is the only developed nation on the list. The other nine countries are all in sub-Saharan Africa and their citizens eat “healthful” foods not out of choice, but due to poverty, as the study notes. These countries are led by Chad, followed by Sierra Leone, Mali, Gambia and Uganda. 

Most Israelis, on the other hand, are selecting their foods based on actual choice.

That study considered healthful diets to be reach in grains, beans and legumes, milk, dietary fiber, fish and fruits. 

Unhealthful diets, on the other hand, contain lots of processed food. The United States, Canada and most of central and northern Europe ranked high on the list of countries with the worst diets.

Another study, published in 2012 study by the OECD, named Israel third on its list of OECD nations in terms of vegetable consumption, at 198 kilograms a year, trailing only Greece and Turkey.

That study also found that Israel ranks third in terms of consumption of sweets and legumes as well. Israeli consumption of eggs is relatively low, while consumption of beef and fish is moderate.