Today we put together disease and old age. We think that disease is inevitable in that stage of our life. Or that some illnesses are simply even the cause of old age, such as Alzheimer´s. In today´s world we just have so much sick people around us, that we forget that no illness should be a part in our lives at all. Not when we are young, nor when we are middle aged, or even when we are 90 or 100 years old. Disease is not normal in any age. What was the most curious part from the book for me was authors study and observance of the longest living people on earth: Abkhasians, Vilcabambans, Hunzas and Okinawans. They live long and stay healthy.
These four communities are the ones where a significant amount of people live long enough to be called centenarians - the people who live over 100 years old. And as i said before it is not only about the old age what makes this cultures intresting, but their incredible level of health while being old.
Most of these people dont even know such illnesses as heart disease, cancer or diabetes. They dont know drugs or processed foods. They have never visited hospitals or even supermarkets their entire lifetime.
Despite their different locations - Russia, Ecuador, Pakistan and Japan - these different cultures have alot in common.
Many researchers have studied them over the years, lived with them, observed their lifestyle, foods they eat, how they work as a society, thier day-to-day life, their relationships to one another and their life philosophies, and discovered in astonishment that they are indeed very similar in all those areas.
As i said before there is literally non existance of disease throughout their culture. People who are 90 years, 100 years or even older have 20/20 vision, perfect hearing, no signs of heart disease or too high colesterol levels. Despite their old age their kidneys, blood vessels and teeth are in perfect shape. They dont suffer in memory loss or osteoporosis. There is some of these cases, more in Okinawa because they have less perfect environment than the other ones, but in owerall, such ailments are almost not excistent compared to our modern world.
Centenarians in those cultures are in perfect shape, they are wise and with sharp thinking and good memory. They like to laugh a lot and joke around and look as happy as teenagers with no worries. People in thir 90s or 100s are still working in the garden and taking care of their home the same way as they always have been. They dont "retire" when they get "old enough", but instead seem to enjoy life even more fully.
And 99% of their food is vegan, too.
Since there are, of course more factors to their health that just vegan diet, like very close relationships, physical exercise and pure water, in this article im going to focus my attention to their diet.
What do they eat?
They usually begin their breakfast with a salad of green vegetables, freshly picked from the garden. During the spring it is made up of pungent vegetables such as watergress, green onion and radishes. In summer and autumn, tomatoes and cucumbers are more popular, while in winter their salad consists of pickled cucumber and tomatoes, radishes, cabbage and onion. Dill and coriander may be added, but no dressing is used. Many plants that they grow in Abkhasia also end up in their salads. Very often they eat a cornmeal porridge, always freshly cooked and served warm. Only non-vegan thing they eat/drink is matzoni, a fermented beverage made from the milk of goats, cows or sheep. Meat is very rare in their diet.
Picture: In 1939 Tlabganu Ketsba from Abkhazia was 140 years old.
If they are hungry between meals, they eat fruit in season from their own orchard or garden. Thanks to the mild climate fresh fruit is available seven or eight months of the year. During these months they eat large quantities of fruit fresh from the tree or vine, including cherries, apricots, pears, plums, peaches, figs, many kind of berries, grapes, persimmons, apples, pears. The fruit what is not eaten fresh is stored, or dried, for winter use.
Nuts are the primary source of fat in their diet. Almonds, pecans, hazelnuts are grown wild. Virtually every meal contains nuts in one way or another.
When they do eat meat, in very rare occasions, it is always from the animal that has been healthy and freshly slaughtered. They dont eat the fat from the meat, even the smallest peace of fat is removed. They dont consume sugar, use little salt and almost no butter.
They eat very little, less than 2,000 calories a day. They dont overeat, because it is considered socially inappropriate and dangerous. This all contributes to their strong and slender bodies, with no excess fat on their bodies. They eat slowly and chewing thoroughly and deeply enjoying eachothers company.
There is no tinned or processed foods. No breakfast cireals, biscuits or crisps found in their homes. They dont know nothing about artificial preservatives and other chemical additives that are commonly found in supermarket foods.
Vegetables are picked freshly from the garden. Fruits are eaten in the same day they are plucked, often on the spot. Their diet is almost entirely vegan, made up primarily of whole grains, vegetables, fruits, seeds, beans and nuts. Once in a while they drink milk or eat eggs, but these are usually quite scarce. They eat almost no meat and never any butter. Their overall diet is very low in calories and there are no owerweight people in Vilcabamba.
Picture: Artimidoro Gaona, a woodcutter, still working at the age of 110.
Desserts, as we know in modern world, do not exist in Vilcabamba. When they want a sweet taste they eat fresh fruit such as figs, pineapple, watermelons, oranges, bananas, naranjillas, papayas or mangos. Fruits of all kinds are plentiful all year round. When they visit their neighbours, they often take fresh fruit as a present.
They grow a lot of fruit including apricots, peaches, pears, apples, plums, grapes, cherries, mulberries, figs and many types of melons. They also enjoy multitude of wild berries, buth fresh and sun-dried. Their apples are huge weighting over a pound each. They have more than twenty varieties of apricots which have been described as among most lucious fruits on Earth.
Apricots orchards are everywhere in Hunza, and nearly every family has them in their garden. The fruits are eaten raw in the summer and then throughout the winter and spring they are both eaten as dried fruit and used extensively in cooking and baking. A typical breakfast in Hunza in the winter is porridge made from dried apricots and millet, upon which freshly ground linseeds are sprinkled.
They eat very little meat. On certain feast days they eat goat or sheep meat and on other days they consume a fermented milk product made from goat or sheep milk. But meat and dairy products combined constitute only 1% or their total diet.
Protein and fat are olmost entirely of vegetable origin and they depend entirely on natural foods. Their primary grains are wheat, barley, millet, buckwheat and the hard, pearly seeds of a grass called Job´s tears.
Vegetables play a prominent role in their diet, particularly greens, including mustard greens, spinach and lettuce, root vegetables such as carrots, turnips, potatoes and radishes, an assortment of beans, chickpeas, lentils and other sprouted legumes, plus many kind of pumpkins and squashes. They cultivate many kind of herbs, including mint and thyme. They grow linseed and rare is the meal that doesn´t contain freshly ground linseed in one form or another.
When vegetables are cooked they are typically lightly steamed using a minimal amount of water. And the water in which the vegetables have been cooked is always consumed along with the vegetables themselves.
The key to their longevity and health most often point to the simple, nutritious and wholesome food they eat. Many Okinawas traditional proverbs about eating may sound like something you would find on the wall of a health food store. Such as "Food should nourish life - this is the best medicine" or "One who eats whole food will be strong and healthy".
- Is low in calories
- Is high in good carbohydrates, including plenty of wholegrains, vegetables and fruits.
- All their food is "whole food", with very little, if any, processed or refined foods, sugars, corn syrup, preservatives, artificial flavours or any other chemicals.
- They depend on fresh foods, eating primarily what is in season and localy grown, rather than relying on canned foods or foods shipped long distances.
- Are low in fat and the fats come from natural sources, including seeds, nuts and in some cases fish, rather than processed oils, margarines or saturated animal fats.
- They derive their protein primarily from plant sources, including beans, peas, whole grains, seeds and nuts.
They eat unde 2,000 calories a day, what we may consider a "low calorie diet", but they dont see it that way. They see that our average on 2,650 calorie diet is rather extravagant than "normal" and they dont see their intake as restricted.
While we are busy consuming grasy hamburgers, sugar, white flour and other high-calorie low-nutrition foods, Hunzas and other cultures discussed previously have attained extraordinary health and longevity on diets that provide fat more essential nutrients than standatd Western food, while remaining far lower in overall calories.
They almost never overeat. They dont like feeling "stuffed". We actually start to feel full about 20 minutes after our meal and thats why it is important to eat very slowly. When you aren´t rushing, your stomach has time to signal to the appetite centres of your brain that food has arrived, and you experience greater pleasure and contentment. The older Okinawans stop eating when they are ebout 80% full. They say that they "eat less to live longer".
One of the most remarkable findings of modern scientific research is that no intervation, including the eliminating of smoking, has been found to be as important in overall life expectancy as cutting back on calories while maximising dietary nutrients. But that does not mean that such illness as anorexia is good for you. Anorexia is starving. The point is that a low-calories diet that also provides optimal nutrition is most advantageous for health and longevity.
I understand that all of us have different availabilities around us. Not everyone can freshly pick vegetables from their garden or eat delicious organic fruits straight from the tree. But we can take these worlds healthiest and longest-living cultures for example and learn from their everyday practices and diet to become more healthy and to make more healthful choices.
Some may think that "Ok, i buy vegetables and fruits, but we dont have that clean and natural environment around us, as these cultured do, that can contribute badly to our health as many of us live in polluted cities". But thats not entirely true. Okinawans live in the city what is considered one of the most polluted cities in Japan, but yet they have so few disease. So the major part of their health and longevity must come from their diet, exercise, close and nurturing relationships and so forth. Even that we may not be living in perfect environment, we can still make the healthiest choices possible. Do what you can do, instead of feel sorry about what you cannot do. "If you cant fly, then run. If you cant run, then walk. If you cant walk, then crawl. But whatever you do, keep moving." - Dr Martin Luther King, Jr.