We are living longer today than ever before, but we are also dying longer. Half of Americans age 65 orolder have one or more chronic diseases costing society more than a trillion dollars a year in medicalcare.
This is not the case in the land of the Hunzas in Pakistan, however, where it is common people live healthy lives into their 90s without any chronic diseases. In November, 1921, Englishphysician, Sir Robert McCarrison, visited the USA and delivered a lecture titled “FaultyFood in Relation to Gastro-Intestinal Disorders.”
Dr. McCarrison’s lecture’s most salient points centered on the marvelous health,vibrancy and longevity of the Hunzas, who along with the Vilcabamba Indians of SouthAmerica, the Okinawans of Japan and the Abkhasians of Russia seem to know the secrets to the fountain of youth and happiness.
And what is their secret? Their diet, Dr. McCarrison found out, play perhaps the most important part in not developing chronic and debilitating diseases such as cancer, heart disease and diabetes, as they age. These diseases are, in contrast, the three main causes of death in the Western world today.
To make his point in scientific terms, McCarrison carried out an ingenious series of experiments with albino rats at Coonoor in 1927, in which he fed them the diet upon which the Hunzakuts and other healthy peoples of Northern India, subsist.
Another group of rats were fed the nutritionally poorer diets of white rice, stir- and deep-fried vegetables and sugar eaten by the Southern Indians, the Bengalis and Madrassis. A third group of rats was subjected to the diet of the lower classes of England—white bread, margarine, sweetened tea, a little boiled milk, cabbage and potatoes, tinned meats and jam.
The results were nothing short of revolutionary. McCarrison described the first group of Hunzakut rats as follows:
“During the past two and a quarter years,” he stated, “there has been no case of illness in this ‘universe’ of albino rats, no death from natural causes in the adult stock, and but for a few accidental deaths, no infantile mortality. Both clinically and at post-mortem examination this stock has been shown to be remarkably free from disease.
The Bengali group of rats on the other hand suffered from a wide variety of diseases which involved every organ of the body such as the nose, eyes, ears, heart, stomach, lungs, bladder, kidneys, intestines, the blood, glands, nerves and reproductive organs. In addition, they suffered from loss of hair, malformed and crooked spines, poor teeth, ulcers, boils and became vicious and irritable.”
So what are the main specialties of the Hunza, Okinawan, or Vilcabamba diet and lifestyle? There are five in all:
1. They eat a diet high in complex carbohydrates but low in calories—about 1600 to 1800 calories a day, as opposed to most Americans who eat between 2500-3000 calories a day, mostly from refined carbs and sugar.
2. They eat some kind of probiotic food every day—either in the form of kefir or fermented vegetables.
3. Apart from the Okinawans, whose diet consists of about 15-20 percent fish, these youthful elders eat mostly plants, not too much, and they eat meat or fish only on rare occasions, sometimes as little as once a month.
4. Their protein intake, which mostly comes from plant sources, is rather low, between 20-50 grams a day.
5. Zero percent use of sugar or refined carbohydrates. Yes, that’s right: ZERO!
6. Lots of fresh, often raw, fruits and vegetables.
Today we know that the main causes of heart disease, cancer and diabetes can be found in the Standard American Diet (the SAD diet), which consists of large amounts of refined carbohydrates, sugar, animal fat, hydrogenated vegetable oils—all ingredients that are absent in the longevity diet. The SAD diet, in other words, is the exact opposite of the Hunza diet.
Interestingly, the Hunza diet is very similar to the diets prescribed by today’s experts on nutritional science. This is very exciting. We have indeed entered an era in which new science meets or confirms the practices and lifestyle of the ancients—the yogis, the indigenous Hunzas and the Vilcabambas. This meeting of old and new wisdom conforms that a diet rich in fruits and vegetables and low in meat and sugar is the best for health and longevity.
Dr. Dean Ornish—whose Spectrum Diet and Lifestyle has 99% success rate in treating heart disease without drugs and scalpel, prescribes a diet to his heart patients that is similar to the Hunza diet. This diet is also very similar to the vegan or vegetarian diet promoted by Dr. Joel Fuhrman, whose scientific research has confirmed that longevity and vibrant health is effectively promoted on a diet with lots of raw and cooked plant- based foods. Moreover, the Hunza diet also echo the now famous motto promoted by popular food writer Michael Pollan: Eat Food, Mostly Plants, Not Too Much.
Indeed, these seven words that sums up Michael Pollan’s food philosophy also pretty much sums up all we need to know about living long and healthy—well into our 90s—without visiting doctors or the hospital. These seven words also sums up a diet that is alkaline and thus inflammation free—an important topic I will write about in a future blog.
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Ramesh is the Director of the Prama Wellness Center where lifestyle is considered our best medicine. Ramesh is also a writer, yogi and workshop leader. He studied yoga therapy in Nepal and India, Ayurveda at California College of Ayurveda and is a certified yoga detox theraphist from the AM Wellness Center in Cebu, Philippines. He has taught workshops in many countries and is the author of four books, including Sacred Body, Sacred Spirit (InnerWorld) and Tantra:The Yoga of Love and Awakening (Hay House India).