What is the world’s healthiest diet? This is a question which has baffled researchers, clinicians, and consumers for many years.
According to Dan Buettner, National Geographic writer and explorer, the secret to health and long life is simple. Find places in the world with the most centenarians and live like them.
The world’s longest-lived people don’t have to pump iron, run marathons or join gyms. Instead, they live in environments that constantly nudge them into moving naturally such as the shepherds from Sardinia who tend sheep on mountain slopes. This low-grade physical activity keeps their bodies healthy.
Buetttner’s research showed that knowing your sense of purpose was worth up to seven years of extra life expectancy. The people on the island of Okinawa in Japan call it “ikigai” which translates to “why I wake up in the morning.”
For one Okinawan woman, who had just turned 105, her “ikigai” was her great, great, great, granddaughter. The age difference of 101 years served to wake her every morning with “joy in my heart”.
Pioneering research in the 1950s by Ance Keys, PhD, from the University of Minnesota, compared heart attack rates around the world and found that where there was a lower fat intake, there was a corresponding decrease in heart disease.
One exception, which was cast aside as an anomaly, was on the Greek island of Crete where an elevated fat intake equated to a lowered risk for cardiovascular disease.
When studies in the 1970s by Harold Draper, a biochemist and expert in Inuit nutrition, showed that Greenland Inuits had extraordinarily low levels of cardiovascular disease despite eating a diet in which fat contributed up to 70% of their calories, more cracks appeared in the low-fat-equals-good-health theory. From this research the concept of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ fats was born.
Traditionally, Inuit foods consisted of a diet animal food sources such as whales, seals and walruses as well as land mammals such as caribou and polar bears as well as birds and their eggs with fish such as cod and trout.
Inuit gathered plants such as berries, grasses, roots and tubers as well as seaweed to supplement their diets with carbohydrates. With such limited plant life in the arctic, Inuits adapted to breaking down their protein intake for energy production, in the limited consumption of carbohydrates, which was processed through the liver and utilized as an energy source.
Korea has developed a unique food culture connected to its long agricultural history. Interest in the health benefits of the Korean Diet, or “K-Diet”, based around their role in tradition, culture and in health.
While most of the interest in the K-Diet has been focused on the role in the use of raw ingredients, attention is now being paid to the preparation of these raw foods and their role in health, vitality, and wellness. Foods are generally prepared by fermenting and pickling which enriches food flavours and preserves foods. Possibly, the best known fermented Korean dish is kimchi.
Kimchi is a spicy, fermented dish which may contain a variety of vegetables such as cabbage, radish, and carrots all with the Korean flavours of garlic, ginger and chilies. It is a staple and usually served alongside all meals, including breakfast.
As a fermented food, it is full of living, healthy good bacteria which is said to boost immunity, energise the body and aid digestion.
If the pong of kimchi is not enough, China has its own traditional food bound to turn your stomach but, purportedly, allows you to live to the ripe old age of 100 years.
It’s called the century year old egg. Century eggs are also known as preserved eggs, thousand-year eggs, skin eggs, or black eggs. Renowned for their health benefits, three millions tons of century eggs were consumed last year in China.
The eggs of either duck, chicken or quail are mixed in a combination of clay, ash, calcium oxide and rice hulls for several months. Through the process, the yolk becomes a dark green to grey colour, with a creamy consistency and strong flavour due to the hydrogen sulfide and ammonia present and the white becomes a dark brown, translucent jelly with a salty flavour.
According to traditional Chinese medicine, century eggs help to reduce eye problems, toothaches, high blood pressure and tinnitus (a medical condition where there is a ringing noise in the ears) and lead you to a long and profitable life for you and your family.
So, after decades of searching for the answer to a healthy diet, the latest research seems to show the answer has been in front of us all along: people who follow a traditional and regional diet tend to be healthier than those who have adopted a more modern, global diet.
The combination of food, movement, fun for life, connection and love is something which costs little but has shown to give at least another decade of good health. Why not try it for yourself? No clever theories, diets, marathons or supplements, simply happy and vibrant long lives without a pill in sight.