You may have watched the programme on Channel 4 a few weeks back that looked into the ‘healthiest diets’ on the planet. If so then you will have noticed that some of the healthiest diets on earth were from those populations who ate minimal processed foods and refined sugar, and ate plenty of lean protein sources such as fish (occasionally comprising 5-6 servings a day), essential fats and ample carbs. The country that came out on top was Iceland who generally boast a clean diet rich that is...you got it, rich in white and oily fish and fruit & veg! Well interestingly, Iceland don't sit at the top on their own, in fact the TV programme failed to acknowledge a population known as the Kitavan Islanders, located in the Trobriand Islands, Papua New Guinea. The Kitavans grabbed the attention of researchers because they were almost exclusively free from chronic conditions such as heart disease, diabetes and cancer...basically all the conditions that are prominent in the Western population.
Why are these people so healthy?
Well, according to Staffan Lindeberg of Lund University in Sweden, it all comes down to their way of life which involves regular, low- moderate intensity activity and a naturally balanced diet. After closer examination of their diets, the Kitavans appear to consume a diet similar to that of humans in their original habitat i.e. the wild. Does this mean they basically consume a 'Hunter gather' or Paleolithic type diet? Well...sort of. Looking at their dietary staples it's hard to refute the paleo influence, with foods including mainly coconut, bananas, guava, mango, papaya, pineapple, watermelon, pumpkin, root vegetables including sweet potatoes and taro, a variety of veg and of course fish. The high intake of fruits seem contradictory to good health, but as I have always said, the sugars in fruit are intrinsic to the cell of the fruit meaning they have less damaging effects on the body. This said, the diet does seem to be fruit varied, but it doesn't necessarily mean it's fruit dominant. The Islanders apparently consume a variety of all of the above resulting in a varied and balanced diet that is free from processing, preserving and tampering. The result of such a varied diet is a good flow of vitamins, minerals, omega- 3 fatty acids, soluble fibre, saturated fat and the all important medium chain triglycerides (MCT's). Noteable exclusions from their diets included dairy, non-milk extrinsic sugar (sugars outside of the fruit cell), cereals, alcohol, and minimal salt.
Although it was clear that the islanders diets were pretty good in the sense that they were balanced, calorie and portion controlled, as well as being nutrient dense, the most remarkable finding was this...almost 80% of the population smoked, performed minimal physical activity, and yet STILL managed to have almost zero incidences of heart disease, diabetes or cancer! In fact studies found that the main casues of death amongst the Kitavan Islanders included child birth, one off accidents or traumas, viruses or infections, or old age. So it seems that smoking may not be a causative factor of heart disease etc by itself, and that activity isn't always a factor in overall health and wellbeing...diet then, may well be where it's at!
Livestrong.com, (2013). The Kitava Diet. Retrieved 22nd July, 2014, from http://www.livestrong.com/article/293509-the-kitava-diet/
StaffanLindeberg.com, (2014). The Kitava Study. Retrieved 22nd July, 2014, from http://www.staffanlindeberg.com/TheKitavaStudy.html