It’s hard to imagine Pakistan as a place that would be one of the longevity hot spots of the world. Many of us associate Pakistan as a place of unrest and suicide bombers. However, there is a mountainous valley 13,700 feet up a pass in the Gilgit-Baltistan region in Pakistan called the Hunza Valley. It’s isolated and located in the extreme northern section of the country bordering on Afghanistan, Russia, China, Kashmir, and India. It was the inspiration for Shangri-La in James Hilton’s “Lost Horizon” and is spectacular. Hunzakut people have been known to live long and active lives.
I was sitting next to a lovely Pakistani man on an airline flight back from Europe and mentioned that my dad had lived to be 90. He remarked that 90 was young and that he had relatives who were 113 and 116.
The Secrets of Hunzakut Longevity
The Hunzakut eat a wide variety of vegetables that are fresh, local, seasonal, organic, and lightly cooked. Their foods are rich in micro-nutrients, vitamins, and minerals. They fertilize their soil with carefully-nurtured organic compost. Beneficial fats come from apricot kernels, (some believe they cure cancer) flax, walnuts, and other plant foods. Most of their protein comes from beans and lentils. Lentils are made into dhal and beans are used to make flour or added to curries.
Chickpeas are used to make gram flour. They are also sprouted and tossed into salads. Although the Hunzakut diet is mostly plant-based, especially in the summer, small amounts of meat are eaten in winter from the cows, yaks, sheep, and goats they keep. Their meat is lean, organic, and generally boiled. The boiling process keeps saturated fat levels low. The Hunzakut also eat traditionally fermented cheese, yogurt, and butter and use clarified butter (ghee) for cooking.
They drink and bathe in pristine glacier water that flows down from the mountains and Hunza green tea boiled in glacier water. The water comes from mountain streams and waterfalls. It’s fresh, pure and filled with minerals including silica, which is excellent for bone health.
The Hunzakut are fortunate to enjoy perfect vision, health, and have little obesity, mental illness, ulcers, or degenerative diseases.
Flatbread accompanies every meal and is made from whole grains.
They eat frugally and in proportion to the amount of physical work they do. As in many longevity hot spots, Hunzakut longevity is also attributed to hard work as a way of life. The elderly work the fields and tend sheep well into their 90’s and sometimes beyond.
Note: The health and lifestyle of the Hunzakut are topics of controversy, especially in light of religious violence, poverty, and environmental issues. According to Smithsonian.com, a Japanese doctor reported “rampant signs of poor health and malnutrition—goiter, conjunctivitis, rheumatism, and tuberculosis—as well as what seemed to be horrific levels of infant and child mortality, which are also signs of poor nutrition.” I guess we won’t know for sure unless we enter the valley that inspired “Shangri-La.”
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