Healthy Hunza: when traditional foods are superfoods

Posted: April 7, 2017

A useful rule of thumb when deciding whether or not a type of food or activity is good for you or not is to ask ‘would Paleo humans have eaten/done this?’ Our hunter-gatherer forebears gathered and hunted the foods and lived the lifestyle which suited their biochemistry well; even helped drive our evolution.

The Paleo diet and lifestyle can be hard to emulate in today’s modern world, however. My children aren’t going to eat freshly-speared fish and just-picked greens in their lunchboxes, for example – not many of us have the resources (or inclination) to sort that out first thing in the morning. And most of us aren’t going to go and steal eggs from a nest in a tree and eat them raw, or spend the day foraging for wild greens and insects.

Modern, processed, non-food isn’t the way to go either, if you want to avoid chronic disease such as cardiovascular disease and cancer. I find a good middle ground is to look at ancient traditional diets, such as those featured in my book 50 Secrets, in places where people live exceptionally long, disease-free, happy lives, since those types of foods are widely available and practical to use.

One of those longevity hot spots is Hunza, in the mountains of North West Pakistan. I visit Pakistan regularly, and recently I have been eating at the newly-opened Wild Thyme, a restaurant serving traditional Hunza recipes. The delicious, nutritious offerings include recipes which many Pakistanis say they didn’t know even existed in their country, such as flax seed, hemp seed, and buckwheat.

The traditional foods of Hunza include many superfoods which are popular in modern health food shops in the West today. Somehow, the people of the Hunza valley have worked out, over hundreds of years, what to eat to attain their legendary good health. Seasonal veg, fresh organic fruit, apricot kernel oil, beta-carotene rich apricots, pumpkins and carrots, walnuts, berries, wild thyme tea and the superfoods mentioned above are all daily staples.

Sadly, times are changing, with cheap vegetable oils, white flour and rice, tobacco products and sugary drinks now finding their way into the new generation of Hunza locals via improved transport on the old Silk Route. Correspondingly, cancer and heart disease are starting to appear. Which just goes to show. Doctors once studied the Hunzakuts to try to understand the reasons for their disease-free existence; how sad if epidemiologists were now to use this unique population to look at how modern foods directly cause disease.

If you happen to find yourself in Islamabad, Pakistan, I recommend sampling some of the best examples of Hunza cooking at Wild Thyme, from some of the area’s top chefs. You can check out their menu here.

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