Amazonian appetite for a healthier heart
If you’re done with Dukan and failed at the 5:2 scientists say there is a new diet for the perfectly healthy heart: the rainforest regime. An Amazonian people reliant on subsistence hunting have the healthiest arteries in the world.
Heart disease is almost unknown among the Tsimane people of northern Bolivia, who have the vascular systems of Americans 30 years younger and remain as fit as 20-year-olds well into old age, researchers report in The Lancet.
They eat a diet rich in vegetables, grains, lean meat and fish and – perhaps most importantly – they spend most of their day walking.
Scans of 707 Tsimane found that 85 per cent had no risk of heart disease at all, with none of the hardening of the arteries that indicates problems. Even over the age of 75 two thirds had no hardening, also known as atherosclerosis, at all and only 8 per cent had even a moderate risk. That compares with half of westerners the same age.
‘‘Most Tsimane live their entire life without developing any coronary atherosclerosis – something never seen in any prior research,’’ Gregory Thomas of the Long Beach Memorial Medical Centre in California, a senior author of the paper, said. ‘‘There must be something incredible that they’re doing. Exercise is probably the biggest part of it. Their diet is great but in the UK those whose diet is great still get heart disease, just years later.’’
In many ways the Tsimane diet is similar to that recommended in western advice to keep the heart healthy. However, they consume even less saturated fat from meat, no dairy products and fewer oils than the Mediterranean diet.
Almost three quarters of what they eat is carbohydrate, mainly rice, plantain and manioc they grow themselves, and wild nuts and fruits. Protein comprises 14 per cent of their diet, mainly from wild animals which are much less fatty than farmed meat. The Tsimane also spend about six hours a day hunting, gathering, fishing and farming. Only 10 per cent of their time is spent sitting down, compared with 54 per cent in modern cities.
For people wishing to copy the regime, Professor Thomas advised: ‘‘I would restrict as much as possible your saturated fat, then I would double your exercise. We should think about the quantity over the intensity and try to integrate as much walking as we can throughout the day. Lifelong substantial physical activity and a very low-fat diet hold the promise of preventing or delaying the blockages that cause heart attacks.’’
There is, however, a downside to living like the Tsimane. Many die of infections, which could mean that only the healthiest survive into old age.