The inhabitants of Okinawa, an island prefecture of Japan, are one of the longest-lived populations in the world. Their diet and lifestyle have been thoroughly studied for this reason. Papers typically focus on their consumption of vegetables, fish, soy, sweet potatoes, exercise, and the fact that some of them may have been mildly calorie restricted for part of their lives.
The thing that often gets swept under the rug is that they eat lard. Traditionally, it was their primary cooking fat. Of course, they also eat the pork the lard came from.
I'm not saying lard will make you live to 100, but a moderate amount certainly won't stop you...
oh yeah. People always put down pork, but it really is a remarkable source for meat and fat. Pork takes on so many flavors, unlike beef, which always tastes like, well, beef. Pork has been a big part of many cultures n Europe and Asia and later in the New World probably because they live so well in not much space, even in urban gardens, and being omnivorous, consumed the milk and whey left over from dairying and food scraps.
By an absolute coincidence I stumbled on a link to this post: Okinawa - The Island of Pork, not long after reading your post.
I remember also that Mike Eades did a post a while ago about "the real Mediterranean diet" that he found when he was in Italy (e.g. prosciutto, lardo, etc.)
There's a lot of BS around about what traditional diets consisted of.
The Free Radical had an excellent post about the role of pork in the Okinawan diet.
Thanks for the links. Apparently modern Okinawans are beginning to eat like Americans, due to the influence of the military bases no doubt. Fries, spam, soda, and it's making them fat.
By the way Anna, that's a good point about pigs being a traditional part of the farm ecosystem. Michael Pollan described it well when he wrote about Polyface farm in "The Omnivore's Dilemma".
On a side note, I visited Polyface this winter, and I can vouch for the fact that their pigs are healthy, happy and clean.
I'm part Okinawan so I hope there's a genetic aspect as well:) But I think the main factors for their health and longevity are probably balanced diet, excercise and lifestyle, which most of us can improve on!
The question is, what does "balanced diet" mean! For them, it sounds like it was rice, pork, lard, vegetables, seafood and a little bit of soy.
It's worth noting that whether their longevity has a genetic component or not, they certainly aren't resistant to the typical American diet. They've been getting fat recently because low-quality American food has spread from the military bases there.
American bases there are certainly a "vector" but I think the source of the outbreak of this "disease of civilization" is the corporate global food system.
Okinawan food is delicious, btw.
I guess there's more profit to be made in selling people your processed foods, rather than just letting them eat their simple local foods. Such a shame, when the imported stuff is less healthy, probably tastes worse, and economically just squeezing money out of their communities. I felt a similar disappointment the last time I was in Ireland and all the under-30 crowd had forsaken Guinness in favor of Budweiser. wtf!
Hi Stephen and thanks for all your work! I've asked this question on Hyperlipid and am trying to compare answers amongst those of us who are proponents of the high fat diet approach to health:
To what extent is pH balance important in all this? It seems we're eating a lot of acid-producing foods and not a whole lot of alkalines. As I understand it, the body will neutralize this imbalance by leaching minerals from bone and muscle, causing muscle wastage and osteoporosis in the long term? Is this true? What do you think of the acid-alkaline balance idea in general (a lo Cordain and other paleo proponents)? Cheers.
Gunther, this isn't anything like a complete answer to your question. First of all it's anecdotal evidence, never the best standard; and second, it doesn't give a mechanism by which the so-called alkaline-producing diet is bad for teeth. But it's kind of interesting nonetheless.
"Fifteen cavities, and two dead teeth needing root canals! How could this be? I had been sure that, since eating animal protein was what caused the body to acidify and leach calcium from bones and teeth, I would be immune to tooth decay. And the phytoestrogens in soy that supposedly help assimilate calcium should have been an extra defense, sealing shut for good the possiblity of a cavity."
I'm not very well-versed on the whole acid-alkaline balance issue. The reason is because I have a hard time imagining it's very important.
My understanding is that hunter-gatherers who eat a lot of meat don't get osteoporosis, and they have superb teeth. This is supported by the archaeological record as well. Hunter-gatherer groups get bone and tooth problems when white flour and sugar come to town, so I'd be more inclined to blame that. Any hypothetical discussion of how acid-alkaline balance might leach minerals form bones has to bow to this empirical evidence.
It might be because they get ample amounts of vitamins D and A, which regulate mineral metabolism, bone development and maintenance. The exercise helps as well.
Hi Stephen and thanks for your thoughts on this. So that leads me to another question: that of eating acids and alkalines together. Now I'm pretty sure HGs didn't do this very much during our evolution. Do you think there's at least a case to be made for this in causing some diseases of civilization? We probably never ate fats and carbs together either until recently... Thoughts?
I know that at least here in the Pacific NW of the US, the native HGs often ate plants and animals in the same meal.
What makes you say we never ate protein and carbohydrate together? I don't think we ate much carbohydrate in general until we became agricultural. But some groups had seasonal access to starchy tubers and sweet berries, and I don't see why we would have deliberately kept them apart from the meat. For example, the HGs here would preserve berries in candlefish oil for the winter. Is there some evidence for HGs keeping fat and carb separate that I'm not aware of?
I think it's important to remember that they didn't eat much carb at all, and when they did it was seasonal.
I guess I'm saying that since every food they had was seasonal, HGs probably couldn't have eaten carbs and fat/protein (or plant and animal) together. They'd gather when they could gather and hunt when they would hunt, as it seems to me. And most likely, when one ran out, it was time to go looking for the other. It seems like that would be more the model EARLY in our development. Though as you show, there are techniques they've developed along the way which may have altered this a bit.
I don't know when the storage technology (storing berries, curing, etc.) you describe began, but I'm thinking prehistoric man wouldn't have had access to both plant and animal at the same time if these are seasonal. True, they didn't have much for carbs at all, but if that's the case, then they certainly didn't have them as a side salad with their steak. Maybe our bodies are getting confused by this? Just thinking out loud.
Gunther, that's the first argument against food combining that I've ever heard that made any sense. But I think animals are available year round, so when berries were in season, our ancestors probably ate a bit of both. In fact, I would guess that fall is both when critters (especially herbivores) are their fattest and fruits are most abundant, so for at least one season a year both would be tempting foods for a hunter-gatherer. And don't forget that not all hunter-gatherers lived in the temperate zone; some lived in the tropics, which don't really have seasons.
Still, I always wonder about stuff like this. I mean, I am so many orders of magnitude healthier simply by avoiding concentrated carbs that sometimes that seems enough. But it still seems like I could do some fine tuning. I hardly have any acne any more, but I do have some. My weight is down, my blood sugar is level, and my joints don't hurt much. But I do have a little eczema in my ears. Some days I think my current health is just fine, but other days I think I want more!
On the wikipedia it says that when the pH gets too basic in the duodenum it is neutralized with sodium bicarbonate, NaHCO(3). Bones are mostly made of calcium, phosphorus, and oxygen. These compositions don't match up... if your body needed to make sodium carbonate it wouldn't make sense to leach minerals out of bones.
That being said, it's possible that the stomach also uses other chemicals to neutralize pH that are not listed on the wikipedia!
whoops - I meant to say when the pH in the duodenum gets too acidic
Ross, the issue is about blood pH. When people talk about "alkalinizing" and "acidifying" foods, it means foods that break down into products that cause a net decrease or increase in H+ in the body. As far as I can tell, it depends partly on which minerals predominate in the food.
The leaching of Ca is supposed to buffer against pH change I suppose? I don't know, that's where my understanding ends, because you'd think bicarbonate from CO2 would take care of the pH changes just fine. It's your primary blood buffer and your body adjusts its levels to keep pH in balance as needed. But maybe there's a piece of the puzzle I'm missing here.
Thanks Stephen. Have a look at this chart by Cordain on his site. I disagree with lots of his precepts, but I do agree with him that the evolutionary point of view is vital to understanding how our bodies can function optimally:
So the theory is that each food will have a varying net acid effect in our kidneys, according to him anyway. And he thinks we had a specific balance during our evolution that we no longer have in neolithic times.
As far as eating fats and carbs together is concerned, I'll explain my question further: the body seems to have two fuel sources, which are carbs and fat. Even though we didn't have much for carbs in our evolution, as you say, we still developed a way to use them. And I think we probably didn't sit down and eat them together, but rather ate them as they became available, during our evolution.
What happens when we give our bodies BOTH fuels at once? I doubt it's used to that, since it basically has always used one or the other. Perhaps some of our neolithic metabolic problems stem from feeding patterns as well as nutrient content? Thanks!
Sorry, I broke the link somehow in pasting it:
I did it again. :-(
Put an "ml" on the end of that link and you'll get it...
I see your points, I just don't feel like I know enough to speak intelligently about it. I don't understand why you'd have to leach minerals from the bone rather than just buffering with bicarbonate from CO2 dissolved in the blood.
I was able to access the link, thanks. I take Cordain seriously but also with a grain of salt. Just because our alkaline balance is different from HGs he studied doesn't mean it's necessarily relevant to health.
In Japan, they eat a lot less calcium than we do here, they eat plenty of white rice, which is more acidifying than white flour, and they have much less osteoporosis than us. That doesn't necessarily disprove the hypothesis, but it might mean it's not a major player.
I'm not sure I understand the argument that HGs wouldn't have eaten meat and plants or meat and carbs together. Storage aside, it's not like seasonal availability means only one food is available at a time. Meat is available when plants grow, roots last into much of the winter, etc.
Stephan, you mentioned Japan and osteoporosis rates and that reminded me of something that has been puzzling me for a few years.
When I visited Japan for 12 days back in 2000, I noticed a seemingly large number of very elderly women and some men with pronounced hunched over backs - not birth defects, but that kind of symmetrical hunching that develops with age. It creates, for lack of a better description, sort of a "vulture" neck effect. I think it might be due to micro fractures in the spine due to osteoporosis.
I wondered about this because we always hear that the Japanese eat a lot of bone broths, especially fish bone broths which would seem to be mineral-rich and protective. Whenever I see someone with this condition now, I start thinking about the possible cause or causes in Japan.
Of course, these elderly folks in Japan would have been young adults in WWII and could have suffered significant enough malnutrition that mineral leaching might never have recovere. Also, I suppose with the high rate of very aged people in Japan, it could be that the spine curve rate is low, but the total number is higher than it appears to be in the US (based on my observation, not any number research). I suppose it could also be that the rate is higher in the US but the people with this condition are in worse health overall and not out in public (shut-ins or in nursing care), but in Japan they stay healthier despite the spinal degradation and get out and about longer. I just don't know.
Anyway, I'd be curious if you have any thoughts on this.
I also noticed that the younger Japanese adults and teenagers displayed a much taller height range than I had expected. I imagine that is due to greater calorie intake (some might say due to increased meat in the diet but I'm sure that is hotly contested by others) and increased prosperity, much like other gains in height in North America and European countries in the past handful of generations.
I've always wondered about that too. I'm not sure what causes the hunched posture, but you see it in young people as well. The images I see of HGs always show very straight spines and excellent posture.
It could be due to bone degeneration, ligament degeneration or lack of muscle tone. Mice get hunched backs when they lose tone in their spinal muscles, but I don't know if that's a good analogy.
My grandparents shrunk by a couple of inches with age. I think that's usually due to degeneration of the discs.
Anna, I don't know the answer to your main question, but I have some vague recollection of reading somewhere that increased stature is caused by higher carbohydrate intake. And that it is not a good thing, because you increase the length of your long bones at the expense of bone density.
Stephan is right about muscle tone, though. My father-in-law has Parkinson's and is remarkably stooped. And Parkinson's is a disease of motor control.
Migraineur, I remember reading about the link between carb and stature in Nutrition and Physical Degeneration. Is that where you saw it or was it somewhere else? I've been curious if he was onto something or not.
But I thought stature diminished quite a bit and quickly beginning with the age of agriculture (higher carb intake and lower meat intake). The way I understand it, human height averages just began to reclaim lost ground in the past 200 years or so, beginning in colonial North America (more meat available to pioneers due to hunting?), then in Europe in the 20th century (with Scandinavia and the Netherlands leading the world now). The little bit I have read indicates that current stature is just now caught back up to the heights of pre-agricultural humans. And that the lower heights of Asians in the past were due to nutritional shortages, now rapidly disappearing, so the past few generations of Asians are much taller on average.
I'm sure I haven't read more than a few newspaper articles, so I don't know how accurate my impression is.
Anna, I've heard that as well. Relying mostly on agriculture for food definitely diminished the stature of early farmers. Maybe Weston Price was just off base on this. I guess no one's perfect.
Consider also that "agriculture " is a broad term. There is a huge difference between a polyculture farm that supports a family and grain dominated agriculture worked by slaves, as in Egypt or feudal farms where the peasant vassals got what was left over after the rulers took what the wanted. One of the things that struck me about the advent of agriculture was that it created means for wealth accumulation and a shift in power - ruling over many by few.
Americans, on average, eat approximately three times as much meat per day as Okinawans do. Compared to a typical American diet, the Okinawan diet includes very little meat. This whole myth about Okinawans living on pork was probably started by Dr. Kaayla Daniels, author of The Whole Soy Story. In the book, Dr. Daniels cites Dr. Kazuhiko Taira as reporting that "healthy and vigorous Okinawans eat 100 grams each of pork and fish each day."
100 grams. That's 3.5 ounces. Have you seen what 3.5 ounces of meat looks like? It's about the size of a deck of cards. That's less meat than most Americans eat in a single meal. A Whopper, for instance, is a quarter pound of meat. 113.4 grams, to be exact.
This whole Okinawan pork diet is a load of nonsense. The fact is, Okinawans may eat pigs, but Americans eat like pigs. That's why Americans are fat.
First of all, 100g of pork a day is more than the average American eats. And that's just pork, which is only one source of meat in the Okinawan diet (they also eat fish regularly). I'd be willing to bet that number doesn't include the lard either, which they use as a cooking fat. 100g probably refers to the meat specifically, but you can bet they didn't throw the lard away!
I'm not claiming the Okinawans eat huge amounts of pork, but it is clearly a central part of their diet, including the lard. Here's the true nonsense: completely ignoring the pork and inflating their soy consumption. That's what you see referred to as the "Okinawan diet": a near-vegetarian, low-fat, soy-rich diet. It's just another misleading way to push the same old bad diet advice.
migraineur said: "And don't forget that not all hunter-gatherers lived in the temperate zone; some lived in the tropics, which don't really have seasons."
The point about seasonality of food sources of our ancestors is important. Remember that during the six-million years that shaped the human gut to what it is today, since the split from the chimp line, our ancestors never left Africa. They would have lived on savannah. By the time humans reached temperate zones, the genetics were mostly set, so we should not figure that diet into an evolutionary context.
You are leaving out the full facts about this. Trie they eat pork in Okinawa, but we are talking about the Okinawans past age 100 specifically, and pork was ONLY eaten in special occasions. he unbiased facts based on several studies are here and on WikiPedia:
Pork was highly valued, and every part of the pig was eaten, including internal organs. However, pork and fish were primarily eaten on holidays, and the everyday diet was almost exclusively plant based. Cooking was sometimes done with lard. Their overall traditional diet would be considered a very-high-carbohydrate by modern standards, with carbohydrates, protein, and fat providing 85%, 9% and 6% of total calories respectively. The consumption of pork in Okinawa in 1979 was 7.9 kg (17.4 lbs) per person per year. This may be contrasted with the average consumption of meat in the United States, which, by 2005, included 62.4 lbs of beef, 46.5 lbs of pork, and 73.6 lbs of poultry per person per year. Virtually no eggs or dairy products were consumed.
The benefit of using Lard as their main cooking oil is that they were not using polyunsaturated vegetable oil to cook their food. Heated polyunsaturated oils are a major source of free radicals and are very aging to the body. The Lard was a health secret similar to using coconut oil
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