Our diet completely influences our health and well-being. This is something that many of us already assume, but now a very exhaustive scientific research has been carried out in this regard.
To this end, the lifestyle of an indigenous population of the Bolivian Amazon called the Tsimane has been investigated, which, thanks to their way of life and diet, show almost no heart disease. They also have minimal hypertension, a low prevalence of obesity and their cholesterol levels are relatively healthy
On the other hand, the incidence of type 2 diabetes in their lives is minimal, which leads scientists to consider the role that diet plays in the cardiovascular health of the Tsimane, and how this could be affected as the population exposes more to globalization and market forces.
Scientific evidence of the impact of diet on health
The cannibals of UC Santa Barbara Thomas Kraft and Michael Gurven are part of the Tsimane Health and Life History Project, a project supported by the National Institutes of Health of the United States, which conducted the first systematic study that examines what a Tsimane consumes regularly, comparing it with that of Moseten, a neighboring population with a similar language and ancestry, but whose eating habits and ways of life are more affected by Western influence.
Gurven expressed the following “a previous work showed that the Tsimane have great cardiovascular health, so there is much interest in understanding why and how”. To do this, they made a detailed analysis of the Tsimane diet and then compared it with what Americans typically eat and with diets that claim to be healthy for the heart.
What is the Tsimane diet based on?
The Tsimane diet is high in calories (2,433-2,738 kcal / day). It is characterized by a high consumption of carbohydrates and proteins, and a low consumption of fats (64, 21 and 15% of the diet, respectively). In addition, the Tsimane do not eat a wide variety of foods, relative to the average diet of the United States or Moseten.
Almost two thirds of its calories are derived from complex carbohydrates, particularly from bananas and rice. Another 1% comes from more than 40 species of fish, and 6% from wild game. Only 8% of the diet came from external markets.
Despite the low dietary diversity, the researchers found little evidence of micronutrient deficiencies in Tsimane’s daily intake. Calcium and some vitamins (D, E and K) were scarce, but the intake of potassium, magnesium and selenium, often related to cardiovascular health, far exceeded EE levels. UU On the other hand, the intake of dietary fiber was almost double the US levels. and Moseten.
Throughout the five years of the study, the researchers observed that the Tsimane’s total energy and carbohydrate intake increased significantly, especially in the villages near the market towns. On the other hand, its consumption of food additives (lard, oil, sugar and salt) has also increased significantly. In contrast, the Mosets consumed substantially more sugar and cooking oil than the Tsimane.
Best type of diet in health
The researchers concluded that a diet rich in energy and rich in complex carbohydrates is associated with a low risk of cardiovascular disease, at least when combined with a physically active lifestyle (Tsimane’s adults walk approximately 17,000 steps per day, in comparison with the 5,100 of the Americans).
Moving away from a diet rich in fiber and low in fat, salt and processed sugar represents a serious risk to the health of populations in transition. In this sense, the evidence of the nutritional transition in Bolivia parallels the trends in the increase in body fat and the body mass index among the Tsimane, which suggests that the low prevalence of cardiovascular diseases may not persist.
According to Gurven, avoiding the inconveniences of changing diets and lifestyles will be fundamental for groups like the Tsimane. Many other indigenous populations in South America, Africa and Southeast Asia are in similar situations. And the rates of obesity, type 2 diabetes and heart disease are high among indigenous groups whose ways of life are no longer traditional, including many aboriginal populations of Indians and Australians in North America.
This research makes it clear that the eating habits of Western society have a very negative impact on health, so we would probably have to learn a lot from the eating habits of indigenous societies not “contaminated” by Western food customs.