A British General and a garrison of solders on horseback investigated the Hunza River Valley in the 1870s. Hunza was a tiny kingdom located in a remote valley 100 miles (160 km) long and only one mile (1.6 km) wide, situated at an elevation of 8,500 feet (2590 m) and completely enclosed by mountain peaks. These peaks soar to a height of 25,550 feet (7788 m) and belong to the Karakoram Range, broadly known in the West as "the Himalayas." Hunza is now part of Pakistan in the northern section bordering on Afghanistan, Russia, China, Kashmir and India. The Kilik Pass leads to Russia and the Mintaka Pass to China.
The pass to reach Hunza from Gilgit, Pakistan was 13,700 feet (4176 m) high, a difficult and treacherous trail. Upon entering the valley the British found the steep, rocky sides of the valley lined with terraced garden plots, fruit trees and animals being raised for meat and milk.
It is believed that among these people centenarians are a common occurrence, and that it is not unusual for elderly persons to reach the venerable age of 130. It has even been reported that a significant number have survived to the incredible age of 145!
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These people are not the product of legend, nor is the country they inhabit a mythical utopia. They call themselves the Hunzas (pronounced Hoonzas) and live in what has come to be known as the roof of the world - the mountain peaks of the Himalayas. To be more precise, the Hunza country, with a population of only 30,000, is situated at the extreme northern point of India, where the borders of Kashmir, China, India and Afghanistan converge.
It is said that this tiny group of people, residing in an inaccessible valley about 3000 meters (9000 feet) above sea level, are more or less completely cut off from the outside world. It is also said that they are the happiest people on earth.
Another important point to understand is that the health of the Hunzas is not characterized by the simple absence of disease, although that in itself is quite an accomplishment. More than just not being affected by diseases that strike down so many of our peers in the prime of life, the Hunzas seem to possess boundless energy and enthusiasm, and at the same time are surprisingly serene. Compared to the average Hunza, a westerner of the same age - even one who is considered extremely fit - would seem sickly. And not only seem sickly, but actually be sick!Exceptional Longevity
The life expectancy of the average Westerner is about 70 years. The life expectancy of the average Hunza falls onto a different scale altogether - these people reach both physical and intellectual maturity at the venerable age of one hundred! This fact emphasizes the relative nature of what we refer to as normal.
As we’ll see a little later on, the way we are conditioned to perceive aging has a determining effect on the way we develop.
At one hundred years old, a Hunza is considered neither old nor even elderly. Even more extraordinary is the fact that Hunzas remain surprisingly youthful in all ways, no matter what their chronological age is.
According to a number of sources, it is not uncommon for 90 year old Hunza men to father children. Hunza women of 80 or more look no older than a western woman of 40 - and not only any woman, but one who is in excellent shape.
They also force us to ask the following question: is there some secret technique that allows these people to live so long, and stay so healthy? The answer is yes – the Hunzas do know something we don’t. But there isn’t just one secret, there are many.
The first, and certainly the most important of these secrets concerns nutrition. Interestingly enough, the Hunza approach resembles that outlined by Hippocrates, father of modern medicine, who lived over 2000 years ago in ancient Greece. The basic precept of their common notion of what constitutes a proper diet is simple: the food you eat is your best medicine.
There’s a modern saying, coined in the sixties: ‘You are what you eat.’
So what do the Hunzas eat?
Well, the basis of the Hunza diet, which to a large extent is dictated by the rather harsh climatic and geographical conditions of their home country, can be summed up in one word: frugality.
Hunzas eat only two meals a day. The first meal is served at twelve noon, although the Hunzas are up every morning at five a.m. This may sound surprising, since most nutrition experts here in the west stress the importance of a hearty breakfast, even though our life-style is relatively sedentary compared to that of the Hunzas, who engage in demanding physical labor all morning long on an empty stomach.
Unlike most Westerners, Hunzas eat primarily for the establishment and maintenance of health rather than for pleasure, although they are very meticulous when preparing their food, which, by the way, happens to be delicious.
In addition, Hunza food is completely natural, containing no chemical additives whatsoever. Unfortunately, that is not the case as far as most of our food is concerned.
The Hunzas, then, eat very little. But what exactly do they eat?
Well, a large part of their diet is composed of grains: barley, millet, buckwheat and wheat.
They also eat fruits and vegetables on a regular basis. For the most part, these are consumed fresh and raw, although some vegetables are cooked for a short time. Their preferred fruits and vegetables include potatoes, string beans, peas, carrots, turnip, squash, spinach, lettuce, apples, pears, peaches, apricots, cherries and blackberries. They also have a particular fondness for apricot pits. (You can get apricot seeds in your health food store, get only the dried ones which don't have all the important enzymes killed off). Almonds are eaten whole, or used to make oil through a process that has been transmitted from generation to generation.
Milk and cheese are important sources of animal protein. Meat, although not completely eliminated, is consumed only very rarely, reserved for special occasions like marriages or festivals. This fact is no doubt one of the reasons why the Hunzas have such healthy digestive systems. Even when meat is served, portions are very small: meat is cut into small pieces and stewed for a long time. Beef and mutton are rarely used - chicken is their most common source of animal protein.
The important thing to remember is that although the Hunzas are not wholly vegetarian, meat forms a minimal part of their daily diet.
They generally eat meat only once a week, if that often, and live longer and stay healthier than we do.
Like grains, fruits and vegetables, yogurt is also a staple of the
Walnuts, hazelnuts, almonds, beechnuts, etc. also comprise an important part of the Hunza diet. Along with fruit, or mixed into salads, nuts often constitute an entire meal.
No discussion of the Hunza diet would be complete without mentioning their special bread, called ‘chapatti,’ which is eaten along with every meal. Since it is used so often, it would be logical to conclude that it is a determining factor - or at least a very important one - in causing their amazing longevity. (There are a couple of recipes included below).
Specialists believe that it is this special bread that endows 90-year-old Hunza men with their ability to conceive children, something that is unheard of here in the west. In fact, chapatti bread contains all essential elements. It can be made from wheat, millet, buckwheat or barley flour, but what is most important is that the flour is whole, i.e. it is not refined, and has not had its germ removed, a common practice here in the west. It is this part of a grain which gives it its reproductive power, as well as its brown color. Unfortunately, westerners tend to associate the whiteness of flour with purity, something that is completely false. In addition, leaving the germ intact makes storing flour-based products more difficult. This presents a problem for the food industry, which prefers using refined white flour even though it has been stripped of most of its nutrients.