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Diet Review

The Kitavan Diet: Tubers, Fresh Fruit, Coconut and Fish

Kitavan Diet

There are a few places in the world that stand out against the rest of the globe when it comes to freedom free degenerative diseases. One such a place is Kitava, a small island in the Trobriand Islands group of Papua New Guinea where nutritional habits are virtually uninfluenced by Western dietary habits. Researchers who have studied Kitavans, their lifestyle (including diet) and their exceptional health report that there is practically no acne, diabetes, cardiovascular disease leading to stroke or congestive heart failure, dementia or blood pressure problems among the native Kitavans. What's more, the native people on Kitava do not suffer from obesity of even overweight despite the abundance of food that is naturally available to them on their tropical island. They have low diastolic blood pressure (all < 90 mm Hg), but total cholesterol concentrations are somewhat less favorable, probably due to the relatively high intake of saturated fat from coconut.

Kitava has 2,300 inhabitants and the life expectancy at birth is estimated at 45, including infant mortality, and the life expectancy at the age 50 is about 75. While the life expectancy at birth may not sound like a lot, it is quite remarkable for a population with limited access to modern medicine. It is also important to consider the most common causes of death on Kitava, which include accidents (such as drowning), homicide, malaria, and pregnancy complications.

Among the elderly population on Kitava, accidents and old age – rather than degenerative diseases – top the list of common causes of death. Research suggests that the good health among Kitavans is not related to genetics as genetically similar groups who eat an abundance of industrial food appear to be susceptible to the degenerative diseases of the West. Also exercise is not a likely cause of the exceptional health on Kitava as an average Kitavan is only slightly more physically active than a Western person leading a sedentary lifestyle.

Local foods, such as tubers, fresh fruit, coconut and fish, make up the backbone of the Kitavan diet. The most commonly consumed tubers include yam, cassava (aka yucca or manioc), sweet potato (aka kumara) and taro. Common fruit include banana, papaya, guava, pineapple, mango, and water melon. The consumption of Western food is extremely low, with an average Kitavan spending a meagre 3 US dollars per year on Western foods. The intake of dairy products, tea, coffee and alcohol is close to nil, and salt intake is low by Western standards. Also the consumption of oils, margarine, sugar, grains and cereals is low. The overall fat intake is equally low, and most fat consumed is saturated or marine n-3 polyunsaturated fat (omega-3 fat from seafood).

In summary, the Kitavan diet comprises an abundance of foods that have a low glycemic index rating and that are rich in soluble fiber, magnesium, potassium, and omega-3 fatty acids. All of these characteristics may contribute to the exceptional health benefits associated with the Kitavan diet.

An Abundance of Foods With a Low GI Rating

Glycemic Index Chart

The glycemic index (GI) is a measure of the ability of carbohydrate containing foods to raise blood sugar (glucose) levels. Foods with a high GI ranking (a GI score of 70 or more) contain rapidly digestible carbohydrates, which triggers a large and rapid rise in blood glucose levels. In contrast, foods ranked low on the glycemic index (i.e. scoring 55 or less) contain slowly digestible carbohydrates and therefore produce a gradual, low rise in blood glucose levels. A diet rich in high GI foods and poor in low GI foods pushes the body to extremes and has been associated with at least the following health problems: excess body weight and obesity, worsening of diabetes symptoms, insulin resistance, PCOS, heart disease, high cholesterol levels, cravings and lack of energy.

Tubers, which are mainstays of the Kitavan diet and one of the primary sources of carbohydrates for Kitavans, generally have a low glycemic index rating:

  • Cassava (boiled): 46
  • Yam (boiled): 35
  • Sweet potato (boiled): 44
  • Taro, boiled (boiled): 56

  • The Extraordinary Health Benefits of the Humble Sweet Potato

    Did you know that sweet potatoes, one of the most popular foods on Kitava, are loaded with beta-carotene and vitamin C. In fact, these tubers more beta-carotene than carrots and more vitamin C than tomatoes. Both beta-carotene and vitamin C have powerful antioxidant properties and may help protect against cancer and aging. In addition, sweet potatoes feature a slew of other, less well-known antioxidants, including anthocyanin pigments such as cyanidins and peonidins (abundant in the starchy flesh of purple sweet potatoes) and beneficial storage proteins called sporamins. What's more sweet potatoes have been shown to increase blood levels of adiponectin, a protein hormone that is produced by our fat cells. People suffering from type 2 diabetes or insulin resistance and obese people typically have lower levels of adiponectin. In addition to offering potential health benefits to people with diabetes or pre-diabetes, adiponectin in sweet potatoes may help protect against atherogenesis (the formation of abnormal fatty deposits within the walls of arteries). No wonder why heart disease and diabetes are practically unknown on Kitava!

    Kitavans and the Coconut

    The coconut has a long and respected history among Kitavans and Pacific Islanders in general. It also appears to offer some extraordinary health benefits due to its anti-bacterial, anti-fungal, anti-viral properties. There's also evidence suggesting that the medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs) in coconut may aid in weight loss. One study published in the International Journal of Obesity and Metabolic Disorders found that the MCTs in coconut increased fat burning and calorie expenditure in obese men and also decreased fat storage. Another study showed that consumption of fat present in coconut oil could increase fat burning as well as calorie expenditure in women as well.

    The Kitavan Acne Study

    More than 80% of Amercican teenagers between 16 and 18 and 20% of all adults in the US suffer from acne; on Kitava, practically no one who lives and eats in a traditional way suffers from this bothersome skin condition. During a seven-week study period in 1990, the Swedish general practitioner Dr. Staffan Lindeberg visited 494 houses on Kitava and performed a health examination in more than thousand subjects 10 years or older, 25% of which were between 15 and 25 years old. Not a single case of acne was observed in any age group. The absence of acne on Kitava is likely a result of specific dietary habits and other lifestyle factors, rather than genetic factors, since the prevalence of acne is much higher among other Pacific Islanders who have ethnic backgrounds similar to those of the Kitavans but who live in more westernized societies. To read on the details of this interesting study, visit our article Kitava: An Island Where Acne Does Not Exist.

    The Kitava Study, Staffan Lindeberg, Department of Medicine, University of Lund, Sweden


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