The Tsimane people who live in the Amazon rainforest of Bolivia were found to have the lowest reported levels of cardiovascular disease of any population that’s been tested to date.
The diet of this tribe is much different from that of people in the industrialized society. Their calories come from whole, straight-from-the-earth carbohydrates.
85 percent of the Tsimane villagers were found to have no risk of heart disease and showed no evidence of coronary artery disease. Could this tribe teach us about the prevention of heart disease?-It seems they can. Let’s find out more.
The Tsimane People from Bolivia: The Healthiest Hearts on Earth
In the Lancet-published study, a team of researchers took CT scans of the hearts of 705 Tsimane men and women, between the ages 40 to 94.
The goal was to measure how calcified their coronary arteries are. The smaller the calcification, the better. Excessive calcification increases the risk of plaque build-up and blocked arteries. As a result, the risk of heart attacks, angina, and other heart issues is higher.
The CT scans showed that 85 percent of the tested villagers had no risk of heart disease with a score of zero (no evidence of advanced coronary artery disease), 13 percent of them had a lower risk of coronary artery disease with a score lower than 100, and 3 percent had a score higher than 100 and a moderate to high risk of coronary artery disease.
On the other hand, another study done with more than 6000 people ages 45 to 84 in the US found that only 14 percent of them had zero risk of coronary artery disease, 36 percent of them had a low risk, and 50 percent had a moderate to high risk of coronary artery disease.
According to Randall Thompson, cardiologist, MD, FACC, from Saint Luke’s Mid-America Heart Institute, the arteries of the Tsimane people are 25 to 30 years younger than that of the arteries of people living in urban communities.
This data also shows that the arteries of the Tsimane people are aging at a much slower rate. The arteries of the Tsimane villagers continued into older age.
Namely, in the ones older than 75, two-thirds had a score of zero whereas only 8 percent had a moderate or a high risk of more than 100.
The Diet of The People With the Healthiest Hearts
According to research on Tsimane women, the Tsimane diet was found to be 72 percent carbohydrate, 14 percent fat, and 14 percent protein.
The diet of the people with the healthiest hearts is rich in carbohydrates, but not the processed and refined ones common in the Western diet like potato chips, white bread, and sugar-rich drinks.
The Tsimane eat whole carbs, abundant in fiber. Two-thirds of their diet is starchy carbohydrates from rice, plantains, manioc root, corn, etc. They eat what they grow.
The remaining third is from foods they hunt and gather, like carbs from fruits and nuts, fish, and free-roaming animals such as pigs. But, the pigs they eat are much leaner than the pigs commonly grown in the US.
Only around 2 percent of the calories in the Tsimane diet are from foods you can buy in a store like pasta, sugar, crackers, and bread.
Do We Need to Move to Bolivia to Enjoy Better Heart Health?
The good news is that we don’t need to travel to the Amazon to learn the diet secrets of the Tsimane people.
The carb-fat-protein percentages of their diet are very similar to the Pritikin Eating Plan that has been taught at Miami’s Pritikin Longevity Center for the last 40 years.
100+ studies have concluded that the Pritikin diet in combination with exercise has major advantages for cardiovascular health.
In a period of two to three weeks, people who’ve tried Pritikin experienced a reduction in the modifiable risk factors for cardiovascular disease such as cholesterol and triglyceride levels, blood pressure, blood sugar, C-reactive proteins, excess weight, and metabolic syndrome.
What Do the Tsimane People Avoid in their Diet?
The Tsimane people don’t consume any products from dairy. Eggs are only around one-half of 1 percent of their calories. Their intake of saturated fat averages around 11 grams per day.
On the other hand, the average American consumes around 26 grams of saturated fat daily from food sources like pork, poultry with skin, fatty beef, lamb, cream, cheese, butter, and coconut and palm oils.
The Tsimane people also have a much lower intake of salt in comparison to the intake of salt in modern societies. Also, they don’t smoke.
The Importance of Regular Physical Activity
Exercise is important for a healthy cardiovascular system. The good news is that you don’t need to run marathons to keep your heart healthy. You just need to move, even if it’s a slow movement. You just need to get up and move.
The Tsimane people are active six to seven hours per day through activities like fruit picking, nut gathering, hunting, and fishing. Their women are moving four to six hours every day through activities like tending to kids, cooking, and doing other household tasks.
In percents, the Tsimane adults spend only 10 percent of their waking hours sitting whereas this percentage in industrialized countries is more than 55 percent.
Many of us are confined to desk jobs, but this shouldn’t stop us from using at least several minutes or hours of our day to walk and be physically active.
Here are great tips to stay active even if you work in an office:
- Move around while talking on the phone
- Don’t send an email to your colleague, but stand up and walk to their office
- Walk during lunch breaks
- Use the stairs instead of the elevator