Truth and Myths about the Healthy Hunzas
What you have to eat if you want to be healthy, look young and live actively over 100 years? Dried apricots! Is it truth or myth? Please allow us to start our dried apricot story with a short introduction.
There is a hidden valley in the Himalayan Mountains, a permanently happy land, isolated from the outside world. The land where there are no poor. That mystical earthly paradise called Shangri-La. Its people never get sick and live to 160 years. Their lifestyle is very simple and their diet almost exclusively consists of sun-dried apricots, almonds, grains, oils, vegetables, and seasonings grown within the immediate localities.
Shangri-La is a fictional place described in the 1933 novel “Lost Horizon” by British author James Hilton. Hunza is said to be his inspiration.
Hunza is situated in the extreme northern part of Pakistan. Yes, the region is home to five of the “eight-thousanders” and to more than fifty peaks above 7,000 metres. Yes, Hunza people are very warm and welcoming. And yes, they eat dried apricots and almonds all year round.
There is a book called “The Healthy Hunzas” written by American author J. I. Rodale in 1955. Rodale was an early advocate of returning to sustainable agriculture and organic farming in the United States. In the book, he wrote that Hunza people longevity and many centenarians were because they consumed healthy organic foods such as dried apricots and almonds, and had plenty of fresh air and exercise.
What is myth, what is truth?
Rodale never visited Hunza. The only author who had significant contact with Hunza people was John Clark. He stayed there for 20 months serving people as a doctor. In his book “Hunza – Lost Kingdom of the Himalayas” he stated that overall Hunzas were unhealthy. He treated 5,684 patients and most of them had malaria, dysentery, worms, trachoma, malnutrition, and other health conditions.
Hunzas do not measure their age solely by calendar but also by personal estimation of wisdom, leading to notions of typical lifespans of 120 or greater. There is no evidence that Hunza life expectancy is significantly above the average of poor, isolated regions of Pakistan.
The Hunza people are not vegetarians! They don’t eat food of animal origin in summer because it is the main source of food during long winter months. Actually, they have a high-fat diet that includes animal fats, butter, yogurt, and cheese made from the goat, sheep, and Yak milk. The fat is highly favoured for cooking, and a stew is made by boiling meat and grains.
The present people in Southern India are strict vegetarians by religious conviction, but they have the shortest life span on earth as scientifically proven. They are ravaged by disease and diet deficiencies, and suffer from frail body structures. The children exhibit a failure to thrive, and the childhood mortality is very high.
Local people sun dry apricots in the summer and stored them for the cold season. Those who tried real Hunza sun-dried apricots say that the dried fruit is amazingly delicious, vivid in colour, vibrant in flavour, naturally sweet and pleasantly chewy.
Dried apricots nutrition
Dried apricots provide you with many essential nutrients. A 100-gram serving of unsweetened and unsalted banana chips contains:
- calories – 241
- total carbohydrate – 63g (21% of the Daily Value, DV), including 53g of sugar and 7g of dietary fiber (28% DV)
- protein – 3.4g
- vitamin A –72% DV
- iron – 2.7mg (15% DV)
- potassium – 1162mg (33% DV)
Dried apricots are high in potassium and low in sodium, having a health-beneficial potassium-to-sodium ratio. Generally, most people in North America don’t consume healthy amounts of potassium.
Dried apricots also contain various polyphenols, including catechins. However, polyphenols have poor bioavailability, meaning that our body cannot absorb them and metabolise. Catechins show absorption of about 5%.
Usually, sulfur dioxide (E220) is used as a preservative for dried apricots. When treated with this gas, the colour is vivid orange. Organic apricots are darker in colour and have a coarser texture because they are not treated with sulfur vapour. The lighter the colour, the higher the sulfur dioxide content. Light-coloured varieties (with the sulfur content of more than 2000 ppm) are banned in the European Union.
6 Health Benefits of Dried Apricots
A high-potassium and low-sodium diet helps prevent high blood pressure and an increased risk for heart disease and stroke. A healthy adult should get about 4,700mg of potassium and no more than 2,300mg of sodium per day.
Potassium is an essential nutrient that plays a dramatic role in maintaining heart muscle contractions and nervous system healthy and balancing the body’s overall metabolism. You have to continually supply your body with potassium. Sodium counteracts potassium.
The beta-carotene found in dried apricots converts to vitamin A in the body. Vitamin A is a fat-soluble vitamin. It takes part in many metabolic reactions throughout the body that help maintain good vision, gene transcription, immune function, embryonic development and reproduction, bone metabolism, skin and cellular health, and mucous membrane conditions.
Dried apricots have a decent amount of vitamin E, which is a fat-soluble antioxidant that acts as a free radical scavenger. It has significant anti-inflammatory effects that result in the reduction of symptoms in asthma, osteoarthritis, and rheumatoid arthritis. It helps reduce the risk of colon cancer and decrease the severity and frequency of hot flashes in women going through menopause.
Dried apricots improve hemoglobin production because they are rich in iron. Iron is an active component of hemoglobin that delivers oxygen to every cell in the body. It is the nutrient that keeps us energized.
Dried apricots have a low glycemic index making them health-beneficial for people with Type 2 diabetes.
How many dried apricots are a healthy treat?
One ounce (28g) of dried apricots is about 1/4 cup, or eight halves of the dried fruit. If during a week you replace a few servings of fresh fruit with smaller portions of dried apricots, you will enrich your diet with fiber, potassium, iron, and antioxidants.
Chocolate-coated dried apricots are a popular type of confectionery in Kazakhstan, Ukraine and Russia. Egyptians usually dry apricots, add sweetener, and then use them to make a drink called “amar al-dīn”.