Amazonian hi-carb heart secrets

The Tsimane tribe have virtually no heart disease, even over age 75. What’s their secret?

The Tsimane tribe in the Peruvian Amazon have the lowest risk for heart disease in the
world. Two thirds of over 75 year olds have almost no risk. Only 8% had
moderate/high risk. They have virtually no atherosclerosis (hardening of the
arteries). In comparison only 14% of Americans have no risk and half have
moderate/high risk. This was a discovered in a comprehensive study, taking CT
scans of 705 adults. So, what’s their secret?

Their diet comprises of 72% of calories from unrefined, high fibre carbohydrates (rice,
plantain, manioc, corn, nuts and fruits). Protein makes up 14% of their diet,
mainly from lean animal meat and fish. They eat wild pig, piranha, catfish and
the occasional monkey. Their fat intake is low at 14%, which much less
saturated fat, and no trans fats, than a Western diet.

This flies in the face of the demonising of carbohydrates and the idea that the only way
to health is a high fat, low carb diet. When I was researching for the Optimum
Nutrition Bible I say that an ‘ideal’ diet is 15% protein, 20% fat (with more
omegas) and 65% carbohydrates, so the Tsimane diet is pretty close.

But bear in mind that they burn off a lot of calories from exercise. The average man is
spending 6-7 hours, and the average women 4-5 hours being physically active –
hunting, gathering and preparing land for farming. The average Westerner spends
54% of their waking life inactive. The Tsimanes only 10%. So, they are going
need more carbs than even a moderately fit Westerner. Also, they don’t smoke.

The average age of death is 70 – often from infections. They have quite high measures of inflammatory markers probably because of it, but low cholesterol, blood glucose
and blood pressure.

“This study suggests that coronary atherosclerosis could be avoided if people adopted
some elements of the Tsimane lifestyle, such as keeping their LDL cholesterol,
blood pressure, and blood sugar very low, not smoking and being physically active.”
Said the author, Dr Gregory Thomas, a cardiologist from Long Beach Memorial
Centre in the US.

Reference: H Kaplan et al, ‘Coronary atherosclerosis in indigenous South American
Tsimane: a cross-sectional cohort study.’ The Lancet, 2017