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(Looking at the Science on Raw vs. Cooked Foods--continued, Part 3-I)

Cooking practices of supposedly healthy peoples
cited by vegetarian lore

The Hunza, Vilcabambans, and Georgians/Abkhasians. In another realm, with less rigorous information available, vegetarian lore has it that the people of Vilcabamba (South America), Hunza (Pakistan), and Abkhasia (formerly Soviet Georgia) were long-lived and had good health. (Note for clarity: Abkhasia is a region within the [former Soviet] Georgia--but Abkhasians and Georgians as peoples are two different ethnic groups, with different languages. Claims that refer to long-lived "Georgians" are actually references to Abkhasians. This follows from information in Benet [1974, pp. 9-15].) The claims of health/longevity may or may not be true, but in addition to looking at the scientificially documented examples of hunter-gatherers, for the sake of discussion it is worthwhile to examine whether these other traditional people, who are supposedly much healthier than everywhere else in the world, do or don't have healthier cooking practices.

Varying reports and possible exaggerations make meaningful evaluation difficult. A number of books have been written on these peoples [Davies 1975, Sidky 1995, Shahid 1979, Rodale 1948, Benet 1974]. It is clear that they do not enjoy perfect health, and it is possible that longevity may have been exaggerated in some cases. For example, claims are sometimes made that Georgians/Abkhasians have been known to take the name of their father or their grandfather to escape military service, thereby corrupting the (old Soviet Union) census records with false ages. However, Benet [1974, pp. 14-15] discusses the considerable lengths Soviet medical research teams (studying the aged in Abkhasia) went to, to secure reliable age data, and the extensive efforts the census of the Soviet Union (1959) went to, to obtain reliable age data from elderly Abkhasians.

In preparing this write-up, no credible documentation was available to support the claims of Abkhasian age data corrupted by draft-avoidance. If any reader is aware of a credible source for such data, please inform one of the site editors. Until such evidence is presented, it seems best to regard the claims of widespread draft-avoidance to be unsupported, dubious, and possibly insulting to Abkhasians.

The overall health picture: problems with acute and infectious diseases but very low incidence of long-term degenerative disease. Despite the above potential concerns, reviewing a few aspects of health in these societies may be of interest. An interesting discussion on health and diet of these peoples can be found in Schmid [1997]. The incidence of diseases such as cancer, heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, etc., among these populations is very low. On the other side of the ledger, mortality in infancy and early childhood of Vilcabambans is high [it is among hunter-gatherers also; this is not necessarily a strike against their diet, however, since it is likely attributable to social conditions], and losing teeth at an early age is rather common. According to Clark [1956], Hunzans suffer from a variety of problems, including malaria, dysentery, worms, impetigo, goiter, dental decay, rickets, and tuberculosis. Again, as with hunter-gatherers, given the less sanitary living conditions that often prevail in poorer, developing countries, it is long-term disease conditions that should perhaps be of the most concern.

Vilcabambans, Hunzans, and Abkhasians indeed seem to have a remarkably low incidence of long-term degenerative diseases, but don't enjoy perfect health. According to the analysis of Schmid, Hunzans are less healthy than Georgians/Abkhasians because they are deficient in animal foods (note that rickets are said to be a problem for the former), and Vilcabambans are intermediate. One may or may not agree with that conclusion, but nevertheless, it is interesting to note in the context of our discussion here that the supposedly healthiest (Georgians) cook more, and consume more animal products, than Hunzans.

Note: One problem that may be a significant source of confounding error in interpreting observations about the health of these peoples is the timeframe from which various observations about them come. As with the Inuit--about whom legends are rife, and whose health began deteriorating with increasing Westernization--it can be similarly difficult to disentangle myth from fact where these other peoples are concerned as well.

The Hunza

Hunzans grow various sorts of cereals such as barley, wheat, millet, and buckwheat (with which they bake bread), as well as a variety of vegetables and root vegetables. But fruits constitute a very important part of their diet, especially apricots. They eat very little meat (due to scarcity), but consume dairy products (including ghee). They don't overcook their food due to lack of fuel. The vegetables are boiled in covered pots, but only a small amount of water is used at a time.


Vilcabambans eat root vegetables, maize, beans (such as soya beans), milk, eggs, green vegetables, a kind of cabbage, marrows (vegetables of the same family as zucchinis), pumpkins, and fruit. They cook most of their food.


The following material is summarized from the discussion on the topic in Benet [1974].

Staple plant foods. A cornmeal mash, known as abista, is a major staple, as are other cornmeal dishes. Abista may be eaten at each meal of the day (i.e., 3 times/day). Nuts are heavily consumed, and are used for flavoring foods in place of butter. Wild chestnuts are abundant in the region, and the nuts are a staple food for winter. Pickled vegetables and lima beans are also popular; from Benet [1974, p. 24]:

Vegetables may be served cooked or raw, but are most commonly pickled. A favorite dish eaten almost every day is baby lima beans, cooked slowly for many hours, mashed and flavored with a sauce of onions, green peppers, coriander, garlic, and pomegranate juice. With rare exceptions, vegetables are preferred one of two ways: raw, or cooked in very small amounts of water...

Fruits. Fresh fruit is available seasonally in Georgia, and the Abkhasians eat large amounts. Pears are commonly cooked to produce a thick syrup which is used as a sugar substitute. Abkhasia is a major wine producer, and grapes are a popular food. Benet [1974, p. 25] claims that "a man may eat fifty kilograms [of grapes] in a single season."

The Abkhasians grow pomegranates, which are used as basting sauce for meats. They also dry fruits for storage and later consumption. Citrus fruits are popular as well.

A local spice is used in place of salt: adzhika, a mixture of locally grown, mostly pungent/bitter plant foods mixed with nuts. Abkhasians also eat some wild plants, most notably barberry, Barberis vulgaris.

Staple animal foods. From Benet [1974, p. 25]:

The Abkhasians eat relatively little meat--perhaps once or twice a week--and prefer chicken, beef, lamb, and kid [juvenile goat]. The meat is always freshly slaughtered and either broiled or boiled for a minimal amount of time...

Not more than two or three eggs are eaten a week, and these are either boiled or fried...

Fat from meat and poultry is not used at all, and butter very seldom.

The Abkhasians dislike fatty meat and typically trim off as much fat as possible before eating. Honey, an insect-processed product, is also consumed.

Although Abkhasians eat little meat, they do consume considerable amounts of dairy. They consume 1-2 glasses of matzoni per day, a locally produced fermented milk product that is similar to buttermilk. Additionally, they typically cut up goat cheese and cook it in their meals of abista, the cornmeal mash that is a major staple of their daily diet.

The Abkhasian diet is 74% milk + vegetables (note: unfortunately, the source here [Benet 1974] does not give the exact split between milk and vegetables out of that 74%), and provides about 73 grams of protein, 47 grams fat, and 381 grams carbohydrate per day. The elderly consume about 1900 cal/day, which is on the low side.

Comments on cooking and longevity

Hunzas, Vilcambans, Georgians aren't raw-fooders. It appears from the above that these supposedly long-lived people do eat some raw food, but are not even predominantly raw, and don't use particularly gentle methods of cooking, except perhaps the inhabitants of Hunza.

It has been argued that these populations live long in spite of cooking; that if they ate raw, they would live much longer--why not as long as Methuselah (969 years)?--and what is now considered as a long life is in fact ridiculously short compared to human longevity potential.

Actual facts turn out to be more mundane than the mythical reality. While we don't consider such arguments much worth discussing (they are simply speculation--the burden is on the claimants to provide actual evidence of such), let's mention the observations and evidence we already have in hand regarding the situation.

Given current scientific knowledge about the theories of aging; given that no non-human mammal lives much beyond 100 years; that, from experience, no raw-food eater looks incredibly younger than his age; that no raw-food eater has ever beaten longevity records (even if there is a very small pool of raw-fooders to draw from, if the diet is so incredibly good, we should still see a high percentage of them who have approached these records); that, since hunter-gatherer populations can learn enough of their environment and reproduce successfully while having shorter lifespans than people in industrialized countries, there is no selection pressure for living much beyond 60 years old in good health; given all these arguments, it seems incredibly unreasonable that any human, on raw-food or not, could live much beyond the current longevity records.


(Are "Instinctive Nutrition" and Cooking Completely Incompatible?)

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GO TO PART 1 - Is Cooked Food "Toxic"?

GO TO PART 2 - Does Cooked Food Contain Less Nutrition?

GO TO PART 3 - Discussion: 100% Raw vs. Predominantly Raw

Back to Research-Based Appraisals of Alternative Diet Lore

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