Kitavans are lean, thriving people that live on an island that’s part of Papua New Guinea. Cardiovascular disease is virtually nonexistent in their society. Sickness, in general, is rare in Kitava.
What’s their secret? Are they watching their carbs? Making sure not to eat too much saturated fat?
That’s not it. (This article works best if you follow this link.)
But, yes, their way of eating is a big part of their wellness. Kitavans, who live as subsistence farmers who also continue to fish, eat really well. They always have an abundance of delicious food. Their staples are coconuts, fish, fruit, and tubers. Let’s do a basic nutrition breakdown of the foods Kitavans thrive on.
Coconuts are made up of more than 75-percent fat with small amounts of carbohydrate and protein. The fat in coconuts is about 90-percent saturated fat.
Fruit is made up of more than 90-percent carbohydrate with very small amounts of protein and fat. The carbohydrate in fruit is about 75-percent sugar.
Let’s pause here for a moment and make this perfectly clear: The Kitavans, who are kicking the United States’ ass in terms of cardiovascular-disease prevention have as staples of their diet high-carbohydrate, high-fat foods. Not just any carbohydrate, but sugar. Not just any fat, but saturated fat. If you’re world is being rocked, hang in there; we’ll get through this together.
Maybe they’re vegetarians? Not, that’s not it either. Remember, Kitavans are island people who regularly eat fish. They eat a wide array of fish, both finfish and shellfish, and eat every part except for the bones, gallbladders, and scales of finfish and, of course, the shells of clams, mussels, and oysters. They eat fish guts. They eat fish eggs too. Fish eggs are particularly popular with Kitavan children. (If you think you’re wealthy living in the suburbs feeding your kids GoGurt while you’re rushing around in your borrowed (the bank owns it) crossover vehicle to get back to your borrowed (the bank owns it) colonial house, consider the fact that Kitavan kids are regularly eating caviar while living on an island paradise with their debt-free parents, aunts, uncles, and grandparents.)
Kitavans are also big fans of potatoes, sweet potatoes, and other tubers which are staples of their diet since they grow so well in Kitava. Tubers are more than 90-percent carbohydrate with very small amounts of protein and fat.
If you’re wondering why news anchors are always telling you to cut carbs and to be careful not to eat too much saturated fat, my hunch is they’re spending too much time working on their spray tans and permanent fake smiles to be well-informed. Let’s stand out from the crowd and inform ourselves with direct quotes from the physicians and scientists who’ve studied the Kitivans:
“In Kitava, the intake of Western food is negligible and stroke and ischemic heart disease are absent or rare.” (1) (My comment: Western food refers to food-like packaged goods, like 365 Everyday Value Organic Cheese Crackers, for example.)
“The population is characterized by extreme leanness (despite food abundance), low blood pressure, low plasma plasminogen activator inhibitor 1 activity [a marker of thrombosis related to the development of the metabolic syndrome (the cluster of cardiovascular disease, type-2 diabetes, obesity, and related diseases) and cancer], and rarity of cardiovascular disease. Tubers, fruit, fish, and coconut are dietary staples whereas dairy products, refined fat and sugar, cereals, and alcohol are absent and salt intake is low.” (2) (My comment: Kitavans are very lean and hardly ever get cardiovascular disease. Among their food staples are coconuts which are almost entirely saturated fat. They also don’t eat any food-like packaged goods.)
“On the island of Kitava, Trobriand Islands, Papua New Guinea, a subsistence lifestyle, uninfluenced by western dietary habits, is still maintained. Tubers, fruit, fish and coconut are dietary staples. Of the total population, 1816 subjects were estimated to be older than 3 years and 125 to be 60-96 years old. The frequencies of spontaneous sudden death, exertion-related chest pain, hemiparesis, aphasia and sudden imbalance were assessed by semi-structured interviews in 213 adults aged 20-96. Resting electrocardiograms (ECG’s) were recorded in 119 males and 52 females. No case corresponding to stroke, sudden death or angina pectoris was described by the interviewed subjects. Minnesota Code (MC) items 1-5 occurred in 14 ECG’s with no significant relation to age, gender or smoking. ST items [a measure of heart function] (MC [Minnesota Code] 4.2 and 4.3) were found in two females and Q items [a measure of heart function] (MC [Minnesota Code] 1.1.2, 1.3.2 and 1.3.3) in three males. Stroke and ischaemic heart disease appear to be absent in this population.” (3) (My comment: Among the Kitivans; people whose food staples are coconuts, fish, fruit, and tubers; cardiovascular disease is so rare that researches used the word “absent” to describe the results of their study. Wow!)
“Low serum insulin may partly explain the low prevalence of cardiovascular disease in Kitavans and probably relates to their marked leanness.” (1) (My comment: Kitivans eat a lot of fruit and tubers and they have low blood-insulin levels. About 70 percent of what they eat is carbohydrate.)
Now you know about the Kitivans: the lean, thriving people who eat only carbs, sugar, fat, saturated fat, flesh, and guts.
Let’s be real clear about something: Kitivans aren’t eating low-fat coconuts. They’re not eating I Can’t Believe It’s Not a Coconut. They’re eating full-fat, full-saturated-fat, full-flavor, full-life coconuts. They’re not eating low-carb sweet potatoes or low-sugar bananas either. Fat, saturated fat, carbohydrate, and sugar are…wait for it…wait for it…wait for it…nutrients. They’re not villains, they’re nutrients. And there aren’t good and bad nutrients. Bad nutrient is a misnomer. There are simply nutrients.
Kitavan food hasn’t been destroyed by industry, by processing. That’s all. That’s their secret. All whole, natural, real food, from spinach to almonds to venison to raspberries and everywhere in between—ALL whole, natural, real food—is nourishing. That’s 99 percent of what you need to know about nutrition.
Some people will learn about the Kitavans and mistakenly think coconuts, fish, fruit, and tubers are superfoods. These aren’t superfoods. There are NO superfoods. These are very simply the Kitavan’s local foods. They eat wild-caught fish and organically grown vegetables and fruit that grow well in the region of Earth where they live. That’s what you can do too to reap the benefits the Kitavans do from their way of eating. If you’re ready to be done obsessing over nutrients, if you’re ready to let your food villains go, you’re now free to do so. Just eat real food.
To emphasize this point, none of you “food”-entrepreneur types (who don’t make food, but make food-like packaged goods) should go out and try to make Kitava Bars made from coconuts, red snapper, mangos, and sweet potatoes with a drawing of a Kativan lifting a barbell on the package. Kativans aren’t doing boot camp, and taking food and processing the crap out of it to make a shelf-stable bar is exactly the problem. Don’t be the problem. Just eat real food. Any real food. All real food.
“But Jason, it isn’t only the news anchors who tell me to avoid certain nutrients. My physicians, including my cardiologist, are always telling me to cut back on this and that.”
Cardiologists are smart dudes/dudettes. And if you want to know the right pill to lower your blood pressure or you want to have a stent properly inserted into your body, there isn’t anyone better for the job. But these folks aren’t the best people for the job of helping you eat well. In a 2017 study article published in Current Cardiology Reports (a medical journal that focuses on cardiology) (4), the researchers state:
“Medical students receive an average of fewer than 20 h [hours] of nutrition education, largely confined to basic sciences and discussion of vitamin deficiency states.”
“Current guidelines for Internal Medicine [sic] residency and cardiovascular fellowship training do not contain any specific requirement for nutrition education.”
“A recent survey showed that the vast majority of cardiologists report having received minimal nutrition training, although most cardiologists believe it is their personal responsibility to provide nutritional counseling to their patients.” (My comment: That’s like someone who’s never taken drivers’ ed believing it’s their personal responsibility to drive an 18-wheeler over an icy mountain pass in Montana.)
“Cardiologists typically receive minimal training in nutrition and are not well equipped to deliver effective nutritional counseling and recognize opportunities for appropriate referral.”
We’ve known (the few off us in the know) about the Kitivans since the early 1990s, yet if you ask most cardiologists if they’ve heard of Kitava, they’ll probably ask you back if it’s a brand of sailboat they can buy. You’re on your own people. Popular culture is cesspool of misinformation regarding eating well. The television and your physicians’ offices offer little guidance. I’m not knocking physicians or the medical system. Cardiologists, in their own journal, are being forthright and telling you they don’t know what they’re doing. Besides, it takes millions of people (and billions of dollars) to do this crazy tango. Medical-insurance companies, pharmaceutical companies, and millions of sick people all work together with physicians to create the medical system. If there weren’t so many sick people, the medical system wouldn’t be so dysfunctional. If you want the medical-insurance companies, pharmaceutical companies, and physicians to be less of a factor in your life, be well. Live well and be well. The Kitivans make it perfectly clear that for those with a lifestyle that meets their needs, cardiovascular disease, and sickness in general, is a non-factor.
A client of mine recently asked me, “Jason, when did people become so afraid of food?” It’s a poignant question. From birth, most of us have lived in a culture of food exclusion. Ask anyone you know today what they do to eat well and almost every single person will answer with something like, “I watch my carbs,” “I’m gluten-free and dairy-free,” “I limit my red-meat intake and watch my portions.” Our entire discourse around eating well is about what we’re scared of. The advice on what to be scared of, that you get from your news anchors, Weight Watchers, and nutrition professors, is, of course, always changing. The same people/organizations that told you to eat a low-fat diet 20 years ago tell you to eat a low-carb diet today. Mainstream eating advice is a decidedly unappetizing mix of fear and ignorance.
I invite you to imagine what a fear-free, enjoyment-full relationship with food, eating, your body, and yourself would be like for you. It’s glorious.
Because I feel the need to be thorough (my articles are the opposite of 30-second sound bites and five-minute medical appointments; they’re the plenum of truth), it’s not only the Kitavans’ way of eating that creates their wellness, it’s their lifestyle in the fullest sense of the word. Among other factors contributing to the Kitavans’ wellness are the facts that they spend a lot of time outdoors in nature, live in close-knit communities, and do work that’s inherently fulfilling to them. These factors all contribute to lives low in chronic stress. That’s what happens when you meet your needs. That’s the key to wellness in both the present and the future.
I invite you to stop drinking from wells of fear and ignorance and enjoy great meals made from well-sourced, delicious real food with your close ones. That’s really all there is to it.
(1) Low Serum Insulin in Traditional Pacific Islanders—The Kitava Study. Metabolism, 1999, 48(10), 1,216-1,219.
(2) Age Relations of Cardiovascular Risk Factors in a Traditional Melanesian Society: The Kitava Study. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 1997, 66(4), 845-852.
(3) Apparent Absence of Stroke and Ischaemic Heart Disease in a Traditional Melanesian Island: A Clinical Study in Kitava. Journal of Internal Medicine, 1993, 233(3), 269-275.
(4) Nutrition Education for Cardiologists: The Time Has Come. Current Cardiology Reports, 2017, 19(9), 77.
Remember your mantra for today: NOURISHING MOVEMENT, NOURISHING FOOD, NOURISHING LIFE.
There’s a place below to share your feelings on this article if you’d like. I’d love to hear from you.