My fitness heroes are poor, short in stature and virtually unknown by the outside world. Although they live just a few hundred miles south of me in northern Mexico, I have never met any of them or seen even one of their tribesman on television, although my parents have. My parents had absolutely no idea that they were dealing with fitness gods - that is how unassuming these people are.
NOTE: My other fitness hero is Jack LaLanne. Who can't admire a guy who swam a mile off the coast of California shackled and towing 13 boats with 76 people on board at age 62? You can read more about him on my page Jack LaLanne: Nobdy Like Him.
But it is no exaggeration to say that these people could alleviate the suffering of 100's of millions of men worldwide if their example was just followed. Who are these people? They are the Tarahumara Indians. And consider their accomplishments:
I'm not so sure about how the last two items fit into a life of fitness, but the rock and roll lifestyle seems to work for them: they have no suicide or depression. And clearly they have achieved what all of us here in the U.S. desire: a happy, disease-free existence. And they have done it without drugs, without pharmaceuticals and without a multibillion dollar health care system.
So what is their secret? Well, clearly exericse is a biggee as I mentioned above. But their other secret may surprise a lot of you out there: a low fat diet built almost entirely on plant-based carbs. That's right - these guys have no hypertension into their 90's for a reason. Their low fat diet and exercise gives them a low LDL, low cholesterol and plaque-free (almost for sure) existence.
What are the actual numbers of the Tarahumara?
PLAQUE REGRESSION: If you're into regressing arterial (including penile) plaque, you'll be excited when you see the above numbers. Basically, the Tarahumara have naturally - without any pharmaceuticals or supplements - achieved the "Trifecta" in plaque regression: low LDL; low triglycerides and decent HDL. For example, let's look at Dr. Gould's plaque regression numbers as I have laid out in my page on HDL, LDL and Triglyceride Targets.
Now Dr. Gould's numbers are pretty conservative, but, even so, notice how close the Tarahumara came to meeting those goals. No wonder they have no heart disease! And no wonder they have hypertension! This is why I asserted that they very likely did not have atherosclerosis: they meet the requirements of the Plaque Regessers. And, yes, they achieved these stellar numbers without any pharmaceuticals or supplements!
CONCLUSION: A properly done low fat diet (coupled with significant exericse) is probably the elite diet on planet earth. If done correctly, it appears to completely keep off plaque and eliminate all elevations in blood pressure even into advanced age and appears to even extend age and life span. There are four other lower fat diets - not quite as low as the Tarahuara but close - that enjoyed incredible longevity and . These cultures ate lower levels of calories however and thus some believe caloric restriction may have played a role. However, the Tarahumara men consumed around 2,800 calories per day and yet enjoyed exceptional longevity. Note that Nathan Pritikin also completely regressed his plaque on a diet similar to the Tarahumara coupled with an hour of jogging every day.
MYTH #1: You Need High Cholesterol and LDL. I hope that some of you will notice how low their cholesterol is by American standards. Americans, due to their extreme affluence, are used to very high cholesterol levels and believe that this is required for brain health and many other things. Even prominent health bloggers have popularized this myth. The Tarahumara Indians and other cultures I mention in My Review of Healthy at 100 just shatter the silly idea that you need higher cholesterol levels for good health. For those living a reasonably healthy lifestyle, our livers manufacture all the cholesterol we need and that our brain needs. Again, the Tarahumara have incredible longevity and a high percentage of centennarians. Brain health is just not an issue even though their LDL is "low" by our standards.
MYTH #2: Carbs and Grains Are Unhealthy. The Tarahumara eat little fat and a LOT of carbs. Contrary to the typical American health rhetoric out there, they should be dead very young. The fact is, though, that there are good carbs and bad carbs and they eat the good ones and exercise a lot. While I don't think most Westerners would do well with 580 grams of carbs, the point still remains: you can eat probably a medium amount of carbs and do very well as long as they are low glycemic and you exercise (both of which should be a given). The Tarahumara are not eating white rice and bread. They are consuming high fiber corn and beans. And notice that their main food is a grain - horrors! (Those in the U.S. must be careful with corn as most of it is GMO'd with BT toxin.)
MYTH #3: Low Fat Diets Are Unhealthy. A poorly done low fat diet can be unhealthy and two of the Plaque Regressers warn about some people increasing plaque rather than regressing it. The Tarahumara are an example of doing it the right way with little wheat, lots of exercise and using low glycemic carbs.
MYTH #4: You Need High HDL for Heart Health. Most men would be appalled to have HDL in the low 30's However, low fat diets produce low HDL and the Tarahumara show that, generally speaking, HDL is not needed if you do a low fat diet properly. (If you do a low fat diet the wrong way, you can end up with very low HDL and higher triglycerides.)
MYTH #5: Vitamin C is Critical for Heart Health (Pauling Theory). The Tarahumara get about an RDA of Vitamin C and that's it, yet the enjoy incredible arterial health.
1) Amer J of Clin Nutr, Apr 1979, 32:905-915, "The food and nutrient intakes of the Tarahumara Indians of Mexico"
2) NEJM, dec 12 1991, Changes in lipid and lipoprotein levels and body weight in Tarahumara Indians after consumption of an affluent diet