There are quite a few pockets of longevity throughout the world. The long lived people in these pockets seem to have a number of characteristics in common. A recent article (1) about one such pocket, Sicani, gives interesting insight into some of the factors contributing to longevity.
Sicani Is A Pocket Of Longevity
Sicani is an area in the West of Sicily. It has 4.32 times as many people over 100 years of age as the rest of Italy. The area is the mountainous area surrounding Monti Sicani. The people are physically active throughout their life. They are lacking obesity, are small in stature, and have a normal BMI. Their diet has a Mediterranean nutritional profile.
But there are multiple Mediterranean diets. Each region in the Mediterranean has a unique dietary profile. So the researchers studied the diet of the people in Sicani to describe their particular Mediterranean profile.
What They Eat In Sicani
Seasonal plant food comprises the bulk of the diet in Sicani. As a result, the people eat a variety of fruits, vegetables and legumes when in season throughout the year. And they have some dairy every day, as well as a small amount of meat. Moreover, they eat only a small amount of refined carbohydrates. They eat no white bread, and only a little pasta. The amount of pasta is less than one ounce, contributing only 200 calories a day.
Their main source of carbohydrates and calories comes from fruits, vegetables and legumes. Consequently, there are no snacks, sweets, or sweet beverages. And their main source of fat is virgin olive oil.
Some of the factors these people have in common with other long lived people are unrelated to diet. These centenarians remain physically active throughout their lives. Consequently, their BMI is in the normal range. It is being mostly between 19 and 27. So they have no excess fat on their body. Furthermore, they do not smoke, and they limit the amount of wine they drink.
What Is The Common Dietary Factor?
However, what the people of Sicani do not have in common with other pockets of longevity are the individual items in their diet. The foods in their diet differ from the foods in the diets of other long lived non-Mediterranean populations. What the diet does have in common with the diet in other pockets of longevity, though, is a high potassium sodium ratio.
Although the article did not directly calculate the amount of potassium and sodium in their diet, the types of foods that the people of Sicani eat would indicate a high ratio diet. They do not eat canned vegetables. But rather, they eat the vegetables and fruits as they come from the ground. This means their food is not preserved in sodium or salt, as is so often the case in more developed areas. Furthermore, they eat few baked goods. So they avoid the sodium of baking soda and baking powder.
Is It Fresh Fruits And Vegetables?
Fresh fruits and vegetables almost universally have a high potassium sodium ratio. We have discussed here and here about the high ratio in fruits and vegetables respectively, and their functional aspect here.
Most dairy has a ratio over 3. Similarly, most poultry and meat that is not processed is over 3. As a group, legumes average an especially high ratio of potassium to sodium. And the ratio for red wine is 31.
Is It Other Factors?
This is not to say that the high potassium to sodium ratio in their diet is the only factor contributing to their longevity. Other factors are their physical activity, absence of excess body fat, abstinence from smoking, limited alcohol intake, and supportive social structure. Similarly, other pockets of longevity frequently share these same factors.
A lot of factors have to come together to get you past 100 years of age. And one of the big factors is eating a high ratio diet. You can find tables of potassium and sodium values in fruits, vegetables and legumes at the links.
1. Centenarians and diet: what they eat in the Western part of Sicily. Vasto S, Rizzo C, Caruso C. Immun Ageing. 2012 Apr 23;9(1):10. doi: 10.1186/1742-4933-9-10.