The next logical pair of questions are: how healthy could good nutrition make people be, and, how much deviation from ideal nutrition could we allow ourselves before serious disease appears? Luckily, earlier in this century we could observe living answers to those questions (before the evidence disappeared). The answers are: we could be amazingly healthy, and, if we wish to enjoy excellent health we can afford to cut ourselves surprisingly little slack.

Prior to the Second World War there were several dozen sizable groups of extraordinarily healthy humans remaining on Earth. Today, their descendants are still in the same remote places, are speaking the same languages and possess more or less the same cultures. Only today they're watching satellite TV. wearing jeans, drinking colas–and their superior health has evaporated.

During the early part of this century, at the same era vitamins and other basic aspects of nutrition were being discovered, a few farsighted medical explorers sought out these hard-to-reach places with their legendarily healthy peoples to see what caused the legendary well-being they'd heard of. Enough evidence was collected and analyzed to derive some very valid principles.

First lets dismiss some apparently logical but incorrect explanations for the unusually good health of these isolated peoples. It wasn't racial, genetic superiority. There were extraordinarily healthy blacks, browns, Orientals, Amerinds, Caucasians. It wasn't living at high altitude; some lived at sea level. It wasn't temperate climates, some lived in the tropics, some in the tropics at sea level, a type of location generally thought to be quite unhealthful. It wasn't a small collection of genetically superior individuals, because when these peoples left their isolated locale and moved to the city, they rapidly began to lose their health. And it wasn't genetics because when a young couple from the isolated healthy village moved to town, their children born in town were as unhealthy as all the other kids.

And what do I mean by genuinely healthy? Well, imagine a remote village or a mountain valley or a far island settlement very difficult to get to, where there lived a thousand or perhaps ten thousand people. Rarely fewer, rarely more. Among that small population there were no medical doctors and no dentists, no drugs, no vaccinations, no antibiotics. Usually the isolation carried with it illiteracy and precluded contact with or awareness of modern science, so there was little or no notion of public hygiene. And this was before the era of antibiotics. Yet these unprotected, undoctored, unvaccinated peoples did not suffer and die from bacterial infections; and the women did not have to give birth to 13 children to get 2.4 to survive to breeding age–almost all the children made it through the gauntlet of childhood diseases. There was also virtually no degenerative disease like heart attacks, hardening of the arteries, senility, cancer, arthritis. There were few if any birth defects. In fact, there probably weren't any aspirin in the entire place. Oh, and there was very little mortality during childbirth, as little or less than we have today with all our hospitals. And the people uniformly had virtually perfect teeth and kept them all till death, but did not have toothbrushes nor any notion of dental hygiene. Nor did they have dentists or physicians. (Price, 1970)

And in those fortunate places the most common causes of death were accident (trauma) and old age. The typical life span was long into the 70s and in some places quite a bit longer. One fabled place, Hunza, was renowned for having an extraordinarily high percentage of vigorous and active people over 100 years old.

I hope I've made you curious. "How could this be?" you're asking. Well, here's why. First, everyone of those groups lived in places so entirely remote, so inaccessible that they were of necessity, virtually self-sufficient. They hardly traded at all with the outside world, and certainly they did not trade for bulky, hard-to-transport bulk foodstuffs. Virtually everything they ate was produced by themselves. If they were an agricultural people, naturally, everything they ate was natural: organic, whole, unsprayed and fertilized with what ever local materials seemed to produce enhanced plant growth. And, if they were agricultural, they lived on a soil body that possessed highly superior natural fertility. If not an agricultural people they lived by the sea and made a large portion of their diets sea foods. If their soil had not been extraordinarily fertile, these groups would not have enjoyed superior health and would have conformed to the currently widely-believed notion that before the modern era, people's lives were brutish, unhealthful, and short.

What is common between meat-eating Eskimos, isolated highland Swiss living on rye bread, milk and cheese; isolated Scottish island Celts with a dietary of oat porridge, kale and sea foods; highland central Africans (Malawi) eating sorghum, millet tropical root crops and all sorts of garden vegetables, plus a little meat and dairy; Fijians living on small islands in the humid tropics at sea level eating sea foods and garden vegetables. What they had in common was that their foods were all were at the extreme positive end of the Health = Nutrition / Calories scale. The agriculturists were on very fertile soil that grew extraordinarily nutrient-rich food, the sea food gatherers were obtaining their tucker from the place where all the fertility that ever was in the soil had washed out of the land had been transported–sea foods are also extraordinarily nutrient rich.

The group with the very best soil and consequently, the best health of all were, by lucky accident, the Hunza. I say "lucky" and "accident" because the Hunza and their resource base unknowingly developed an agricultural system that produced the most nutritious food that is possible to grow. The Hunza lived on what has been called super food. There are a lot of interesting books about the Hunza, some deserving of careful study. (Wrench, 1938; Rodale, 1949)