Diet Review

The Kitavan Diet: Tubers, Fresh Fruit, Coconut and Fish


There are a few places in the world that stand out against the rest of the globe when it comes to freedom free degenerative diseases. One such a place is Kitava, a small island in the Trobriand Islands group of Papua New Guinea where nutritional habits are virtually uninfluenced by Western dietary habits. Researchers who have studied Kitavans, their lifestyle (including diet) and their exceptional health report that there is practically no acne, diabetes, cardiovascular disease leading to stroke or congestive heart failure, dementia or blood pressure problems among the native Kitavans. What's more, the native people on Kitava do not suffer from obesity of even overweight despite the abundance of food that is naturally available to them on their tropical island. They have low diastolic blood pressure (all < 90 mm Hg), but total cholesterol concentrations are somewhat less favorable, probably due to the relatively high intake of saturated fat from coconut.

Kitava has 2,300 inhabitants and the life expectancy at birth is estimated at 45, including infant mortality, and the life expectancy at the age 50 is about 75. While the life expectancy at birth may not sound like a lot, it is quite remarkable for a population with limited access to modern medicine. It is also important to consider the most common causes of death on Kitava, which include accidents (such as drowning), homicide, malaria, and pregnancy complications.

Among the elderly population on Kitava, accidents and old age – rather than degenerative diseases – top the list of common causes of death. Research suggests that the good health among Kitavans is not related to genetics as genetically similar groups who eat an abundance of industrial food appear to be susceptible to the degenerative diseases of the West. Also exercise is not a likely cause of the exceptional health on Kitava as an average Kitavan is only slightly more physically active than a Western person leading a sedentary lifestyle.

Local foods, such as tubers, fresh fruit, coconut and fish, make up the backbone of the Kitavan diet. The most commonly consumed tubers include yam, cassava (aka yucca or manioc), sweet potato (aka kumara) and taro. Common fruit include banana, papaya, guava, pineapple, mango, and water melon. The consumption of Western food is extremely low, with an average Kitavan spending a meagre 3 US dollars per year on Western foods. The intake of dairy products, tea, coffee and alcohol is close to nil, and salt intake is low by Western standards. Also the consumption of oils, margarine, sugar, grains and cereals is low. The overall fat intake is equally low, and most fat consumed is saturated or marine n-3 polyunsaturated fat (omega-3 fat from seafood).

In summary, the Kitavan diet comprises an abundance of foods that have a low glycemic index rating and that are rich in soluble fiber, magnesium, potassium, and omega-3 fatty acids. All of these characteristics may contribute to the exceptional health benefits associated with the Kitavan diet.

An Abundance of Foods With a Low GI Rating

Glycemic Index Chart

The glycemic index (GI) is a measure of the ability of carbohydrate containing foods to raise blood sugar (glucose) levels. Foods with a high GI ranking (a GI score of 70 or more) contain rapidly digestible carbohydrates, which triggers a large and rapid rise in blood glucose levels. In contrast, foods ranked low on the glycemic index (i.e. scoring 55 or less) contain slowly digestible carbohydrates and therefore produce a gradual, low rise in blood glucose levels. A diet rich in high GI foods and poor in low GI foods pushes the body to extremes and has been associated with at least the following health problems: excess body weight and obesity, worsening of diabetes symptoms, insulin resistance, PCOS, heart disease, high cholesterol levels, cravings and lack of energy.

Tubers, which are mainstays of the Kitavan diet and one of the primary sources of carbohydrates for Kitavans, generally have a low glycemic index rating: