I’ve been sharing a few posts on why the people in Ikaria, Greece, live so long. Why it’s a “Blue Zone”. You can catch up here and here on the gist (and there’s more to come). The really big question that dangled during my stay here, however, is where’s the sugar issue sit in all of this?
In his bestseller The Blue Zones, Dan Buettner really doesn’t tick off the issue, but he was pretty keen to hear about my thoughts on sugar and longevity while we were in Ikaria and we debated it – robustly – over the week. I outline things in these two videos that Dan’s National Geographic team shot with me:
In short, the people here do eat sugar.
Today many put 1-2 teaspoons of sugar or local honey in their coffee or frappes. And they can drink several of these a day.
They also eat honey. They advise a teaspoon of their thyme honey in the morning on an empty stomach. You then eat something a good hour after that. They also eat yoghurt with honey, as well as “sweet fruits” – whole fruit jams made from sour cherries.
But several things:
- Traditionally, sugar has been a treat, consciously eaten and honey was a delicacy, consumed in small amounts.
- Coca Cola only arrived here just 20 years ago. Mars Bars haven’t made it yet. It’s actually hard to find junky food here – it’s not screaming at you at chemists, petrol stations etc – though the young people do consume way too much of it. This is another story. For now, we’re having to confine things to the secrets of the oldies and what they’ve done to live so long. This is what we’re to learn from (and hopefully the younger generation will, too).
- Dessert is not an everyday thing. Yes, they eat sweet things…but at celebrations. I was not once offered a desert menu at a restaurant. They don’t exist.
- Hidden sugars are super rare. The Ikarians don’t eat skim milk yoghurt. They don’t drink juice (only whole fruit). There are no pasta sauces from a jar, no bread from a packet. This is where real sugar consumption sits, as we all know.
So the upshot is that any sugar they’re eating is consciously eaten. They add it themselves. They’ve always added very little and my guess would be that it would equate to less than the sugar contained in an individual serve of “no added sugar” skim milk yoghurt…perhaps 6-8 teaspoons a day.
As an aside, here’s some information David Gillespie posted on the link between sugar and aging.
As another aside, I didn’t crave sugar once in Ikaria. I ate a little honey…mostly to experience the beautiful flavour, but also because my diet was so clean while I was there that I knew my body was happy to eat it. The clean diet – absolutely no chemicals or additives in over three weeks – had a big part to play, I feel. And the fat! I was never left hungry. What do you make of all this? Think sugar has a part to play?