The Health Secrets of the People of the Hunza Valley

Nazia Akhtar
Nov 5, 2020 · 4 min read

The Hunza Valley, in the northern part of Pakistan bordering China, is the home to the community of people who are believed to live much longer than the average life expectancy, living well over a century in some cases. The people of Hunza called the “Hunzukuch” are known to be some of the most resilient communities living in the deep valley of the Karakoram mountains. The diet and lifestyle of the people of the Hunza Valley is indeed very unique with a majority portion of the meals being plant-driven and with a focus on utilizing traditional food preservation techniques. The peculiar diet and the simple lifestyle of the Hunzukuch are the main reasons for the exemplary physical and mental health of the community.

The Hunza cuisine is highly plant-based, especially focused on the usage of nuts of various kinds. For example, the key ingredients in the majority of the local dishes are fresh apricot, dried apricot and apricot kernel oil. The Hunza Valley is filled with dozens of species of apricot trees and the sweetness of the apricots found in Hunza is unprecedented.

There are numerous health benefits of consuming apricots since they are high in fiber, Vitamins A,C,E as well as Potassium. The people of Hunza swear by the health benefits of apricots because apricots are known to promote gut health, fight free-radicals in the body and some research even suggests that the apricot kernel oil contains the chemical compound Amygdalin. Amygdalin has been previously linked to fighting cancer. It is believed that a deficiency of Vitamin B-17(amygdalin) is linked to causing cancer and apricot kernel oil has vitamin B-17. Apricots are consumed in various forms during all four seasons in the Hunza Valley.

During the summer months, fresh apricots are eaten as a snack as well as apricot juice is a common household drink. Every family during the months of July and August, sun-dries the apricots on the roof of their house while separating the seeds to be consumed separately. The dried apricots are eaten as a snack during winter and spring seasons along with the apricot seeds. Some of the seeds are utilized to make the apricot kernel oil which is the holy grail of the Hunza cuisine. It serves as the base to most of the local dishes.

Photo by Jason Leung on Unsplash

The usual processed foods and snacks found in the modern world are still a novelty in the Hunza Valley and they are consumed rather occasionally. Snacking between meals usually entails eating fruits or nuts. The traditional snacks of the Hunza valley are apples, cherry, walnuts, apricots seeds, almonds, dried apricots, mulberry, and dried cherries etc. Sun-drying of cherries, mulberry, sliced apples, tomatoes as well as leafy green vegetables is a very common food preservation technique. Given the harsh winter and the shortage of food during the cold weather, the only way to store the food from the summer months is through sun-drying.

Meat is consumed very infrequently because it’s expensive due to lack of grazing land for the cattle. Another important aspect of the Hunza cuisine is the lack of usage of sugar. There is no local dish that uses sugar. Even the most popular dessert known as “Diramphitti” is made by soaking wheat grains in water for weeks and the fermentation process converts the bland tasting wheat into sweet grains. Despite the fact that the rest of the country drinks tea “chai” with sugar, the Hunzai version of “chai” alternates sugar with salt. Traditionally, a spoonful of roasted flax seed powder is added to the tea because flax seeds are well-known to mitigate heart diseases, obesity and diabetes.

The Hunza Valley is a small community of closely-knit people and the socio-economic disparities are non-existent. The whole community functions on the basis of shared beliefs and collective values. Hence, there is no defined social stratification giving rise to a uniformity in the community. This level of simplicity and collectivism is comforting to the members of the community. Additionally, public transportation is very limited in the area, the people tend to live a very active lifestyle where walking is the norm.

Photo by Mehtab Farooq on Unsplash

A person’s physical and mental health directly depends on their diet and lifestyle. I believe the people of the Hunza Valley owe their good health and longevity to the organic, unprocessed, simple yet effective diet as well as their active lifestyle. The Hunza Valley is naturally blessed with scenic mountain beauty as well as an abundance of delicious fruits and nuts. The people of the Hunza Valley have anchored the local produce to devise a very healthy diet consisting of fruits, vegetables and nuts along with some amounts of meat with zero utilization of sugar.

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Nazia Akhtar

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Born in Hunza and moved to New York for education and then Toronto for work. NYU 2018

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