What do the rich and fertile man-made terraces of Hunza in Pakistan, the breathtaking mountains of Vilcabamba, Ecuador and the Caucasus mountains of southern Russia all have in common?
According to John Robbins, author of Healthy at 100, they are home to some of the longest-living cultures in the world.
The longevity of these cultures is based on a lifestyle of physical activity, their loving relationships with each other, their respect for elders, their passion for life – all things that Yukoners embrace.
The other major factor for long-living people in these cultures is their diet. What is it that they are thriving on?
Although these cultures are found in very different places in the world, their diets are amazingly similar – they consist mainly of vegetables, fruit, grains, seeds and nuts, with small amounts of animal protein such as fermented milk, eggs, fish and sometimes meat.
A key factor is that most of their food is freshly harvested and eaten raw, in its most nutrient-dense form.
Why is raw food so much better than cooked, and how can it affect our health?
Raw food, eaten as soon as possible after harvesting, is alive with nutrients that our bodies thrive on.
For example, enzymes, which are essential elements that increase the rate of chemical reactions in our bodies, are abundant in raw plant food.
But at temperatures of 118F and above, they become inactive.
A lack of enzymes can cause sluggish digestion and metabolism, and can lead to a whole array of problems including allergies, lack of energy, skin problems, depression and PMS.
Many vitamins and minerals, which are also abundant in raw foods, start to deteriorate in the cooking process. The vitamin B complex, for example, has many functions, including being integral to our central nervous system. A B vitamin deficiency can cause depression and anxiety.
This all sounds fine and dandy, but we live in the Yukon – fresh food is hard to come by most months of the year.
In the summer it’s easy to visit the farmer’s market at the Shipyards Park, or to harvest your own fresh vegetables, but what about optimal nutrition year-round?
Here are some hints for keeping fresh food on your plate:
When planning your garden think about growing vegetables that can be effectively stored over the winter.
Easy-care veggies include carrots, potatoes and other root vegetables that can be put in sand; and cabbage that can be hung from the ceiling in cold storage.
Pick Yukon berries in the fall such as mossberries, mountain blueberries and cranberries. They are easy to freeze in their raw state, or you can dehydrate them.
Berries are chock full of anti-oxidants that prevent cellular damage and help protect against cancer, aging and a variety of diseases.
Dehydrating and freezing can optimize the amount of enzymes, vitamins and minerals in your food because there is no cooking involved.
You can winterize your own garden, buy from local organic farmers, and/or wait for deals on the organic lines in our local grocery stores.
Sprouts and lots of them! They are one of the most nutritious foods and are easy to cultivate year round in your home.
Look into making your own yogurt, kefir, and/or sauerkraut.
Fermentation increases the nutritional value of your food and is a tried and tested traditional method.
Research indoor greenhouses and high-powered grow lights that can be used in your home.
If you are a wild meat (and fish) eater, find out about proper ways of drying or smoking your meat.
There are traditional methods that many First Nation cultures in the Yukon are still using – ask your neighbours and friends; you may be surprised how much information is right next door.
My family and I have been incorporating raw food into our meals for a few months now and as a result, I feel amazingly light and energetic.
We are big on wild meat and fish and won’t be giving that up, but we now have many more options for nutritious side dishes and snacks, and we enjoy vegetarian meals once in a while.
A complete diet makeover akin to the famous longevity cultures of the world might not be the answer for you and your family but it’s worth trying a few new things out for the sake of your health.
Amoree Briggs lives in the Yukon countryside with her family and has just completed her diploma in holistic nutrition.