The Perfect Diet?
Ikaria is a small island in the north Aegean Sea roughly 30 miles off the western coast of Turkey. The island is about 100 square miles and is home to a population of 10,000 people.
For years, Ikaria has been a subject of study by researchers based on the population’s extraordinary longevity and low rate of illness including cancer, cardiovascular disease, and dementia.
The average Ikarian is more than twice as likely than an American to reach the age of 90; Ikarian men are nearly four times as likely to reach age 90 than are their American counterparts.
Ikarians also stay healthier longer, on average living 8-10 years longer before the onset of cancer and cardiovascular disease. Rates of depression, Alzheimer's, and dementia are remarkably low.
Researchers attribute Ikarians’ stunning health and longevity on their plant-based diet and unique lifestyle.
When interviewed, Ikaria’s elderly population spoke about eating little food because there wasn’t much available. Meat was a luxury enjoyed less than once per month.
Unemployment on Ikaria is as high as 40% on the island, but most people have access to a family garden and livestock - leading to a diet rich in seasonal veggies.
The Ikarian diet features Greek staples such as hummus, olives, and olive oil as well as beans, potatoes, wild greens, sourdough bread, and local honey. The Ikarian diet is naturally low in dairy (other than goat’s milk) and includes moderate amounts of wine and coffee. There is almost no processed food or refined sugar on the island.
Evidence suggest Ikarians’ longevity is linked to the herbal teas they consume daily, including:
- Mint (fights gingivitis and gastrointestinal disorders)
- Rosemary (treats gout)
- Artemisia (improves circulation)
- Sage (improves blood sugar control, promotes skin and brain health)
- Dandelion (a mild diuretic that detoxifies the liver and fights diabetes)
- Marjoram (treats liver disease, gallstones, and digestive problems)
“We do eat better here than in America,” says Thea Parikos, who was born in Detroit to an American father and an Ikarian mother. Parikos moved her family to Ikaria after the birth of her first child.
“But it's more about how we eat. Even if it's your lunch break from work, you relax and enjoy your meal. You enjoy the company of whoever you are with. Food here is always enjoyed in combination with conversation.”
Dr. Ilias Leriadis, a physician living on the island, says residents don’t care what time it is and they don’t care about money. Islanders pool their money to buy food and wine for holidays and if there is money left over, they give it to the poor, says Leriadis, describing Ikaria as an ‘us’ place not a ‘me' place.
“We may not be in a hurry to get work done during the day, so we work into the night,” says Parikos. “ At the end of the day, we don’t go home to sit on the couch.”
The Ikarian lifestyle is deliberate and relaxed. They live in the moment and they never hurry. They take frequent walks, they nap when they are tired, they have sex regularly, and they spend considerable time socializing (especially with the elderly, whom they celebrate as an important part of society).
At least one island native - Stamatis Moraitis - is believed to have recovered from cancer on the island. Moraitis was diagnosed with lung cancer in 1976. At the time, he was in his mid-60’s living in New York. His doctor gave him nine months to live.
Moraitis immediately moved back to Ikaria so he could be buried with his ancestors. Within months, he felt his vitality return and he was strong enough to plant vegetables and take walks. He restored the family’s dilapidated vineyard and planted grapes.
Moraitis died peacefully in 2013 at age 98. He was cancer-free and his vineyard was producing 40 gallons of wine per year.