Galicia, in the northwest of Spain, has the population with the highest life expectancy in not only the country, but in Europe.
According to figures from Spain’s national stats agency INE, Galician men currently live on average to an age of 83 years and 4 months and Galician women to 86 years and 4 months.
In fact, it’s estimated that in the last decade Galicia’s 2.7 million inhabitants have gained an average 2 years and 4 months of life, and 3 years and 3 months over the last 20 years.
That means that Galicians are currently only surpassed in the longevity tables by the Japanese, whose average age hovers just under the 84-year mark.
With a projected average lifespan of nearly 85.8 years in 20 years, Spaniards as a whole are expected to outlive all other nations by 2040.
Experts forecast Galicia will beat all other Spanish autonomous communities in the life expectancy rankings when that day comes.
Photo: Instituto Siglo XXI/Flickr
So what is it about this unique region with a distinctive culture from the rest of Spain that helps its residents live longer?
Well, it certainly isn’t thanks to the weather. Galicia is the region of Europe where it rains most often, its protruding geographical location meaning it gets more rainfall than anywhere in the UK or north-western regions of France such as Normandy or Brittany.
The chief reason for Galicians’ longevity is their diet, but not the Mediterranean one commonly associated with Spain, Italy and France; the lesser-known Atlantic one.
The Atlantic diet is largely composed of seasonal, locally sourced, fresh and minimally processed produce.
In terms of how it compares to the Mediterranean diet, food preparation favours stewing over frying and pig products such as cold meats (embutidos) are not as prevalent as in other parts of Spain’s local cuisines. Instead the staple food is fish and seafood.
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“Atlantic cuisine has an abundance of vegetables, fruit, fish, shellfish and olive oil, even the veal comes from cows reared in freedom”, Felipe F. Casanueva, professor of medicine at the University of Santiago de Compostela, told Spanish daily El Español.
For Casanueva there's no doubt that the Atlantic diet is the main reason Galicians live on average a year longer than their Andalusian counterparts in the south of Spain, but he admits that “in Galicia we’ve been more concerned about eating Atlantic-style cuisine than promoting it or studying it”.
Photo: Santi Villamarín/Flickr