An article by the Organic Consumers Association reports on the need to combat the epidemic of diabetes and childhood obesity among modern Native Americans with a return to the traditional diet enjoyed by their ancestors.
Bea Medicine, a Native American Anthropologist, describes the change in diet:
"Traditional food staples of Indian tribes--wild game, berries, roots, teas, and indigenous vegetables--were high in protein and low in fat. That's a switch from the modern Native American diet, which is high in fat and refined starches and sugars."
Kibbe Conti, a nutritionist who works with tribes nationwide, continues:
"It started when Indian people were no longer free to live off the land. After the tribes were placed on reservations, they were fed government rations of processed food. Much of reservation lands could not be farmed. The shift from hunting, gathering and farming to a cash economy in the early 1900s forced family members to leave home in search of work."
Today, tribal members consume a diet of government commodities, including cheese, canned meat, processed packaged food, lard and powdered milk.
In contrast, the superfoods enjoyed for centuries by Native Americans, such as mesquite, blueberries, sassafras, and hazelnuts, kept individuals thriving with an absence of diabetes, heart disease, and obesity.
Mesquite flour is a low-glycemic, gluten free, nutrient packed food. It is an excellent source of the amino acid lysine and is rich in calcium, magnesium, potassium, iron, and zinc. This healthy flour is also high in both protein and fiber. Since mesquite flour supports stable blood sugar levels and takes longer to digest than wheat flour, it helps one to feel satisfied longer.
Blueberries are an antioxidant power house, containing high levels of anthocyanidins and ellagic acid. Antioxidants help to counteract free radical damage that can lead to cataracts, glaucoma, ulcers, heart disease, and cancer. These mighty berries are a good source of vitamin C, manganese, vitamin E, and both soluble and insoluble fiber. Moreover, blueberries improve and protect brain function.
Native Americans utilized the roots, leaves and bark of the sassafras tree in a variety of ways. Sassafras tea helps to detoxify the body and treats high blood pressure as an effective tonic. Additionally, this herb is a useful diuretic that eases symptoms of arthritis and rheumatic conditions. Sassafras also provides relief from gastrointestinal problems, kidney ailments, and troubles with the skin. Due to some controversy over the essential oil safrole found in sassafras, it is recommended to not use this herb for longer than one month a year in moderate amounts.
The traditional diet of Native Americans included hazelnuts as well which have numerous health benefits. Hazelnuts are a good source of protein, fiber, vitamin E, iron, zinc, calcium, magnesium, and potassium. Likewise, hazelnuts contain significant amounts of carotenoids, flavonoids, and proanthocyanidins which protect against urinary tract infections, heart disease, and cancer. Folate is found in high concentration, protecting against Alzheimer's, depression, and birth defects.
To put these vitality-boosting foods into practice, don't miss the Superfood Blueberry Galette with Hazelnut recipe.