We eat what we are

The link between health and diet is an obvious one, but finding a balance between them is the challenge. Take, for example, the native Americans of the O'odham nation who live on a sweeping reservation in southern Arizona. Diabetes is rampant; according to this article, more than half the population on the reservation suffer from the disease. Their diet in general is very high in fats and oils (like most Americans), yet the instance of diabetes is much higher than with the population at large. While scientists are looking into whether there is a genetic predisposition to diabetes in native Americans, tribal leaders and nutritionists are looking at other ways to help bring health back to the tribe.

Ancient tribal foods, such as tepary beans, buffalo meat, cholla buds and wild rice, are gradually being reintroduced to the community as low-sugar, low-fat alternatives to the convenient, fast foods or sugary sodas often found on reservations. The thinking is that traditional foods may be better suited for a native American body than are non-traditional foods, such as refined flour, cooking fats and preserved meats. A return to native foods is also a return to a way of life that has gradually been forgotten by the hardships of life on the reservation. From the ColorLines article:

Young Indians, as well as older ones, have been alienated from their own culture, [Terrol Dew] Johnson says, and he thinks these foods can reintroduce them to the traditions. After all, these foods are used in ceremonies and carry the stories of the Desert People. For example, it is said that when Coyote was running with a bag of tepary beans, he tripped and the white beans flew into the sky, creating the Milky Way.

Johnson runs a grassroots organization on the reservation to bring back native foods to the community. Johnson used to drink a six-pack of Pepsi a day, and was diabetic before he was 30. Now he grows tepary beans and harvests other native foods to distribute to his community. (For more on the O'odham and native American foods, read Gary Paul Nabhan's wonderful book, Coming Home To Eat.)

It stands to reason that as mammals, we would be predisposed to certain foods, or that our bodies could manage and process some foods more easily than others. In the fight against obesity or any other dietary disease, it makes good sense (and perhaps soon, good science) to see what foods fit best with who we are.


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