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Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Putting Cactus Back into our Diet

Increasing obesity is a global problem, although some populations struggle with it more than others. A researcher in Georgia has suggested that part of the problem is that the older generation has stopped passing down knowledge of local foods once the staple of indigenous populations. 
A growing generational disconnect between adults and children is putting thousands of years of cultural tradition and culinary knowledge in southern Arizona in jeopardy, according to a recent study by a researcher in the University of Georgia College of Public Health. The impact of this "knowledge gap" could help to explain the rise of childhood obesity, Type II diabetes and cardiovascular disease in Native American and Mexican-American populations in Arizona.
The Tohono O'odham, a Native American population native to the area, have a rich heritage of specializing in ethnobotany, using native plants for food and medicinal purposes. "One of the more interesting things regarding these wild foods was how effective they were in protecting against many of the diseases in question," Cherry said. "We can say they're healthy because they're high in fiber and low in sugar but also because they contain mucilaginous substances which actually regulate the release of sugar into the bloodstream."
These are not really new ideas. Rather, they just revisit the theory of the Nutrition Transition put together many years ago by Barry Popkin and his associates, as I discuss in Chapter 5. The problem here is that the older generation understood that the old diet--indeed all of the old ways--did not prevent early deaths and a low life expectancy. Public health measures and modern medicine have done that but, in the process of westernization, diets have changed and not necessarily for the better. We are now at the point where a return to at least some of the old dietary practices almost certainly would improve our health. In Mexico, for example, the prickly pear is a potential source of food that, as a dietary supplement, may prevent diabetes. If the miracles of modern public health and medicine are to be maintained, we almost certainly must rethink our dietary practices, whether it be eating cactus or something else that is similarly beneficial to your health. And, of course, remember that moderation in everything is likely to be good for you. The ancient Greeks understood that, even if it didn't do much for their low life expectancy.

1 comment:

  1. I strongly agree, that we are now at the point where a return to at least some of the old dietary practices is necessary. The older generations ate much of the same things that we eat today, except they were eating the "raw" foods. Some foods that we take for granted now were rare treats back then, especially fruits and vegetables. Eating fast food was rare and snacking between meals was also an occasional treat.