Sunday, February 1, 2009

Why do raw food, diabetes, and indigenous traditions go together?

I have diabetes, eat mostly raw food, and pay attention to what, when, and how the local indigenous people ate. It all naturally goes together. Why?

I live in the southern Arizona desert. Home to the Tohono O'odham and Pima tribes--two tribes recognized for a severe diabetes epidemic. About 75% of those over 55 have obesity and diabetes.

When these people were introduced to the standard American diet and encouraged to abandon their traditional diet and native foods, it was disaster.

As diabetics, we can learn a lot from this. They have the so-called "starvation gene" that allowed them to survive through regular periods of hunger. For instance, on the tradtional Tohono O'Odham calendar, May had been listed as "The month of hunger." This is when I like to do longer fasting or juice feasting. It keeps me in touch more with the natural cycles of the desert.

Their bodies were able to store more fat for the future. Studies have found they gain more weight than the "average" person consuming the same amount of calories. This is thought to be due to a low metabolism.

A similar thing happens with diabetes. Most of us have low metabolisms. It is harder for us to lose weight sometimes because our hormonal systems are sending messages to the brain to hold on to fat - even if we already have plenty of fat. The indigenous people would store the extra fat in their bellies. That's the common storage place for us...and it's been found that our belly fat, or abdominal intra-visceral fat, even acts as an organ unto itself, sending out messages to the brain to sustain itself.

If the local Native American people return to eating traditionally, they often lose weight, belly fat, and can better control their diabetes.

Their traditional eating and a raw food diet have a lot in common. They are both low-fat, high-fiber. They both use fresh seasonal foods and nutrition is condensed into less so less empty calories, as well as less overall calories, are consumed.

In scientific circles there is high debate as to which came first, the chicken or the egg...did diabetes appear undetected and cause the weight gain or did weight gain cause diabetes.

I found this interesting article from the Asia Pacific Journal of Clinical Nutrition and it explores those questions. It considers the Pima indians. The thinking seems to be that the Pima have low metabolic rates, low fidgeting, and probably genetic factors that make it easier to gain weight. Interestingly, they start out with low insulin resistance and low insulin levels. When they gain weight, the weight gain itself causes insulin resistance, higher insulin levels, and progression to diabetes and high blood sugar.

Anyway, it's pretty interesting. But all the scientific mumbo jumbo aside, regardless of the studies, for some reason traditional foods and raw foods seem to help.

I'm not going to say that either one is a magic cure in and of itself, but the components of each allow a person to eat a good amount of food with more nutrition and less calories. They also tend to help with food allergies which may complicate diabetes since many diabetics are allergic to gluten and they are both so much easier on our digestive systems.


  1. Your recap is very interesting! Really this three factors go together... I'm diabetic and this is topic really useful.