Thursday, 16 December 2010

Traditional Foods Key to Fighting Diabetes

Traditional Foods Key to Fighting Diabetes

The statistics are not good - 24,000 or 11.2 percent of Navajos have diabetes. For many individuals, the diagnosis means endless visits to the doctor and lots of medication.

"The sad thing is that (the incidence of new cases) is still growing," said Ray Baldwin Louis, public information officer for the Navajo Nation Special Diabetes Project.

"In our traditional way of life, the main diet was vegetables, which were homegrown," Louis said. "We didn't eat mutton all that much."

But the arrival of commodity foods - government-issued cans of beef, chicken, Spam-like luncheon meat and cheese - marked the end of good eating habits, he said.

Louis said that for the last eight weeks, classes were held to teach staff of the special diabetes project about research by Dr. Neal Barnard that has shown that diabetes can be controlled, and even reversed, with an easy-to-follow plant-based diet.

Speaking Monday at a free seminar at the Navajo Nation Museum, Barnard, a popular figure on public television, said that by sticking to a few basic principles and making simple lifestyle adjustments, people can enjoy a surprising degree of control over diabetes.

"It's really true that before Europeans came to America, there was no lard or fry bread," Barnard said. "Plant products like beans, corn and squash were much more available. Government programs haven't been helpful and today fast food is seductive.

"Diabetes comes in very rapidly and is dangerous," he said.

However, contrary to popular opinion, sugar is not the culprit.

"Glucose is not the enemy, it's the gasoline that powers your body," he said. "Fat from foods get inside cells - greasy food passes grease into the cells. The fat stops glucose from working.

"If we can stop eating fat, it comes out of the cells," he said. "As the amount of fat drops, your cells become more and more sensitive to insulin, allowing your blood sugar to come down."

The plan provided by Barnard includes choosing foods that are vegan (free of all animal products), low fat and have a low glycemic index.

"This means no meat, fish, dairy products or eggs - not even a little bit," he said. "The idea is to clean the animal fat, animal protein and cholesterol out of your diet.

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