Friday, June 5, 2009

Food for thought-book recommendation

Daphne Miller, MD, was inspired by her patients to find out why indigenous populations around the world live healthier lives. I recently read her book "The Jungle Effect" and found it full of hopeful stories from around the world.

Dr. Miller's original inspiration for this book came in the form of a patient named Angela. Angela came to Dr. Miller's office overweight, with elevated blood pressure, and pain in her knees. A review of her health history revealed a history of being overweight and fatigued since childhood. The only time Angela recalled feeling good was when she went to live with her father's relatives in the rain forest, in a community that lived and ate the indigenous foods of their ancestors (fish soup, taro, beans, and fruit). Coincidentally, 6 months after meeting Angela, Dr. Miller was volunteering in a small village in the Amazon basin located very close to Angela's father's family home. She noticed that the elders in the village did not suffer from the chronic diseases that older people in the US suffer from such as high blood pressure, heart disease, and diabetes. She thought that perhaps their diet had something to do with their good health and so collected some of their traditional recipes. She passed these recipes on to Angela who started eating the diet she knew from childhood. Angela lost weight and felt less tired.

Dr. Miller was thus inspired to explore other indigenous diets around the world and she found that they were associated with what she called "cold spots". Dr. Miller defines cold spots as "places or communities where there is an unusually low number of people suffering from a particular disease". Dr. Miller traveled to Crete, a cold spot for heart disease; Cameroon, a cold spot for colon cancer; Okinawa, a cold spot for breast and prostate cancers; Iceland, a cold spot for depression; and Copper Canyon Mexico, a cold spot for diabetes.

While each of these populations were cold spots for very different diseases, Dr. Miller found some commonalities in the indigenous diets that these populations of people were eating. She composed a list of nine key components that the diets shared:
1) Foods that are local, fresh, and in season.
2) Food cultivation techniques and recipes passed down through the ages.
3) Food traditions that include communal eating and eating for satiety rather than fullness (for example, the Okinawans only eat until they are 80% full).
4) Sugar that comes from natural foods: honey, fruits, vegetables.
5) Salt from natural unprocessed sources such as fish, sea greens and vegetables.
6) Naturally raised meat an dairy seen as a precious commodity (eaten in very small amounts as a condiment).
7) Nonmeat fats from whole nuts, seeds, grains, and fatty fruits; minimally processed oils such as olive, palm fruit, or coconut oil.
8) Fermented and pickled foods such as sauerkraut or yogurt.
9) Healing spices.

Dr. Miller also includes some of the indigenous diet recipes which she collected during her travels so that readers can try cooking them at home.

This is a great book which I highly recommend reading. I found it to be very inspiring and full of great ideas about how we can bring the wisdom of indigenous diets to our own meals. The key components of indigenous diets that Dr. Miller found are completely in sync with the latest nutrition research on what makes a healthy diet. This book shows why we really need to become less of a "packaged" food society and start looking for ways to eat the way our ancestors did (more local, whole foods). As Dr. Miller points out, I believe this holds the key to beating out current obesity epidemic, the skyrocketing diabetes rates, and will help us become a nation with less chronic disease. I know that this encourages me to continue to try and eat more "indigenously" every day!

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