Aboriginals resume traditional diet to curb diabetes epidemic

CBC News out of Canada reports on rates of obesity and diabetes in some aboriginal communities going up to 50 per cent higher than the Canadian average, but reverting to a more traditional diet may help address the problem.


 

Rates of obesity and diabetes in some aboriginal communities are up to 50 per cent higher than the Canadian average, but reverting to a more traditional diet may help address the problem.

For some aboriginals, cutting down on carbohydrates isn't so much a fad diet, rather it's a more modern version of the traditional diet eaten by their ancestors more than 100 years ago.

Jim Wilson
Jim Wilson

Jim Wilson of the We Wai Kai Nation grew up on Cape Mudge reserve off Vancouver Island, where seafood was a staple of his diet.

As overfishing and pollution made seafood scarce, he switched to eating fast food. "Every day something from McDonald's, just because I wasn't cooking for myself," Wilson recalled.

In 1987, Wilson's weight reached 345 pounds, he was extremely thirsty and had failing vision. Diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, Wilson was able to control the condition with insulin injections.

Last summer, after weeks on a low-carb diet, he found he didn't need the needles as often. Within a few months, he was jab-free.

It was Dr. Jay Wortman, a public health specialist in Vancouver, who challenged Wilson to return to traditional aboriginal eating habits with a low-carb diet that includes fruits and vegetables.

"Other people have had thousands of years, many generations to become accustomed to a diet that is higher in refined carbohydrates," said Wortman. "Aboriginal people haven't."

 

Wortman believes the dietary and lifestyle changes are at the root of the diabetes epidemic among Canada's aborignal peoples.

Recommending a low-carb approach validates the wisdom of aboriginal ancestors who ate mainly berries, nuts and protein rather than mostly carbohydrates, Wortman said.

The science behind the diet is evolving.

Atkins is the most studied low-carb diet, and research shows it can help people lose weight and doesn't seem to harm cholesterol, but longer studies are needed to test if it helps prevent or treat diabetes.

In the meantime, Wilson says he's proud of his accomplishments to date, adding he would like to exercise more and shed another 100 pounds.

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