American Indian reservations, the traditional diet of wild plants
and game for food is increasingly being replaced with a far less healthful
diet of predominantly high-carb, high-sugar foods.
Along the way,
obesity and type 2 diabetes rates have soared. At nearly 16 percent,
American Indians and Alaska Natives have the highest prevalence
of diabetes among all U.S. racial and ethnic groups, according
to the American Diabetes Association.
have long suspected that the traditional plant foods consumed by
Native American tribes in the Northern Plains were super nutritious,
no one had ever really studied it.
inspired a paper
published earlier this year in the Journal of Food Composition and
Analysis by a group of researchers at Virginia Tech and the U.S.
Department of Agriculture. They analyzed the nutrients in 10 traditional
wild food plants from three Native American reservations in North
They found that
reintroducing these plants which include cattail broad leaf
shoots, chokecherries, beaked hazelnuts, lamb's-quarters, plains
prickly pear, prairie turnips, stinging nettles, wild plums, raspberries
and rose hips into the diet of the tribes of the region could
improve nutrition and potentially prevent disease.
The superstar of the study was lamb's-quarters, a wild green that's
been consumed by hunter-gatherers from northern California all the
way to Africa for food as well as medicine. The study found that
one serving of steamed lamb's-quarters contained more than 60 percent
of the thiamin, 40 percent of the vitamin B6, 60 percent of the
calcium and 70 percent of the magnesium of the daily recommended
prairie turnips and hazelnuts also performed well in the tests
with high levels of calcium and magnesium.
Will these foods
make a comeback on reservations? That's unclear, but the researchers
say they shared their findings with tribal leaders on the reservations
where they collected samples.
Native Americans aren't the only ones who may be feeling a twinge
of nutritional nostalgia. An appreciation for the health benefits
of wild greens is part of what's driving the
foraging trend in cities and beyond.
As Jo Robinson
argued in her 2013 book Eating On The Wild Side, many wild plants
are in many ways far more healthful than the stuff we buy today
at farmers' markets. Take dandelions, for example.
to spinach, one of our present-day 'superfoods,' dandelion leaves
have eight times more antioxidants, two times more calcium, three
times more vitamin A and five times more vitamin K and vitamin E,"
Robinson writes. "Our modern superfoods would have been substandard
fare for hunter-gatherers."