Yesterday TV3 had a 60 minutes piece on Maori living in Flaxmere, who have taken part in a 10 week trial eating the way their ancestors did 150 years ago (pre-European) Meat, seafood, fat and vegetables. The result, diabetes reversing, blood sugar dropping and an 8 kg average weight loss in 10 weeks. Ex All Black captain Taine Randell went back to his home town and teamed up with nutritionist Ben Warren to support this trial, as well as coaching the local rugby team to success. Article on Ben Warren and the trial here.
This is a seeming paradox, when we consider eating like this goes against the advice in the current food pyramid. However if we look at the health problems this group of Maori were suffering from, this way of eating makes biochemical sense.
New Zealand Maori like many indigenous peoples are particularly prone to diseases linked with insulin resistance. Here is a good explanation of insulin resistance.
Many indigenous groups have changed to a diet high in processed carbohydrates / grains and vegetable oils relatively recently. Indeed Maori have been introduced to grains only with the influx of Europeans, in the last two hundred years. Captain Cook speaking of the New Zealand Maori in 1772
“ … strange that these people enjoy perfect and uninterrupted health…we never saw a single person who appeared to have any bodily complaint…the great number of old men that we saw. . . . appeared to be very ancient , yet none of them were decrepit; and though not equal to the young in muscular strength, were not a whit behind them in cheerfulness and vivacity…” (from thepaleodiet.com)
When Maori changed from a hunter gatherer diet, primarily birds, seafood, wild plants, and kumara (sweet potato), to a diet high in processed grains, sugar, vegetable oils and other modern foods, their levels of obesity, gout and type 2 diabetes has risen enormously.
By removing processed grains, vegetable oils high in omega 6, junk foods (bad fats, processed carbs, sugar and chemicals) and returning to the diet that best suits their genetic heritage, this group were able to dramatically improve their health.
By replacing processed and grain carbohydrates and with mainly vegetables (kumara, pumpkin, and non starch vegetables) they removed a food group responsible for a large glycemic load (blood sugar load), and one which also contains anti-nutrients and gut irritants. When you decrease blood sugar load, less insulin is required to be sent out to remove the blood sugar. With less insulin and lower blood sugar, insulin receptors will increase sensitivity and health problems triggered by high insulin levels start to reverse.
The only way to maintain hunger control when you decrease carbohydrate load is to have protein at each meal and increase fat. As we see in this documentary this is exactly what they did, eggs, bacon, mushrooms cooked in butter, and greens for breakfast. The man who ate this meal said it kept him going until 3.00pm then he ate lunch – usually boil-up (basically a stew with high anti-oxidant puha and meat). Using butter, although high in saturated fat, is low in omega 6, and does not contain synthetic trans fats or interesterified fat, which aggravate insulin resistance and increase inflammation. Omega 6 high oils have have replaced traditional saturated fats in many countries for the worse – leading to an explosion of health issues related to inflammation, like heart disease.
So by returning to the traditional diet, glycemic load is dramatically reduced, inflammatory fats reduced and hunger managed, leading to decreased blood sugar levels, and decreased calorie consumption. Diabetic and heart disease markers decreased and body fat was lost from all those participating.
Emulating the traditional Maori Food Model.
What to eat:
Seafood – all types,
Poultry and birds, free range is best,
Meat – all types, grass fed or wild animals
Eggs, free range
Vegetables – all root and starchy, but use kumara, Maori potato and pumpkin instead of European potatoes.
Colourful and non starch vegetables, eat a lot, especially traditional greens like watercress and puha.
Fruit – in moderation, berries are best, Maori did not have access to large amounts of sweet fruit.
Fats – use olive oil (not traditional I know – but healthy) Avocado, and macadamia nut oil, coconut oil, lard, butter and cream in moderation.
What not to eat:
Do not eat European introduced food – wheat and grains (includes bread, bakery, cakes, pasta, rice etc), legumes, sugar
Do not drink any sugary drinks or artificially sweetened drinks – water should be your drink of choice, tea and coffee are fine without sugar.
Do not eat deep fried food.
Do not use vegetable oils other than olive oil, avocado or macadamia.
Dairy and cheese were not part of the traditional Maori diet, yet Maori had strong bones.
Limit or don’t eat salty processed meats with nitrites, like bacon
And what about all the saturated fat added to this diet? A recent study that looked at the association between heart disease and saturated fat found that “Intake of saturated fat wasnot associated with an increased risk of CHD (Coronary Heart Disease), stroke, or CVD (cardio vascular disease).” Meta-analysis of prospective cohort studies evaluating the association of saturated fat with cardiovascular disease http://www.ajcn.org/cgi/content/abstract/91/3/535
More interesting ‘paradoxes’ in this article:
An excellent post on Maori pre European diets: http://hopefulgeranium.blogspot.co.nz/2013/12/what-is-maori-ancestral-diet.html
This type of study has been carried out on other indigenous peoples, in every case when groups eat pre-European diets, their health improves and they lose weight.
More reading on how our current diet no longer suits our genes read: