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Planting Seeds for Diabetes Control

August 27, 1994|JAMES E. WALTERS | ASSOCIATED PRESS

Can ancestral Native American diets provide the clue to controlling adult-onset diabetes?

Native Seeds-SEARCH of Tucson, one of the country's most respected seed-preservation groups, is so sure of it that the current catalogue offers what are described as "a number of diabetes-control foods" that can be grown or purchased in the Southwest, where Native Americans have one of the nation's highest rates of diabetes.

Native Seeds, a nonprofit organization, began examining four years ago a possible linkage between diabetes and what tribal members eat. Now the group is recommending they concentrate on foods that the body digests slowly and absorbs in ways that reduce blood-sugar levels, the so-called slow-release foods.

"Many traditional foods, proven to be effective in regulating blood sugar, can be incorporated into a diet low in fat and high in soluble fibers," says Native Seeds.

Using diet to try and control adult-onset diabetes is standard medical technique in this country. The American Diabetes Assn. says the disease often can be controlled by limiting food intake and doing exercises such as walking.

"Desert foods may be your best medicine," says a brochure distributed to Southwest tribes by Native Seeds (the SEARCH portion of the name is an acronym for Southwestern Endangered Arid-land Resource Clearing House).

For thousands of years, desert dwellers in the Southwest and Mexico ate cactus fruit, cholla buds and prickly pear pads known as nopalitos. They still are frequently sold in Mexican food sections of grocery stores and can be wild-harvested. However, the traditional diet in recent years has been supplanted for many with the same "junk foods" common in the nation's culture.

All the traditional foods are listed in the current catalogue, including many beans, such as tepary, amaranth, mesquite pods and chia and psyllium seeds.

The catalogue is available for $1 from: Native Seeds, 2509 N. Campbell Ave., Suite 325, Tucson, AZ 85719.

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