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Fat and Happy?

  Doctor Empathy
Photo of Alan and Frances Manuel
  Alan shares a traditional meal with tribe member Frances Manuel

In the desert of Arizona, the native Tohono O'odham tribe, together with their neighbors the Pima, face the highest rates of diabetes in the country - fifteen times the national average. And they struggle with obesity, though their diets are not much different than that of most modern Americans.

In "The Desert's Perfect Foods," Alan meets Danny Lopez, a tribal elder who believes that returning to their desert roots could save his people. On a tour of the seemingly barren surroundings, Alan learns that the desert presents a bounty of foods. The Tohono O'odham were once skilled at exploiting these fruits of the desert - prickly pear, mesquite beans, cholla cactus buds. Scientists have discovered, remarkably, that each of these foods is uniquely suited to battle diabetes. The water-retaining properties of the prickly pear, for example, also work to slow the release of sugars into the bloodstream.

Photo of cholla cactus bud
Desert foods like these cholla cactus buds digest slowly, helping to prevent diabetes  

In the early part of this century, these Native Americans were naturally slim, eating only desert-grown foods that were often in short supply. With the advent of the supermarket, the Tohono O'odham and Pima believe they must turn back to their past in order to have a healthy future.

For more on this topic, see the web features:
Fighting the Thrifty Gene and The FRONTIERS Cookbook

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