ARS profiles nutrients in Native American diet

By staff writer

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: United states, Diabetes

An Agricultural Research Service initiative to assess the nutrient
content of traditional foods should result in more appropriate
nutritional guidance for Native American communities.

The ARS, the USDA's research arm, is compiling a database of foods commonly eaten by American Indians and Alaskan Natives, such as caribou rump meat and bearded seal meat, according to an article in Agricultural Research.

Funded by the Indian Health Service and the NIH's Office of Research on Minority Health, researchers have been working closely with communities in Alaska, Idaho and Arizona who are sending them samples of commonly eaten fare for analysis.

In the first instance, their findings will be included in the National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference, which include nutrient data on more than 7,000 foods. It is anticipated that a stand-alone American Indian/Alaska Native Foods Database will be launched next year.

"The data for these unique foods are important for providing wider representation within nationwide food consumption surveys, since dietary practices among these communities differ from those of the general US population,"​ said the ARS.

The data could be used to shed light on the reasons why disease patterns amongst Native Americans differ from those seen in the general US population, and to develop strategies to combat high incidence of certain ailments.

In particular, statistics show that Native Americans are 420 percent more likely to die from diabetes than the rest of the United States population. According to a report by the NIH in 2002, around 15 percent of American Indians and Alaska Natives receiving care from the Indian Health Service have been diagnosed with diabetes - that is, 105,000 individuals.

In some communities, however, the high incidence of diabetes and other obesity-related health conditions like heart disease are thought to have been caused by a shift away from the traditional diet towards processed and sugar-rich foods, rather than eating the traditional foods themselves.

The Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara nations, for example, were forced to relocate from river bottomlands to prairie uplands in the 1940s and 50s, which meant that a large number of tribal members who had previously grown their own livestock and food crops had to change their diets.

According to the US Census Bureau, there were 2.79 million American Indian and Alaskan Natives living in the Unites States in 2003 - less than one percent of the total population.

Earlier this year, the Canadian government recognized that generalized dietary advice may not be appropriate for its multicultural population. It said that its new food guidance system would highlight certain ethnic foods as alternative sources of beneficial nutrients.

Related topics: Research

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