5 Super-Healthy Native American Foods
Some traditional Native American foods are rich in nutrition as well as heritage.
Thanksgiving may be the only time many of us are aware of the influence of
Native American foods on what we eat. Yet, if some dietitians and devoted cooks
had a say, that would change.
That's because traditional American fare -- from North, Central, or South
America -- contains a rich and colorful palate of heart-healthy foods, such as
beta-carotene-packed pumpkin, fiber-loaded beans, and antioxidant-rich
"Traditional Native American food [is] as varied as the Americas from
which it originated," Harold H. Baxter, DDS, author of the pending book
Dining at Noah's Table, tells WebMD.
Yet it's all too easy to overlook Native American fruits and vegetables in
our modern diets, experts say.
"We just don't eat enough of most of these [traditional] foods any
more," says David Grotto, RD, author of an upcoming book on eating
traditionally called 101 Foods That Could Save Your Life.
"Our cupboard used to be our medicine cabinet. A solution to a lot of
what ails us may be getting back to these traditional foods."
Here are five familiar Native American foods that would make healthy
additions to any diet:
Traced back to Central and South America, corn has served Native Americans
as both drink and diet staple; its husks as dolls, masks, even fuel. Along with
squash and beans, corn makes up the revered trinity many Native Americans call
"The Three Sisters," vegetables frequently sown together.
"The corn provided a stalk for the bean vines to climb around, and the
beans returned the favor by replacing the nitrogen in the soil," Chief Roy
Crazy Horse writes in an article on the Powhatan Renape Nation's web site.
"The squash spread out its broad shady leaves to keep other plants from
crowding out the corn."
Corn is also nutritious, containing vitamins C and K, phytochemicals, B
vitamins, and fiber. Another bonus: Corn just may help to prevent cancer.
"One of corn's phytochemicals, cryptoxanthin, was shown in one study to
offer a 27% reduction in lung cancer risk," says Grotto, who is also a
spokesman for the American Dietetic Association.
Indigenous recipes for this ubiquitous food include sweet corn soup and
chowder, cornbread, and popcorn. Enjoy ears fresh or roasted, and cut corn into
salads or wraps. And try different colored corn when it's available -- those
colors represent different body-boosting phytochemicals, says Grotto.
Growing wild across many parts of America, blackberries, strawberries,
blueberries, and raspberries played a part in many native diets, including
those of the Natchez and Muskogean.
Serving up healthy portions of fiber, vitamins, and minerals, berries have
been shown by some research to help protect against stroke and heart disease.
While blackberries and raspberries have nearly double the fiber of strawberries
and blueberries, a cup of strawberries contains more vitamin C than you'll need
in a day.