The Pima Indians, descendants of the prehistoric Hokoham
Like all tribes, The Pima Indians' diets consisted of food sources surrounding them, always a challenge in the harsh desert they called home. The Pima’s historic diet was largely plant-based; consisting of whole grains, beans, squash, melons, legumes, chilies, acorn, cacti, chia, herbs and any animals they could capture, including fish. They thrived on that diet, even though it was relatively high in carbohydrates. The key is that it was the RIGHT kind of carbohydrates – low glycemic, which converted to sugar in their bodies very slowly. They were thin, agile, and strong, with no known lifestyle disease.
That changed when the Pimas were forced onto reservations in the early 1900’s. The U.S. government supplied them with “white man’s” food, not their native diet. Government-issued food then consisted of sugar, sodas, white flour, trans fats and processed foods. Guess what happened? They got sick and fat, very quickly. Today, just a century after living in vibrant health, the Pima now deal with the second most obese population in the world. Along with obesity, fully 80% of Pima Indians contract diabetes by the time they’re 30 years old; they’re lucky to live to 45. Children as young as three or four are getting adult-onset diabetes; some need cardiac bypass surgery by the time they’re 20!
This cautionary tale isn’t about the Pimas’ genetic predisposition to diabetes. Their genes were pure to good food; nobody before the 20th century even had diabetes. This is proof that their genes could NOT handle the overwhelming influence of the “white diet”.
First-generation immigrants run into the same problem. They aren’t used to our poor-quality foods, and many become obese and/or diabetic after switching to these foods for some time. It’s the same with European descendants: our genes can’t handle the shock but it’s a slower process because, I believe, we’ve lived with bad food for a bit longer.