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A year of eating an indigenous diet

NMU Center for Native American Studies

Imagine eating the same foods that Native Americans in the Great Lakes region ate before European settlers arrived. That’s the idea behind aone-year studyat Northern Michigan University.

Martin Reinhardt is an assistant professor of Native American studies at Northern Michigan University. He created the project and he’s also one of twenty-three participants who eat anywhere from 25-100% of their daily meals based on a pre-colonial native diet. (Reinhardt is following the diet 100 %.)

So for example, the other day for breakfast he had a bowl of pumpkin seed gruel. “Which is for all intents and purposes is ground pumpkin seeds that have been boiled and strained, with pecans, blueberries and maple sugar,” he says. For lunch he had hominy corn, venison and squash that had slow-cooked all day in spices. Dinner was a mix of wild rice with ground turkey and some raspberries and sweet potatoes.

Reinhardt admits he’s “definitely not starving” on the diet and he says some people may even call the diet “gourmet.” Staples include wild rice, corn and corn products, sunflower products, berries, beans, and maple products along with turkey, venison and indigenous fish.

Researchers are studying the physical health of the participants throughout the project, which began in March. They hope to use the data to help Native American communities who suffer from high rates of diabetes, obesity, and heart disease. Researchers are also tracking cultural changes of the participants, and looking at how this unique diet impacts people’s lifestyles and relationships with family and friends.

Reinhardt has lost 37 pounds and he says he’s feeling significantly better than before. He also says a serious medical condition has not flared-up since he enrolled in the study.

Credit NMU Center for Native American Studies

Those who are curious about the diet can take part in a mini-challenge beginning November 2. The idea is to eat Great Lakes indigenous foods for a one week period.

Kyle Norris is from Michigan and spent ten years as a host and reporter with Michigan Radio, the state’s largest NPR-affiliate. He lives in Seattle and works as a substitute host and producer at KNKX.
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