In the kitchen the best cure is to eat locally

The jungle effect – The benefits of local food intake converge with scientific, cultural, culinary and spiritual aspects that are repeated in all places where local food is characterized by the strong prevalence of natural and indigenous foods. Let’s see the studies that led to suggest this thesis.

EAT LOCAL – In many countries, such as Crete, cardiovascular diseases are almost non-existent, in Iceland depression is virtually unknown, or at least it was before the recent economic collapse, and in Cameroon cases of colorectal cancer are very rare. If these data depended on geographical factors, these peculiarities would have to occur also in the regions surrounding these countries, and instead it is not so.

According to studies conducted by an American researcher, it is the indigenous diets, rather than the environmental pressures or even the genetic traits of a person, that play a decisive role in the differences in terms of longevity and health between the populations of the various countries. Very often among citizens of neighbouring countries.

EAT LOCAL – Benefits Daphne Miller, professor of integrative medicine and nutrition at the University of California in Francisco, called it Jungle Effect. It regularly manifests itself in what she calls the “cold areas” of the planet, i.e. areas where the chronic diseases that afflict a large part of the population of urban realities and industrialized countries are almost completely absent.

EAT LOCAL- Jungle effect A discovery that Miller made almost by chance after visiting one of her patients whose health had improved markedly after she had spent two weeks in the Amazon village of her ancestors. Why had he improved so quickly? Was it the food? Or the care of the tribe? The historical memory of the place? Questions that prompted Miller to travel from Nigeria to the Amazon, from Europe to Asia. Mainly in rural areas and often among populations with a low rate of technological development, very attached to the land and their cultural traditions.

EAT LOCAL – Food Diseases A similar phenomenology to the jungle effect had already been outlined in the 1930s by Weston R. Price, a dentist who had conducted a series of ethnographic studies on the effects of diet on the teeth of people in developing countries: Price believed that poor nutrition was the root cause of all periodontal diseases. This position later cost him ostracism from his colleagues and the chairmanship of the American Dental Association. Today, the Price Foundation, a foundation based on the nutritional principles promoted by the American dentist, is fighting for the reintroduction of indigenous foods into the diets of the world’s populations.

Norman Hollenberg, a professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, about forty years later described the thaumaturgical properties of the traditional diet in a study on the effects of cocoa on the health of the Kuna, an indigenous tribe of the San Blas Islands off the Atlantic coast of Panama. Hollenberg, who is also director of the physiology centre at Brighmam and Women’s Hospital, had discovered that thanks to the flavonols (a sort of vitamin) contained in the cocoa beans they fed on, the Kuna were immune to cardiovascular disease and arterial hypertension.

Miller is, however, the first to describe the Jungle Effect as an overall phenomenon, in which scientific, cultural, culinary and spiritual aspects converge and to discover that it is repeated in all places where the local diet is characterized by the strong prevalence of natural and indigenous foods.

LOCAL EATING – Longevity Driven by intuition and its spirit of adventure, Miller has set out on the trail of populations with unusual longevity and who express a general sense of physical well-being. Without, however, refraining from criticizing the clichés about the thaumaturgical properties of some national cuisines and some particular foods. So he discovered that the natives of Okinawa Island do not suffer from breast and prostate cancer thanks to their diet rich in vegetables and omega 3. That in Iceland the same diet – with berries instead of vegetables – can be responsible for the level of happiness of the population and that in Crete the very low incidence of heart disease is probably due to the use of olive oil.

With one caveat: the jungle effect is not expressed by itself, it is the product of a certain cultural environment. The way in which food is procured, cooked and consumed. This is, for example, the case of potatoes. Icelandic families usually cook enough potatoes for a week and then heat them up again as they eat them. According to Miller, this method would greatly reduce their compound carbohydrate content, which generally produces short euphoric bursts of energy followed by long depressive intervals. Among the Tarahumara of the Mexican Sierra Tarahumara, the celebratory and collective aspects of eating meals would contribute significantly to containing the incidence of diabetes.

The most interesting fact about the discovery of Miller, a fact that further discredits the hypothesis of the existence of genetic specificities attributable to various indigenous diets, is that the beneficial effects of the latter are expressed among all those who follow them regardless of their ethnic extraction. The Okinawa diet, for example, can help an obese European to lose weight, while the Icelandic diet can have energizing effects even for a depressed person in sub-Saharan Africa.

EAT LOCAL- Holistic medicine La Miller, a Mediterranean diet that has been a disciple of Anrew Weil, the guru of holistic medicine, takes advantage of these discoveries in the first person. She often prescribes to patients, according to their needs, a diet that mixes the basic dishes of various indigenous cuisines. “It’s not just the food and the way you cook it that counts, to maximize the impact of the jungle effect you also need to know how to mix it, make it a mixture”, says Miller, “Tarahumara, for example, have a diet rich in carbohydrates, which should normally increase their glycemic rate. But first of all, they eat whole sugars, which are not refined, and then they also eat foods that lower the blood sugar level, such as cactus nopal, coriander, cinnamon and chilli. In fact, there are studies that show that these foods facilitate the elimination of sugars. So the tarahumara eat the diabetes drug at lunch and dinner.

Now the jungle effect has also become a book, The Jungle Effect: A Doctor Discovers the Healthiest Diets from Around the World – Why They Work and How to Bring Them Home, is a scientific-narrative best seller with lots of indigenous recipes attached.