ST. IGNATIUS — February is American Heart Month and Go Red for Women and the Tribal Health Department Diabetes Program took the lead on the locally acknowledged issue, and informationally celebrated it Friday at the St. Ignatius Tribal Community Center. The event promoted a healthy diet and physical activity. Seventy-five adults signed in for the event, and with all the children the attendance was nearly 100.
Go Red for Women is the American Health Association’s national health movement with the goal of curbing — better yet, ending — heart disease and strokes among women.
“A good healthy diet and exercise prolongs life, a good quality of life,” said Kati Burton, THD Community Dietician. One of the first steps to a long and quality life is knowing what a person is eating; that starts with reading ingredient labels on processed foods. A healthy diet with exercise makes for a healthy body that lowers pain levels in muscles and joints, improves eyesight and blood flow. “All foods contain vitamins, minerals and nutrients that keep us alive. The biggest difference a person can do is controlling the amount of fats in the food they eat — read the ingredients.”
Burton said another contributor to an unhealthy diet is the shift from family dining and fast food dining. The social nature of family dining affects both the body and mind especially when combined with healthy foods on the plates. In the case of American Indians, those foods could include the natural foodstuff that sated the diets of tribal Ancestors.
Burton encourages people to look into gardening or purchasing produce from local gardens, eating and preserving what comes from the garden.
“It’s good to know where your food comes from,” she said.
The Montana State University Food Products Development Lab is researching and promoting the use of natural and healthy foods including foodstuff that were historically a part of the American Indian diet.
Dr. Wan-Yuan Kuo, MSU FPD Lab director said part of the mission of the program is “Sustainable food product development — sourcing local, specialty, and Indigenous crops to create healthy, eco-friendly, and culturally acceptable food products,”
The lab is working with the Billings based Native American Development Corporation to establish research and education efforts to develop Native American food products.
Edwin Allen of the MSU FPD Lab said the program is working with the Indian Nations in Montana to incorporate under-utilized crops such as lentils, chickpeas, and peanuts into diets of tribal people. Allen is a MSU graduate student from Ghana who also has promoted such an effort in Senegal, Africa. He has heretofore worked with the Northern Cheyenne, Crow and CSKT tribes to promote heathy natural foods into diets.
On the Flathead Indian Reservation, he and other MSU FPD Lab students worked with the CSKT Fish Keepers to promote the use of lake trout into people’s diets. At the Go Red for Women gathering the group had smoked lake trout fish tacos on the menu in traditional corn tortillas and another with tacos in fish skin, both had huckleberries as an ingredient. They were a smokie spicy and sweet taste that wasn’t bad on the palate.
“We help people develop underused food products and want to help the Fish Keepers promote the consumption of the lake trout,” Allen said. “Montana is the third largest producer of lentils and we would like to use that here in food diets.”
In fact, the main luncheon dish was two thick soups with chick peas as the main ingredient.
Allen said the MSU FPD Lab will soon began researching and promoting bison. “We will be working with the tribal community to incorporate lean bison meat in their diets,” he said. “All the ingredients we use for events like this is promoted by the tribal communities we are working with.”
Allen said MSU is working on establishing a relationship with Salish Kootenai College on the development of natural and healthy food projects. “We want to increase the consumption of Native products,” he said.
“The diet of Indian women is high on processed foods that increase blood pressure and cholesterol,” said THD Diabetes Program manager Brenda Bodner. “It’s pretty easy to turn that around with improvements in diet. That includes choosing quality foods. Beans are a big emphasis today they are rich in protein, and good for cardiovascular health.”
THD nurse Chelsea Kleinmeyer said healthy food and exercise are good ingredients for a healthy lifestyle.
“Get away from the TV or computer screen and get outside and be active,” she said. “Being outside is very beneficial, it reduces stress and lowers blood pressure and improves mental health.”
Another highlight of the Go Red for Women event was the Native fashion show that featured all-age models in Native design apparel. The fashions all incorporated the color red.