August 2014

The Pueblo Food Experience: A Pre-Contact Project

A Project of Flowering Tree Permaculture Institute


Roxanne Swentzell


The process of assimilation of Native Americans by the outside world, which started centuries ago, continues to this day. One aspect of this assimilation is the change in traditional diets. As a result, our health has suffered greatly. Diabetes, cancer, kidney and liver failure, hormonal imbalances, inflammation, allergies, obesity, alcohol and drug addictions are but some of the symptoms of living in this modern time. One can blame the environment and lifestyles, but many of these symptoms come from what we put in our mouths. Native people are particularly susceptible to diabetes because of our inability to process refined sugar and carbohydrates. Overprocessed and packaged foods have become the normal diet. These foods often contain high levels of sugar and ingredients that have been sprayed with chemicals, bleached and genetically modified (GMO), the side effects of which are still being learned. These food products are harmful to all peoples, but the Native populations have been hit hard because we were not used to eating European foods. Our bodies have not had the long evolutionary time to adjust and are suffering greatly because of it.

Flowering Tree put together a program in an attempt to address some of these health issues. A group of Native volunteers agreed to eat only their native foods for a determined period of time. Their health conditions were monitored. Improvement of their overall health was achieved while encouraging cultural preservation. The results will be used to show how eating this way might improve health. Recipes and food sources are being collected in order to share with others who might want to eat this way also.

Outline of the Diet

Eat only original food from your native area. Our bodies have adapted to our original foods over thousands of years and are better prepared to handle them. For us in the Southwest United States, this means we eat foods available to us before the arrival of the Spanish. This model can be adapted to whichever culture you originated from. What was your original diet? What were the plants and animals that were originally gathered in the area and eaten?


Foods that were eaten for much longer—“pre-contact foods”—may match our genetic makeup better than newer foods. Pre-contact foods tend to be less processed, less changed from their original state, and not full of chemical pesticides and herbicides.


Volunteers of Pueblo descent agreed to be tested for results, eating only food that was native to the area before contact with Europeans. The first test period ran for three months. Before they started, volunteers were given blood tests and weighed. They ranged from 6 years old to 65 years old. Their health conditions ranged from fairly healthy to dangerously unhealthy. Symptoms such as diabetes, heart issues, obesity, high blood pressure, allergies and fatigue were present among most. After three months on the pre-contact diet, the volunteers were tested and weighed again.

Doctor’s Statement

Dr. Maria Gabrielle: About four months ago I had the privilege of meeting individually with a group of Native Americans who were willing to undertake the challenge of changing their diet to improve their overall health and well-being. Some were eager to begin and some were more hesitant, as it is difficult to change long-ingrained eating habits, especially addictions to things such as sugar and coffee.

When I first met with everyone individually and read their blood tests, various health issues were apparent, specifically, pre-diabetic conditions, high cholesterol, high triglycerides, high LDL (commonly called “bad fats”) and liver imbalances. Most were also overweight. After three months on the diet, there was an average weight loss of 35 to 40 lbs. One person lost 50 lbs., which is remarkable over only a few months. There were considerable changes in blood-test results, showing strong decreases in cholesterol, triglycerides, blood sugar and LDL. Everyone reported feeling much healthier overall, having more energy to do the things that they need to do every day.

Some have decided to stay on the diet for longer than the initial three months since they feel so much better. My congratulations to all who made it through. May you continue to stay healthy and, hopefully, teach others by example.

Some of Our Test Results

Chastity Sandoval: Glad to report that my white blood cells are very happy. The rest of my other blood cells are not clumped together. Here is my list to show my improvement:

Glucose: 106 before; now 85

Cholesterol: 183 before; now 122

Triglycerides: 179 before; now 99

My liver is working way better, and I’m no longer at risk for a heart attack. I’m no longer in the pre-diabetic group.

Roxanne Swentzell: My test results were great! I didn’t think it would show that much on my lab tests, but my cholesterol was way better. It’s always been high, no matter what I’ve done, but this diet changed it when nothing else could in just three months. The doctors had assumed it was genetic and that there was nothing to do about it. Also, my liver is happier and my inflammation is gone. When I started, I had a lot of “ghost cells” (dead cells) and a lot of clumping; now, I didn’t see one ghost cell and my white blood cells were happy.

Cholesterol: 245 before; now 172

Triglycerides: 118 before; now 62

LDL: 155 before; now 106

LDH: 248 before; now 168

Porter Swentzell: Before this diet, my blood-test result showed that I was heading for a stroke and a heart attack. My last result showed all is now normal plus a 50-lb. weight loss!

Jonathan Loretto: Yay! Got a great review from the doctor. She said my test results were near-perfect, and that I had done a swell job bringing down my cholesterol count, among other fatty contents. I weighed myself at the beginning and started off at 183 pounds. After three months, I weighed in at 152 lbs—31 lbs. lost! Feeling great and grateful for this experience.

Patricia Reifel: Good results from my three-month blood work. My primary doctor took me off blood-pressure meds that I have been on for about 15 years! Thirty lbs. lost.

Food List Examples

Buffalo, deer, elk, antelope, mountain sheep, rabbits, fish, duck, geese, turkey, squirrels and other rodents, small birds, eggs, grasshoppers, grubs, eel, piñón nuts, wild plums, currants, strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, cactus fruits and pads, Indian tea, wild onions, wild parsley, juniper berries, wild spinach, osha, cottail, watercress, chokecherry, mushrooms, Indian rice grass, wild asparagus, purslane, serviceberry, sumac, mint, rosehips, corn (non-GMO), beans, squash, seeds, sunflowers, tomatillos, amaranth and quinoa.

Thoughts and Reflections

Patricia Reifel: This time we’ve all spent working together to get healthier has been very valuable. I am so grateful for the support that has come in so many ways. I can’t really understand why it has been pretty easy for me to stick with the program, except for that. I think I’ll be eating this way for quite a while.

Annette M. Rodríguez: Before the Pueblo Food Experience, getting out of bed every morning physically hurt from the arthritis and muscle pain that comes from lupus. But, within a month on the diet, the swelling and pain were gone. I also lost the lupus butterfly rash on my face that has marked me for years. I won’t go back to how I ate before.

Chastity Sandoval: My life has changed. I didn’t know much about the kinds of foods out there and the kinds of foods that contain horrible ingredients. After tons of research, it’s still a challenge to come across foods we like that will be okay to eat. I felt like I was a horrible parent, feeding my kids junk. It’s pretty shocking, once you educate yourself about it. I no longer want my kids to eat a terrible diet; their health, my health and my husband’s health were bad. We were the American obese family. We no longer have shame to share our story, and we hope to inspire people to bring the traditional foods back into our tribes. I think this is where it starts, so we can no longer be broken, damaged, struggling with daily life, depression and alcoholism. I miss the Cokes, cookies, cakes and treats, but I also want to live. I’m living now! I’m recovering. I feel great!

Marian Naranjo: I have often thought about how hard it was for our ancestors just to eat. Even though the circumstances are way different, the concept is the same. In the prayers, there are words of advice that have been passed down since the beginning. “Love, respect and care for one another, so that things will go good.” We should not live to eat; we should eat to live. And we are realizing this fact! I hope we continue the connections we have made through this venture by sharing our recipes, our food and eating our pre-contact meals.


Pre-contact Diet Questionnaire and Worksheet

Ancestry: _________________

(Main culture/race that you identify with)

Original Location: ___________________

(Place lived for over 20+ generations in one location)

Note: It takes at least 20 generations for the human genes to adapt to a certain environment. This is how we all got our different skin, hair and features. For instance, fair-skinned people lived in colder, cloudier climates for long enough to cause their genes to produce light skin in order to soak in less-abundant sunlight—better for vitamin D—while darker-skinned people evolved in hotter, sunnier places, and their skin protected them from getting too much sun. Black people now living in cloudy places suffer diseases from not having enough sun, and white people living in sunny places have to cover up from the sun or they will burn easily.

List as many food sources as you can think of from your original ancestry location:

Mammals eaten: ____________________

Fruits, nuts, roots and wild plants gathered: ______________________

Planted crops: _________________________

Fish, birds and insects eaten: ________________________________


So now you have a diet.

This starts the journey of searching and gathering your food. Because most pre-contact diets have items that cannot be found in most grocery stores, it might be challenging to find them. But it also starts the amazing journey of researching where you come from and how your people lived and thrived and became you.

Things to Look For

Finding others to join you in eating this way is extremely helpful; we are community/herd animals and work better in groups.

Trying to get organic, non-GMO products.

Preparing and cooking your food may take on forms that aren’t used today; be open to new/old ways of doing things.

Asking elders about old methods of food storage and use might be helpful.

Noticing the layers of detoxing that happen over the first few months of eating this way and the ways you feel different.

Collecting recipes and sharing within your group is a great way to expand the variety of what you are eating.

Eating meals together.

Learning about foods that were eaten that may be extinct now or in different forms than they were originally; for example, wild strawberries versus store-bought strawberries. How are they different, and are you willing to substitute?

Getting blood tests done before and after a few months might be helpful to see the results of what these foods are doing for you.

This is a cultural revolution using our health as our strength against the corporations and industries that are destroying our health for their profit. Every time we don’t buy that Coke or cookie, we are winning the battle for our existence. And with this diet, we have our whole ancestral line backing us.


Flowering Tree is a nonprofit organization creating healthier communities through Native culture and permaculture practices. For more information on the project, see The Pueblo Food Experience on Facebook.



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