By Josh Rueff on May 07, 2013
I recently learned that the ancient Mayan diet is leaps and bounds healthier than the average American diet (surprise!) – partially because they ate less junk food, but mostly because of the short list of superfoods they ate. Even more interesting is the fact that their diet not only beats the average diet – it’s healthier than the government advised food pyramid.
And they only had 4 main food sources:
1. Maize (Corn)
How is that possible? Turns out the list of nutrients from these 4 items is rather extensive, and more than enough to support an active, healthy lifestyle. And the drastic cut on the groceries bill is nice as well.
The Mayan Diet Nutrients
1. Maize: Known in some English-speaking countries as corn, is a large grain plant domesticated by indigenous peoples in Mesoamerica in prehistoric times. The leafy stalk produces ears which contain the grain, which are seeds called kernels. Maize kernels are used in cooking as a starch. The Olmec and Mayans cultivated it in numerous varieties throughout Mesoamerica, cooked, ground or processed through nixtamalization. [Roney, Archaeology Southwest]
Nutritional value from the Fitho Guide:
-Maize is rich in phosphorus, magnesium, manganese, zinc, copper, iron and selenium. It also has small amounts of potassium. -Maize has Vitamin B (Thiamin, Vitamin B6, Niacin, Riboflavin, Folate). It has traces of Vitamin A and Vitamin E. Eating 100 gm of maize gives us 342 calories. It contains a high amount of insoluble fiber.
-The high amount of fiber present in maize helps lower cholesterol levels and also reduces the risk of colon cancer.
-Maize being rich in folate, helps the generation of new cells, especially important before and during pregnancy.
-Those suffering from anemia have shown positive effects after consuming maize.
-The Pantothenic acid present in maize helps with the physiological functions of the body.
-The presence if thiamin helps in the metabolism of carbohydrates.
-Maize has been found to be helpful in treating kidney problems, including renal dysfunction.
-The beta-cryptoxanthin in maize makes it good for the health of the lungs and may even help prevent lung cancer.
-The insoluble fiber in maize makes it good for those suffering from common digestive ailments, like constipation and hemorrhoids.
-The vitamin B12 and folic acid present in maize prevent anaemia caused by the deficiency of these vitamins. (Source: The Fitho Guide)
2. Beans: Beans are one of the longest-cultivated plants. Broad beans, also called fava beans, in their wild state the size of a small fingernail, were gathered in Afghanistan and the Himalayan foothills.[Kaplan, pp. 27 ff] In a form improved from naturally occurring types, they were grown in Thailand since the early seventh millennium BCE, predating ceramics.[Gorman, CF, Science] They were deposited with the dead in ancient Egypt. Not until the second millennium BC did cultivated, large-seeded broad beans appear in the Aegean, Iberia and trans-alpine Europe.[Zohary, Domestication of Plants in the Old World] In the Iliad (late-8th century) is a passing mention of beans and chickpeas cast on the threshing floor.[Iliad xiii, 589]
Nutritional value from AmericanBean.org:
-Proteins in Beans
-Compared to grains, beans supply 2 to 4 times as much proteins.
-Beans, a Rich Source of Fibre
-Beans contain a lot of fibre or fiber, this is the reason they have so many health benefits.
-Beans have between 5 and 8.6 grams of fiber per 100 grams ’30 ounces’ serving.
-Bean Fiber cleans up cholesterol from the intestines.
-The chemicals in beans that block formation of cancer cells are released. Beans are concentrated carriers of protease -inhibitors, Bean enzymes counteract the activation of cancer-causing compounds in the colon.
-Some Doctors suggest to combine them for a complete protein for a substitute for meat.
-To make a complete protein Doctors advise to eat beans with corn, nuts, wheat, seeds or brown rice.
Diets rich in beans can help to:
-reduce risk cancer
-lower blood pressure
-prevent other bowel problems
-improve diabetics’ blood glucose control
-beans have antioxidant protection, red kidney beans have more than blueberries.
-beans have a high level of isoflavones that help prevent cancer and heart disease. (AmericanBean.org)
3. Chia: Salvia columbariae is an annual plant that is commonly called chia, golden chia, and desert chia because its seeds are used in the same manner as Salvia hispanica (chia). It grows in California, Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico, Sonora, and Baja California and was an important food for Native Americans. Some native words include pashí from Tongva and ‘it’epeš from Ventureño. (Source)
Nutritional value from Jane Lear:
The seeds were a dietary staple of the Mayans and Aztecs, surpassed in importance only by corn and beans. A very rich source of ALA (plant-based) omega-3 fatty acids (the type found in pumpkin seeds, flax seeds, walnuts, canola oil, and some vegetables), they provide health benefits on par with fish and fish oil, yet are appropriate for a vegetarian or vegan diet. Chia seeds also contain fiber, protein, antioxidants, and minerals such as potassium, magnesium, calcium, and iron. (Source)
4. Squash: Archaeological evidence suggests squash may have been first cultivated in Mesoamerica some 8,000 to 10,000 years ago,[Roush][Smith] and may have been independently cultivated elsewhere at a later date.[Smith] Squash was one of the “Three Sisters” planted by Native Americans. The Three Sisters were the three main native crop plants: maize (corn), beans, and squash. These were usually planted together, with the cornstalk providing support for the climbing beans, and shade for the squash. The squash vines provided ground cover to limit weeds. Weeds can be detrimental to the growing conditions of the squash. The beans provided nitrogen fixing for all three crops. (Source)
Nutritional value from nutritiondata.self.com:
This food is very low in Saturated Fat, Cholesterol and Sodium. It is also a good source of Vitamin E (Alpha Tocopherol), Thiamin, Niacin, Vitamin B6, Folate, Calcium and Magnesium, and a very good source of Vitamin A (457%), Vitamin C (52%), Potassium (17%) and Manganese (18%). (Source)
Eat Less and Spend Less
In the minimalist spirit of “less is more”, the Mayan diet captures the essence of simplistic living with the benefits of spending less money and eating less junk food, all while eating healthy foods. Of course there’s the down side of less burgers, steaks, and other delicious foods. They will be missed. Or will they? Who’s to say you can’t have both? As long as the burgers and fries are kept in moderation, I would think that you can experience the best of both worlds – budget friendly groceries, healthy minimalist diet, and the good old fashioned American splurging (on the occasion).