20 Nov 2013

Pre-European diet 'best for Maori'

10:27 am on 20 November 2013

A public health specialist says Maori should go back to a pre-European diet to stop chronic diseases such as diabetes and cancer - advice disputed by a Maori health organisation.

Auckland University of Technology Professor of Public Health Grant Schofield believes Maori should revert to a diet that debunks a founding pillar of modern nutrition: that a healthy diet is low in fat.

"What Maori ate before Pakeha turned up was most likely a diet that was highish in fat, moderate in protein and relatively low in carbohydrate, and that's true across the whole Pacific region. And you can go and study people who are still eating that way, who are more or less disease free."

His diet plan has been met with a warning from Toi Tangata, a national Maori health provider, which says there's insufficient research to support it and goes on to call the suggestion "faddish and strange".

The health provider's nutritionist, Mason Ngawhika, says Maori could get dangerous mixed messages and think it's okay to eat large quantities of fatty foods without the required balance of fruit and vegetables.

He says the diet plan is too expensive for low-income Maori and such a large diet overhaul would result in too much willpower being required, ending with what nutritionists call the "what-the-hell-effect".

Despite its concerns, Toi Tangata says the diet could have benefits for people who have, or could develop, diabetes.