Health Front: Native Diet or Pre-Captain Cook Diet

By DR. JERRY DeCAPUA, TRT Contributing Writer

The young officer James Cook first encountered scurvy at sea in July of 1756, when the ship he was joining, the H.M.S. Eagle, put ashore 130 sick men. Even that ship’s surgeon died from scurvy, a disease that caused bleeding gums, skin sores, weaknesses and pains in the joints and muscles.

A year later Cook’s next ship, the H.M.S. Pembroke, had so many sick on board that it could not partake in any security measures against the French. Unfortunately, Cook did not hear of Jacques Carrier, the first European to sail up the St. Lawrence River, who wintered in 1535-36 at the site of the present city of Quebec, then an Iroquoian settlement called Stadacona. Captain Carrier had a crew of men dying from a strange disease. Nor would Cook have heard of the remarkable cure, on the advice of a friendly native person who assisted the crew of the Carrier expedition with a concoction from the leaves and bark from a tree called Annedda. This eventual cure from scurvy, a disease called the “scourged of the seafarers,” apparently came from the evergreen (Thuja occidentalis) or Annedda, the “tree of life” as the natives called it then.

Apparently, back in Europe no one got the news for another 200 years that there was something in evergreen bark that cured scurvy. The European Navies considered that the disease must have come from salted beef or pork. So, by admiralty decree, Captain Cook’s ship was well stocked with 7,860 pounds of sauerkraut, the only known cure of scurvy at the time, and only if you ate lots of it every day. Even though some ship physicians thought that lemons and limes might immunize the crew from scurvy, the officers were wary of such nonsense. So, sauerkraut it was, every single day for a number of sea voyages, until the crews almost mutinied.

Sometime later on, while being on the lookout for any dietary solution for scurvy, they had noticed that New Zealand natives were using a Spruce tree concoction as a health tonic. Because those natives seemed very healthy, Cook and crew devised a similar Spruce beer brew. Other navy ships copied it and began to notice that, “Our Spruce Beer, which made after the directions given by Captn. Cook, prov’d excellent, and was served to the Ship’s Company in lieu of Spirits,” states one ship’s log about the crew’s improvement from scurvy.

While exploring the Pacific and its native island people James Cook studied what foods they ate and started collecting much of those fresh vegetables, fruits and grasses for the health of his crew. In speaking about the pre-European Maori and their diet, Captain Cook said, “strange that these people enjoy perfect and uninterrupted health…we never saw a single person who appeared to have any bodily complaint…the great number of old men that we saw…appeared to be very ancient, yet none of them were decrepit…(but appearing with) cheerfulness and vivacity.”

Today however, the Maoris have very poor health with high rates of cardiovascular disease, obesity and diabetes. In reaction to these modern diseases came the Pacific Island people’s need to investigate and reestablish their ancestral diet. With help from the 1920’s research of Dr. Weston Price, who visited 14 indigenous nations around the globe, the Native Diet was introduced as an attempt to go back to the basics of nutrition and lifestyle activity of pre-European Maori. This particular Native Diet excludes grains, dairy products, refined sugar and processed oils. Other than coconut, honey, and fruits, desserts and sweets do not exist. Native green beans, watercress, sprouts, carrot, garlic, mushrooms and peppers are all used for stir-fry.

The scent of fish, beef and chicken stir-fry must have been very arousing for Captain Cook’s crew after their steady European diet of salted pork, stale wheat biscuits, and sauerkraut mixed with mustard.

Their captain was apparently learning more and more on every voyage. He eventually explored more of the earth’s surface than anyone in history. By introducing the native foods to the crew, he probably helped cure more nutritional diseases than just the condition of scurvy, a disease of simple vitamin C deficiency. From the ship logs we now know that his crewmen, as time went on, became healthier and happier. Today, the Pre Captain Cook Diet is called the Native Diet, and strict adherence to it is very beneficial for anyone that wants to be as healthy as the ancient Maori were.

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April 15th, 2014


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