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Book Review: From I'itoi's Garden: Tohono O'Odham Food Traditions

The Bottom Line

About.com Rating 5 Star Rating


Updated December 31, 2011

Book Review: From I'itoi's Garden: Tohono O'Odham Food Traditions

From I'itoi's Garden


From I’Itoi’s Garden: Tohono O’Odham Food Traditions is by Tohono O’Odham Community Action with Mary Paganelli Votto & Frances Manuel

This book about Native American foods is many things. It is a cookbook, gardening book, and cultural history book. While it is not specifically about Type 2 diabetes and Native Americans, it does address the subject. I feel it is a valuable resource for people with diabetes.

The Tohono O’Odham people are located predominantly in the Sonoran Desert in southern Arizona and northwest Mexico. This tribe, their history and traditional foods, may hold keys to new understanding about diabetes.

Why it Matters

This book details traditional foods and recipes. These Native American foods had been historically associated with good health. However, with the introduction of processed foods, the Tohono O’Odham people now have the highest rate of Type 2 diabetes in the world. Previous to 1960, diabetes was unknown to them.

Studies have shown these traditional foods have beneficial effects for people with diabetes, such as regulating blood sugar levels and reducing the onset and effects of diabetes. It has also been found a return to traditional Native American foods along with exercise can bring about dramatic results in regards to diabetes in Native Americans.


  • Beautifully written, laid out and photographed
  • Simple traditional and contemporary recipes
  • Recipes include nutritional information
  • Detailed food information with growing and harvesting instructions
  • A window into a rich culture, including songs, input from elders and legends


  • Expensive (However, proceeds help preserve the health, sustainability and culture of this tribe)
  • Ingredients may be hard to find where you live
  • Plants are adapted to the desert and drought and may not grow in your region.

Guide Review

Whether you live in southern Arizona or in northern Alaska, this book has something to teach anyone living with diabetes. These Native American foods, recipes, and cooking methods can be used as a blueprint upon which to evaluate your current diet.

Two characteristics of these foods seem to help with diabetes control. The first is that some of these foods contain soluble fiber, tannins and inulin, which help reduce blood sugar levels and help with insulin resistance. Examples of these foods are beans, acorns, and mesquite bean pods. The second is that some foods contain mucilaginous polysaccharide gums that slow down digestion and absorption. These foods include chia seeds, prickly pear, and mesquite bean pods.

There are a couple recipes that may not be diabetes-friendly. However, in most cases this is noted and substitutions or alternatives are offered.

The book is broken up into chapters, with most focusing on one traditional Native American food from this region. Chapters include squash, acorns, cholla buds, saguaro cactus, mesquite beans, prickly pear fruit, agave, wild greens, corn, and tepary beans. The book also includes chapters on floodwater farming and other traditional foods.

Each food chapter provides an introduction to the food, insights by elders, beautiful color pictures, traditions, songs, recipes, and information on how to grow, harvest, eat, preserve, store, save seeds, and cook. You will also find hints and nutrition information. The latter is a very nice addition as many books on Native American foods and recipes do not include nutrition data.

My Take

This book has become one of my most valued treasures. It provides a rare comprehensive view into some Native American food traditions. I highly recommend it.

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  5. Native American Foods Book Review - Diabetes and Native American Foods

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