How to follow a healthy and local diet. Tips from a Haudenosaunee dietitian

Have you ever wondered which foods are good for different seasons of the year?

The short answer: whatever is growing near you. The long answer is a little more complicated.

Teri Morrow is a Haudenosaunee Registered Dietitian of Six Nations of the Grand River. She focuses on traditional foods “in a cultural and spiritual sense”.

Morrow is also president of the Indigenous Nutrition Knowledge Network.

He said the sciences he has studied are “ridiculously interconnected” with the teachings he has received from his community.

Morrow said the most nutritious foods to eat during spring are those currently growing in your area.

One example he gave was maple syrup. He explained that, in his culture, the year begins when the maples are ready to produce sap.

A woman raking a field, a child is working with her.
Deyowidron’t Teri Morrow is a Haudenosaunee Registered Dietitian of Six Nations of the Grand River. She says that in her practice she combines Western knowledge with traditional teachings of her culture to help her patients. (Posted by Deyowidron’t Teri Morrow)

“When we extract maple syrup, we know we’re tapping into that new kind of fresh nutrient source from the earth because the groundwater that feeds those trees is always circulating,” he said.

She said maple sap is especially important in early spring because it supplies manganese and zinc, which are important for immune function.

Morrow said this is how the people of Haudenosaunee would prepare for spring, when they would be exposed to more people and have to start planting.

Morrow said he doesn’t advise people to go out and start foraging. Instead, he said people should seek out Indigenous people in their area who can help them do so in a responsible and respectful way.

“You’re probably on people’s land,” she said. “What is Crown land? What is traditional land? And how much are you allowed to forage?”

“[Foraged food] it’s a really great way for people who have never had the opportunity to connect with someone from a First Nation or someone who brings traditional knowledge,” he said.

Morrow said foraging for these foods with Indigenous people is also a good way for those who can’t get out and get together to support local communities.

He said Haudenosaunee foods are typically high in:

  • Zinc, which helps in the growth and maintenance of the body (vision, immune system, blood clotting, thyroid function, wound healing)
  • Proteins, for the growth and maintenance of cells
  • Iron, a component of red blood cells that carries oxygen throughout the body.
  • Vitamin D, which helps absorb calcium, keeps bones and teeth healthy, helps muscles, nerves, and the immune system function properly.
  • Vitamin B12 and B6, needed to keep nerves and blood cells healthy (proper brain development).

CBC Hamilton spoke to Morrow, here’s part of that conversation:

Discussion has been edited for length and clarity.

Traditional knowledge

How does Haudenosaunee knowledge inform your work and approach?

When I was in school, I used my understanding of our cultural teachings and what little language I had at the time to look at my Western teachings [and] it made more sense to me.

I think that’s kind of where I took my dietary practice today because I’ve worked a good five years with clients and a full support from the medical community, but there wasn’t a lot of support for the cultural language.

It’s been really hard to help someone when your customers need to make the necessary changes to impact their health and wellbeing but are really limited in cultural knowledge, traditional food practices, due to genocide and the colonial constructs that support the system healthcare and the perception of health today.

Sap coming out of a tree in a bucket.
Morrow says maple sap is an important part of the Haudenosaunee diet during spring because it helps immunize during a time when we start seeing more people. (Submitted by Deyowidron’t Teri Morrow)

I really tried to make it more important in my practice as well, if people didn’t have access to those foods to help them find access to foster people holding on to those traditional pieces and processes of knowledge: hunting, fishing, gatherings, language ceremonies – to sustain them and to elevate them, so that later more people would have access and ability to use that same knowledge that has been passed down from generation to generation.

What to eat in spring

What are some nutritious foods to eat in spring?

Right now, we’re getting some different veggies… Protein, you know, we have real sources of meat protein available, like wild turkeys. And fish is always available, [they have] different omega three, omega six and proteins”.

Protein is really important because we’re going from that resting phase to more physical effort and movement, because of the work we’re supposed to be doing.

A glass bowl with soup.
A bowl of walleye and Haudenosaunee corn caustic soda with peas and sweet potatoes. Morrow said fish and other proteins are important during the spring to transition from a resting state during the winter to a more active lifestyle during the spring and summer. (Posted by Deyowidron’t Teri Morrow)

Ramps or wild leeks and fiddleheads contain nutrients such as manganese, vitamin A, C, B3, folic acid B6, and iron, among others.

Ramps also has allium which helps support cardiovascular health and prevent damage to blood vessels.

Vitamin D

People often think about the need for vitamin D in winter to improve your mood, is it still the same in summer?

Much of the vitamin D that our bodies use comes from the sun, so if you have sun-accessible skin, your body is able to use it. But in the winter, that’s usually not the case, because we’re either inside or bundled up.

But if you’re in the office and don’t allow yourself to reconnect to your spirit like that, then you’re going to lose your balance.

You should be making the same concerted effort that you are making in the winter. Be more careful about vitamin D. I think it’s also difficult, unless people have gone to get their blood checked.

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