What do you think of when I say we were lucky enough to spend 3 months backpacking in Australia? I’m guessing the beach, sun and maybe even surfing came to mind? Or you're thinking "Didn’t an aunt or friend from school or work move over to Australia and they're living in Perth, Sydney or Melbourne?" Well yes, you would be right. There is plenty of sun, sea and surfing in Australia and many people also have family connections back here in the UK – We stayed with a family member in Melbourne for a few days (thanks, Penny)!
There is, however, another side to Australia that completely changed the way we think about diet and health here at Hunter & Gather and firmly cemented our values we hold dear today.
Our trip began in tropical Darwin where we picked up our trusty wagon - A Toyota family car that we would call home for the next 3 months (cosy!). Before you ask.. yes that did mean no toilet or shower...and for those of you that suffer from IBS and or Coeliac you will understand how terrifying this was!
We were on an adventure, which took us along a very straight road into the heart of the Outback (the Stuart Highway!). We camped under the stars and cooked all our food from scratch on either our little gas cooker or campfire - we were properly camping!
Treats were out of the budget and meals consisted mainly of eggs, meat, cheese and low carb vegetables, washed down with water or a cup of tea. As you can imagine 3 months in a Toyota car with your partner is testing enough let along adding in sugar/carb detoxing too!
The initial cravings for sugar were terrifying and hard! To put this into perspective, I spent over £3 on a small can of a very well known Cola drink at the most rundown of stores and then was on the verge of weeping afterwards at wasting money because it tasted soo sweet and I just couldn't finish it!
This made me realise how high my sugar taste tolerance had become at University and I was addicted to the white stuff! With sugar on the mind, we soon noticed as we entered deeper into the outback the vast array of fizzy drinks readily available - yet fruit and veg were more difficult to get hold of. We also noticed that a number of the local Aboriginal folk were walking with crutches, severely overweight or had limbs missing. We began to question what was going on? This was not the sun-kissed, golden Aussie life we expected, right?
To explain a little bit better, stay with me as I dive into a very short history lesson on the Aboriginal tribes. The history of Aboriginal tribes is said to date back over 60,000 years before colonization by European societies. The tribes were connected to the land with their values and they would eat a diet consisting of meat, fish, berries and plant matter which was very low in sugar (that’s bush tucker to you and I).
With the introduction of European societies and the encouragement of social integration many half-white aboriginal children were taken from their mothers and integrated into European families – this happened as late as 1969 and was known as the “stolen generation”. These aboriginal children were brought up on a western diet consisting of a higher carbohydrate content than their ancestral diet.
As higher sugar western diets have proliferated into the outback, where it is cheaper than fresh fruit and vegetables, doubled up with many Aboriginal families living on welfare support, the diet of the Aboriginal tribes has changed significantly. The effects of drastically changing the diet of the Aboriginal tribes in a relatively short amount of time has resulted in increased levels of Type 2 Diabetes.
The statistics are staggering and show that Aboriginals are up to 4 times more likely to be affected by Type 2 Diabetes than non-indigenous people (please check out the references at the bottom for more information). We were seeing tremendous rates of obesity, missing limbs and trouble walking which is arguably the effects of what can only be described as a horrifically poor diet thurst upon a tribe that was previously fit and healthy for thousands of years.
What a wakeup call to me, who was expecting sun, sea and sand! It also made me wonder how has sugar been affecting us in 'modern societies' (it was like holding up a mirror) and it made me wonder are we beginning to see similarities in the UK of obesity and Type 2 Diabetes too?
If you would like to learn more about how sugar can affect your health – check out 'The Sugar Film' by Damon Gameau, which is a fantastic documentary. It is funny, informative and a little bit shocking! Damon is also heavily involved with the Aboriginal community in Australia where he founded the Mai Wiru Sugar Challenge Foundation in 2014 to help combat poor diet in this rural community by providing education and healthier lower sugar alternatives. You can find out more information about this foundation here.
And for those that have been wondering, yes we did have a shower most days (if a bucket and chuck it or baby wipe shower counts) and we also saw many deadly creatures including one that I can only describe as a mystical creature from Harry Potter! Another adventure of the Coeliac girl… where sugar and its dangers have given me a wakeup call!
Thanks for reading ☺
Attenbrow, V (2010). "Sydney's Aboriginal Past". Investigating the Archaeological and Historical Records.: 152–153.
Davis, T. M. E.; McAullay, D.; Davis, W. A.; Bruce, D. G. (2007-01-01). "Characteristics and outcome of type 2 diabetes in urban Aboriginal people: the Fremantle Diabetes Study". Internal Medicine Journal. 37 (1): 59–63. ISSN 1445-5994. doi:10.1111/j.1445-5994.2006.01247.x.
Brown, A.; O'Dea, K.; Rowley, K.G. (2007). "Diabetes in Indigenous Australians: possible ways forward". The Medical Journal of Australia.
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