New Insights Into Healthful Compounds In Native American Diets

California's role as a national "health food" trendsetter goes back farther than most people suspect -- way back, in fact, when it comes to consumption of a food especially rich in healthy phytochemicals.

In an advance toward understanding the early California Native American diet, food scientists have identified the full range of phytochemicals in tanoak acorns.

Acorns were a staple in the diet of early Native Americans in California, comprising up to 50 percent of total food intake, Alyson E. Mitchell and colleagues note in a report in the current (Oct. 4) issue of the ACS biweekly Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry.

Acorns are still used by Californian Native Americans -- special processing is needed to make the nuts edible -- to make acorn flour and soup.

Past research has indicated that acorns have higher levels of healthful tannin compounds than other nuts, so Mitchell's group set out to identify the specific hydrolyzable and condensed tannins in acorns. These same compounds are found in wine, cocoa and other foods with health benefits.

Researchers identified more than two dozen specific compounds, in what they termed a first step toward understanding the role of those compounds in Native American diets.