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Samoan researcher says traditional cuisines could play crucial role in stopping diabetes

Alakihihifo Vailala

PhD student Amy Maslen-Miller is researching how a traditional 19th century Samoan diet may help prevent the onset of type 2 diabetes.

Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air

A Samoan PhD student is researching how a traditional Pacific diet may help prevent Samoan New Zealanders getting type two diabetes.

Amy Maslen-Miller spoke to Brian Sagala on 531pi’s Pacific Days about her passion for helping her community.

“A couple of my supervisors have expertise in metabolism like type two diabetes and also nutrition. They suggested that it would be really interesting to look at food because when you go to the doctors, you’re diagnosed with type two diabetes, the doctors say eat healthy and exercise.”

Currently at the end of her second year of her three year PhD research, Maslen-Miller has recently released a free e-book titled, Samoan Traditional Foods.

The book aims to share knowledge about traditional Samoan foods that are not commonly known.

She says a lot of the knowledge presented in the ebook were from missionaries who documented the information during the 19th and 20th century.

Some of the information she's found is that common foods included taro, green banana and fish.

“So essentially they call [that] a pescatarian diet ... and then food such as shark, big fish and turtles were ceremonial foods.”

She says over time, colonisation and globalisation has influenced the changing of the traditional Samoan diet.

Part of Maslen-Miller’s research has included talking to Samoan women of both younger and older generations about traditional Samoan foods.

She shares an interaction from her conversations with an older woman who grew up in Samoa of when she’d walk down to the sea after school to get sea urchin to eat with her taro.

As a young girl, she realised that when the Moso’oi or ylang-ylang plant would turn brown, the kuikui (sea urchin) were creamier.

And Maslen-Miller hopes she can pass on this knowledge about traditional Samoan foods back to her community.

“They can take that knowledge and take ownership over it and they can do whatever they like with it as long as they pass it onto the next generation.”

Maslen-Miller’s ebook can be downloaded here:

Hero image: New Zealand-born Samoan Phd researcher Amy Maslen-Miller. Photo/ Linkedin

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