A recent citizen science study suggests that eating foraged food could improve gut health, blood sugar and BMI. Should we all be saying: ‘pass the wild garlic’?
“Ground into flour, they make great cookies and crackers. I even use them to make porridge,” said Northamptonshire-based foraging expert Richard Mawby, of the humble acorn. He should know.
For three months, Mawby lived entirely on wild food. Alongside acorns, he feasted on pigeon, mushrooms and wild greens, losing 20kg in the process.
Mawby is one of 26 UK foragers who took part in The Wildbiome Project, living on wild food for between one and three months in spring 2023. It was set up by Scotland-based foraging expert Monica Wilde, who got the idea after surviving on foraged finds for the whole of 2021.
It measured the impact on blood sugar, BMI and gut health – with compelling results. Participants of the project who were classified as obese at the beginning lost an average of 5.6kg, and 16% of their body weight. One, foraging teacher Matthew Rooney, said he reversed his diabetes within 10 days, reducing his blood glucose level from a diabetic 65 to a normal 40.
Though at least one participant mentioned being more tired than usual while on the diet, generally speaking the foragers appeared to thrive, reporting having increased energy and enhanced mental wellbeing. Gut health also improved. Zoe, the nutrition science company headed by Prof Tim Spector, provided tests to measure participants’ gut microbiomes. At the start, the average score was ‘52’. By the end, it was ‘65’.
Wilde suggests this is due to the diversity of a wild diet.
It should be pointed out that all participants had food like fruits, seaweed – and even roadkill badger – in their freezers. They also tucked into rabbit and fish and, because it’s illegal to eat wild bird eggs, were given organic chicken eggs.
Of course, Wilde doesn’t expect everyone to adopt a 100%-foraged diet. “Even incorporating a few wild foods could be beneficial,” she said. She suggested starting with fresh nettle tips in spring, which can be used in place of spinach, blanched first. “I can’t think of a better way to get iron into your system.”
Indeed, Wilde points out that wild foods are often more nutritionally dense than farmed ones, which are bred for size rather than nutritional value. “Eating wild also means eating seasonally. Following the advice that nature gives us is bound to be good for us – and the planet.”
Mawby agreed. “The project was a breath of fresh air,” he said. “I felt in sync with my surroundings, seeing a noticeable difference in clarity. Now, I’m more in tune with my body, and though I’ve reintroduced cacao and spices, acorns are still firmly on the menu.”
Main image: Madeleine_Steinbach/iStock
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