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Nutrition in Aztec Society - Virology Hub


It has long been a popular myth that the Aztec engaged in cannibalism in order to meet their dietary and nutritional needs. The truth is that cannibalism existed only in a very limited ritual context. Since animal proteins were scarce and populations exceeded environmental supplies, cannibalism seemed a reasonable answer to a nutritionally deficient diet; however, modern scholarship reduces this theory of Aztec cannibalism to mere imaginations of savagery and bloodlust.

In order for a food to be of nutritional value, it must include all of the 11 essential amino acids. Perhaps by accident, the Aztec created an evolved diet to meet their nutritional needs. Maize, though high in protein, lacks lysine and tryptophan. When Aztec farmers harvested maize, they left it to dry in the fields. To soften the kernels later for grinding, the Aztec soaked the kernels in a water and limestone mixture (nixtamal). The alkaline combination freed the tryptophan and added calcium. It also added a distinct flavor that became traditional, and without it, tortillas did not taste the way the Aztec expected them to. Beans, high in lysine, when eaten with maize soaked in the alkaline solution, made a nutritionally sound meal. These two foods provided the cultural staples of the Aztec diet, without animal proteins. Chilies provided iron, riboflavin, niacin, and vitamin A, and chia (salvia) provided calcium and phosphorous.

Without textual documentation, it is impossible to know whether the Aztec were knowledgeable about the biological minutiae of nutrition. However, because the Aztec diet gave visible results of healthiness, it easily became a cultural fixture.

The largest question regarding the issue of nutrition lies in how drought, weather conditions such as rainfall and frost, locust and rodent plagues, and population affected nutritional needs' being met. Famine occurred regularly throughout the year, especially in June and July, the season between the two harvests. Quickly, the Aztec population exceeded the agricultural supplies of central Mexico: The population in the basin in the late 15th century stood at 1 million people. Low rainfall and drought especially devastated the overpopulated civilization in 1450, when a four-year drought resulted in a disastrous famine. Famine, rather than malnutrition, proved to be fatal for Aztec populations.



Source by Yudi Yuviama