10

votes

Is the Inuit Diet Healthy? Really? Prove It.

Answered on August 19, 2014
Created June 15, 2010 at 2:01 AM

OK, I got into a debate with a co-worker and it seems that we have very different opinions on the Inuit diet and its effect on their health. Her husband is an ER doc who has spent some time in Alaska. He noticed a lot of Inuit with cardriovascular disease(CVD). According to them, the Inuit diet is linked to an increased incidence of CVD, stroke, and a shorter lifespan.

I didn't directly argue as I don't have the facts memorized and I hate looking ignorant. I merely stated that I thought there was a study or two refuting that and that perhaps his experience is the result of seeing their diet shift towards a Western diet.

I came home to do some research and find out that there are studies supporting both conclusions.

Here, Dewailley claims the increased O3 consumption is beneficial for the heart.

Here, Bjerregard claims that those claims are baseless and that a Western diet seems to be curbing a CVD epidemic.

It seems to me that the Inuit may be genetically destined to have a shorter lifespan. Perhaps some of that can be contributed to a highly stressful living environment. It also seems likely that a traditional diet w/o a Western influence would lead to lower CVD rates, but not necessarily a long lifespan (over 75ish years). The combination of the high fat traditional diet and an increasing number of Western meals seems to directly affect CVD rates.

Has anyone else done extensive research on this? Has anyone else had this discussion? I am really curious to hear other's opinions. As my co-worker and I work in the medical field, citation of sources would be very helpful.

D33a8d5f095a8532ddf7a0d6c27bfe63

(578)

on August 21, 2013
at 02:36 AM

Why not Paleo? If you live in the arctic, eat only what you kill, then that's Paleo. You do it long enough, you evolve and become adapted to it. Evolution and natural selection can happen in quick, intense spurts. But the point to take away is that the Inuits may have adapted themselves to this type of diet and those who've survived reflect this environmental and epigenetic adaptation; the average Joe Sixpack hasn't had that chance, at least not with his 400 grams per day processed carb habit. The Inuit diet is Paleo for the Inuits; it isn't for most of us living below the arctic circle.

D33a8d5f095a8532ddf7a0d6c27bfe63

(578)

on August 21, 2013
at 02:21 AM

People forget that liver is a carb source and most carnivores love eating liver. From the glycogen from their kills and occasional sea vegetables, its possible they may have been occasionally non-ketogenic. But most of the time, I can't imagine them not being fat-burning men.

Medium avatar

(10611)

on August 20, 2013
at 08:14 PM

Right on! The Inuit diet may have a lot of fat but it's not paleo and not a good basis for anything other than a survival diet.

Medium avatar

(10611)

on August 20, 2013
at 08:12 PM

My Nordic ancestors survived on dairy products. You could just as well argue that the Inuit were not made to survive on animals like seals and whales. They've only been in the Arctic for the last 10,000 years; about as long as other humans have found that milking cows makes better sense than killing them all for the meat.

Medium avatar

(10611)

on May 09, 2012
at 10:02 PM

LOL melissa, I just read your blog comments from a month ago on the current mummy craze. I think you said it best in this quote: Conclusion on Mummies: Relevance to your health: low Chance of being haunted by vengeful undead: high

9d43f6873107e17ca4d1a5055aa7a2ad

on May 09, 2012
at 08:38 PM

Also Greenlanders have the highest rates of Epstein-Barr virus associated carcinomas.

9d43f6873107e17ca4d1a5055aa7a2ad

on May 09, 2012
at 08:34 PM

It's silly if anyone thinks there is any diet that 100% prevents cancer. I've seen skulls deformed by cancer from every part of the world. That said, the Inuit lifestyle was unusually harsh. Homo sapiens are not very well adapted to polar climates and the smoke used to heat and cook in igloos is like smoking a pack a day.

C674d43f8ce2a0fb93470a33eeca51ae

(10)

on July 09, 2011
at 08:32 PM

That's just sad. I don't know if I want to take blame for it, since I don't come from British or French heritage. But it's still something that needs to be addressed. While I don't suggest that modern Inuit give up modern conveniences of housing, computers etc. I really wish they could return to their traditional way of eating. (Although that must be tough with all the flack from environmentalists about 'saving' the whale/seal/polar bear...anything!) I would honestly feel comfortable eating a traditional Inuit diet if I had to! (I try to maintain a degree of ketosis anyway) YAY!

F9a0b72f38860d7601afd5a45bb53394

(3618)

on February 14, 2011
at 11:23 PM

and James, the Maasai get by fine on milk. I think most of us would, except the milk-protein-allergic (either protein). The problem is what's done to the milk these days before it's consumed, not so much the milk itself.

F9a0b72f38860d7601afd5a45bb53394

(3618)

on February 14, 2011
at 11:22 PM

Lard is more monounsaturated than saturated. Read the label. It's still better for you than Crisco, but it's not as good for you as tallow.

F9a0b72f38860d7601afd5a45bb53394

(3618)

on February 14, 2011
at 11:22 PM

Everybody ate for survival in the old days. Big deal. When you are getting what you need from your diet, eating becomes a survival thing because you don't have to make up for your malnutrition by entertaining yourself with food toys. A lot of what passes for "enjoyment" in modern cuisine is really us justifying our poisons to ourselves. I'd rather eat an Inuit diet than ever touch cake again.

F9a0b72f38860d7601afd5a45bb53394

(3618)

on February 14, 2011
at 11:20 PM

Same thing's going on with other New World indigenous. All the diabetes and obesity is following on the heels of adopting white man's industrial diet, NOT from eating their own traditional foods.

F9a0b72f38860d7601afd5a45bb53394

(3618)

on February 14, 2011
at 11:19 PM

I'm not convinced traditional Inuit is really zero carb. And I don't mean the plants they may or may not have eaten a few months out of the year. They may have eaten a lot of fat but they surely had a few organs in the diet--what about the animal's glycogen stores? Primates are insectivores. Insects are meat. We're primates. There's no reason we can't adapt to an all-meat diet, since eating plants is more recent in our experience than eating bugs. I'm betting a lot of the health risks of being Inuit come from white-man food, being deprived of land and culture and so on.

9d43f6873107e17ca4d1a5055aa7a2ad

on August 20, 2010
at 05:51 PM

Having lived in the high arctic, I can tell you that plants do grow and I enjoyed berries(though sour) in the dead of winter, as well as pine needle teas. I would suggest reading Make Prayers to the Raven.

9bc6f3df8db981f67ea1465411958c8d

(3690)

on August 20, 2010
at 05:43 PM

Lard is actually quite healthy. It's pig fat and it's mostly saturated and monounsaturated fat.

9bc6f3df8db981f67ea1465411958c8d

(3690)

on August 20, 2010
at 05:39 PM

The northern civilizations were not the only ones eating zero carb. American and Canadian plain indians relied solely on buffalo and I'm sure there are others than I don't know of. Barry Groves talked about this for when Europe was in a glaciation period. All humans living in Europe around that time would have relied entirely on meat.

9bc6f3df8db981f67ea1465411958c8d

(3690)

on August 20, 2010
at 05:39 PM

Their vitamin D levels is actually quite high and this is why they have a brownish skin. It's high because a good source of vitamin D is fatty fish, and they eat a lot of it. I'm sure they were not worried about protein poisoning. When you eat 60%-70% of your calories as fat, there is still some place for plenty of muscle meat and you are far far away from protein poisoning. Do you have any data on vitamin C levels of cooked liver? Not that I doubt you, I'm just curious to know if we have evidence about this.

9bc6f3df8db981f67ea1465411958c8d

(3690)

on August 20, 2010
at 05:31 PM

The northern civilizations where not the only ones eating zero carb. American and Canadian plain indians relied solely on buffalo and I'm sure there are others than I don't know of. Barry Groves talked about this for when Europe was in a glaciation period. All humans living in Europe around that time would have relied entirely on meat.

9d43f6873107e17ca4d1a5055aa7a2ad

on June 19, 2010
at 05:01 PM

Yeah, zero carb can be (and almost always is) paleo, but not all paleo dieters are zero carbers

100fd85230060e754fc13394eee6d6f1

(18696)

on June 19, 2010
at 03:11 PM

I assume you mean Paleo does not imply Zero Carb. Zero carb (in the eating only meat sense) qualifies as Paleo.

4145b36f1488224964edac6258b75aff

(7821)

on June 15, 2010
at 10:55 AM

Nice study roundup.

628978d2e1ae51dd97afd9c35f699b75

(688)

on June 15, 2010
at 02:41 AM

Good info - I hadn't thought of the smoke inhalation factor. I agree with the fact that they don't really eat their traditional diet anymore. It just seems that they are an extreme case in terms of diet and are unjustly used to support/refute the idea of a higher fat & protein diet. The support and refutation is simply in the analyzing/skewing of the info. Thanks for your input!

  • 628978d2e1ae51dd97afd9c35f699b75

    asked by

    (688)
  • Views
    23.4K
  • Last Activity
    1279D AGO
Frontpage book

Get FREE instant access to our Paleo For Beginners Guide & 15 FREE Recipes!

8 Answers

23
1a8020e101199de55c1b3b726f342321

(1973)

on June 15, 2010
at 05:55 AM

Cancer and Life Expectancy

Whole health source has a post on mortality rates in an Inuit population from 1822-1836. "Excluding infant mortality, about 25% of their population lived past 60."

Life expectancy in the Inuit-inhabited areas of Canada, 1989 to 2003 "In 1991, life expectancy at birth in the Inuit-inhabited areas was about 68 years, which was 10 years lower than for Canada overall. From 1991 to 2001, life expectancy in the Inuit-inhabited areas did not increase, although it rose by about two years for Canada as a whole."

Cancer patterns in Inuit populations. "Although malignant diseases were believed to be almost non-existent in Inuit populations during the beginning of the 20th century, the increasing life expectancy within these populations showed a distinct pattern, characterised by a high risk of Epstein-Barr virus-associated carcinomas of the nasopharynx and salivary glands, and a low risk of tumours common in white populations, including cancer of the prostate, testis, and haemopoietic system."

The Inuit cancer pattern - The influence of migration "Significant higher risk of cancer of the bladder, breast, prostate gland, skin, brain and stomach was observed among Inuit following migration to Denmark. The SIR was not generally influenced by duration of stay. The high risk of carcinoma of the nasopharynx and salivary glands observed in Inuit populations is maintained after migration to a low incidence area."

Cancer in Circumpolar Inuit 1969-1988

Cancer in Greenlandic Inuit 1973-1997: A cohort study

CVD

This William Lands paper has some data suggesting modern Quebec Inuit have low rates of CVD (Figure 2, page 8), about 50% lower than the general rate of CVD in Quebec.

Land's book "Fish and Human Health" and it's update "Fish, Omega-3 and Human" both discuss a number of studies on the Inuit.

Epidemiological studies in the Upernavik district, Greenland. Incidence of some chronic diseases 1950-1974. "The disease pattern of the Greenlanders differs from that of West-European populations, having a higher frequency of apoplexy and epilepsy but a lower frequency or absence of acute myocardial infarction, diabetes mellitus, thyrotoxicosis, bronchial asthma, multiple sclerosis and psoriasis."

Fat metabolism in Alaskan Eskimos "In the Alaskan Eskimos, however, there is a consistently high serum cholesterol, on one hand; repeated clinical surveys, on the other, indicate an almost total absence of cardiovascular-renal diseases in the population."

The bleeding tendency in Greenland Eskimos "Related to this decreased morbidity is the greater bleeding tendency among Greenland Eskimos, summarized by Bang and Dyerberg (1980)."

Fatty acid composition of the plasma lipids in Greenland Eskimos "They [Greenland Eskimo] demonstrated a much higher proportion of palmitic, palmitoleic, and timnodonic acids, while they had a markedly lower concentration of linoleic acid. The total concentration of polyunsaturated fatty acids was lower in Greenland Eskimos than in the other groups ... As plasma lipid and lipoprotein levels in Greenland Eskimos in a previous study were found markedly lower than those found in Western populations, and as coronary atherosclerosis seems to occur far less commonly among Eskimos in Greenland than among peoples in industrialized countries, it was found difficult to combine these observations with the results from the present study."

4145b36f1488224964edac6258b75aff

(7821)

on June 15, 2010
at 10:55 AM

Nice study roundup.

12
9d43f6873107e17ca4d1a5055aa7a2ad

on June 15, 2010
at 02:27 AM

There is some evidence it's suboptimal:

  • Decreased blood clotting. High levels of omega-3 caused this (I've suffered from this problem when I was paleo pescatarian. I injured myself biking and just bled and bled and bled.
  • Some evidence of hardened arteries (though can be caused by their cooking/heating system, which led to a lot of smoke inhalation)
  • Some evidence of osteroporosis

The latter two are discussed by Primal Wisdom and Cordain

There is very no evidence I know of that they are healthier than the Kitavans or other carby populations. In fact, the Kitavans smoke like chimneys and don't have the hardened arteries.

That said, the modern Inuit do not eat a traditional diet. Yes, they still eat some traditional seafoods, but proving you can't cancel out crap foods by downing fish oil, they have serious health problems.

And omega-3 IS PUFA. Kurt Harris is right to suggest you keep total PUFA low- with of course, a proper ratio in that low percentage.

Remember: Zero carb is not paleo. Far northern civilizations are fairly recent. Humans are not well adapted to such conditions.

628978d2e1ae51dd97afd9c35f699b75

(688)

on June 15, 2010
at 02:41 AM

Good info - I hadn't thought of the smoke inhalation factor. I agree with the fact that they don't really eat their traditional diet anymore. It just seems that they are an extreme case in terms of diet and are unjustly used to support/refute the idea of a higher fat & protein diet. The support and refutation is simply in the analyzing/skewing of the info. Thanks for your input!

9d43f6873107e17ca4d1a5055aa7a2ad

on June 19, 2010
at 05:01 PM

Yeah, zero carb can be (and almost always is) paleo, but not all paleo dieters are zero carbers

100fd85230060e754fc13394eee6d6f1

(18696)

on June 19, 2010
at 03:11 PM

I assume you mean Paleo does not imply Zero Carb. Zero carb (in the eating only meat sense) qualifies as Paleo.

9bc6f3df8db981f67ea1465411958c8d

(3690)

on August 20, 2010
at 05:31 PM

The northern civilizations where not the only ones eating zero carb. American and Canadian plain indians relied solely on buffalo and I'm sure there are others than I don't know of. Barry Groves talked about this for when Europe was in a glaciation period. All humans living in Europe around that time would have relied entirely on meat.

9bc6f3df8db981f67ea1465411958c8d

(3690)

on August 20, 2010
at 05:39 PM

The northern civilizations were not the only ones eating zero carb. American and Canadian plain indians relied solely on buffalo and I'm sure there are others than I don't know of. Barry Groves talked about this for when Europe was in a glaciation period. All humans living in Europe around that time would have relied entirely on meat.

9d43f6873107e17ca4d1a5055aa7a2ad

on August 20, 2010
at 05:51 PM

Having lived in the high arctic, I can tell you that plants do grow and I enjoyed berries(though sour) in the dead of winter, as well as pine needle teas. I would suggest reading Make Prayers to the Raven.

F9a0b72f38860d7601afd5a45bb53394

(3618)

on February 14, 2011
at 11:19 PM

I'm not convinced traditional Inuit is really zero carb. And I don't mean the plants they may or may not have eaten a few months out of the year. They may have eaten a lot of fat but they surely had a few organs in the diet--what about the animal's glycogen stores? Primates are insectivores. Insects are meat. We're primates. There's no reason we can't adapt to an all-meat diet, since eating plants is more recent in our experience than eating bugs. I'm betting a lot of the health risks of being Inuit come from white-man food, being deprived of land and culture and so on.

D33a8d5f095a8532ddf7a0d6c27bfe63

(578)

on August 21, 2013
at 02:21 AM

People forget that liver is a carb source and most carnivores love eating liver. From the glycogen from their kills and occasional sea vegetables, its possible they may have been occasionally non-ketogenic. But most of the time, I can't imagine them not being fat-burning men.

5
0037d03799fbdf83d3edc63dab01ac5a

(236)

on June 15, 2010
at 03:35 AM

There are no longer Inuits that eat the Inuit diet. Modern Inuit eat cheetos.

C674d43f8ce2a0fb93470a33eeca51ae

(10)

on July 09, 2011
at 08:32 PM

That's just sad. I don't know if I want to take blame for it, since I don't come from British or French heritage. But it's still something that needs to be addressed. While I don't suggest that modern Inuit give up modern conveniences of housing, computers etc. I really wish they could return to their traditional way of eating. (Although that must be tough with all the flack from environmentalists about 'saving' the whale/seal/polar bear...anything!) I would honestly feel comfortable eating a traditional Inuit diet if I had to! (I try to maintain a degree of ketosis anyway) YAY!

2
55a546fd4e8b2b0dcba4cb5d3c81d65d

on November 13, 2010
at 01:57 PM

These statistics do not reflect the fact that the Inuit's diet has been westernized for many decades. Back in the 1960's my father saw them use Crisco on their bread instead of butter. This was in remote area and that virtually was closed off from the rest of the population for months. Bread and Crisco not true Inuit diet.

F9a0b72f38860d7601afd5a45bb53394

(3618)

on February 14, 2011
at 11:20 PM

Same thing's going on with other New World indigenous. All the diabetes and obesity is following on the heels of adopting white man's industrial diet, NOT from eating their own traditional foods.

2
8287c6ddae0d78eae0a09fdd5999617c

(2581)

on August 20, 2010
at 11:55 AM

Their diet is based on survival in the Arctic. The environment is not optimal for humans. It's very cold, but our species evolved in very warm climates. Because of the Arctic environment, Vitamin D is going to be low. There isn't much edible plant foods to be found so they have to rely on a high-fat diet with lots of raw organ meats, raw skin and blubber. Their traditional diet does not have much muscle meat because that would cause protein poisoning because when calories come mostly from protein this puts stress on the liver. Carbs and fat help balance this out, but they don't have enough carbs, so they have to eat mostly fat and raw organs (which lose their Vitamin C when cooked). They don't do it for optimal health, they do it for survival.

This is VERY different from the paleo diet. I don't think anyone should advocate a traditional Inuit diet. Not because I think "everyone is different", no we're not THAT different. I wouldn't even advocate the Inuit diet to a modern Inuit, who has heating and a fridge. In my opinion the Inuit diet is a diet of necessity and the vast majority of humans would certainly prefer something else when we live in situations where we have access to a good variety of food sources.

9bc6f3df8db981f67ea1465411958c8d

(3690)

on August 20, 2010
at 05:39 PM

Their vitamin D levels is actually quite high and this is why they have a brownish skin. It's high because a good source of vitamin D is fatty fish, and they eat a lot of it. I'm sure they were not worried about protein poisoning. When you eat 60%-70% of your calories as fat, there is still some place for plenty of muscle meat and you are far far away from protein poisoning. Do you have any data on vitamin C levels of cooked liver? Not that I doubt you, I'm just curious to know if we have evidence about this.

F9a0b72f38860d7601afd5a45bb53394

(3618)

on February 14, 2011
at 11:22 PM

Everybody ate for survival in the old days. Big deal. When you are getting what you need from your diet, eating becomes a survival thing because you don't have to make up for your malnutrition by entertaining yourself with food toys. A lot of what passes for "enjoyment" in modern cuisine is really us justifying our poisons to ourselves. I'd rather eat an Inuit diet than ever touch cake again.

Medium avatar

(10611)

on August 20, 2013
at 08:14 PM

Right on! The Inuit diet may have a lot of fat but it's not paleo and not a good basis for anything other than a survival diet.

D33a8d5f095a8532ddf7a0d6c27bfe63

(578)

on August 21, 2013
at 02:36 AM

Why not Paleo? If you live in the arctic, eat only what you kill, then that's Paleo. You do it long enough, you evolve and become adapted to it. Evolution and natural selection can happen in quick, intense spurts. But the point to take away is that the Inuits may have adapted themselves to this type of diet and those who've survived reflect this environmental and epigenetic adaptation; the average Joe Sixpack hasn't had that chance, at least not with his 400 grams per day processed carb habit. The Inuit diet is Paleo for the Inuits; it isn't for most of us living below the arctic circle.

1
7b33808d94e990009369f0bbf4bf807a

on August 20, 2010
at 09:40 AM

Where I come from many families rely completely on traditional foods, of course we have a higher rate of obesity because of the influence of western foods. Foods such as refined flours, and other items such as lard and wesson oil, what was once non-existent is now a very bad problem. This is proof that humans aren't made to consume such things as milk, many people have a hard time digesting it; a cow has 4 levels in its stomach, we have only one. Grains make people fat, its true; people are genetically still in the stone age, physically, and so we're much more suited to eating mostly meat, fruits and veggies as well as nuts, seeds and other food. Grains are empty calories and that means that they do us no good; sure people may say that they are good for you. You see people who consume a traditional eskimo diet while being active live longer; many of our people live to 90 or older, and it seems like they are in their 70s its because of native food.

9bc6f3df8db981f67ea1465411958c8d

(3690)

on August 20, 2010
at 05:43 PM

Lard is actually quite healthy. It's pig fat and it's mostly saturated and monounsaturated fat.

F9a0b72f38860d7601afd5a45bb53394

(3618)

on February 14, 2011
at 11:22 PM

Lard is more monounsaturated than saturated. Read the label. It's still better for you than Crisco, but it's not as good for you as tallow.

F9a0b72f38860d7601afd5a45bb53394

(3618)

on February 14, 2011
at 11:23 PM

and James, the Maasai get by fine on milk. I think most of us would, except the milk-protein-allergic (either protein). The problem is what's done to the milk these days before it's consumed, not so much the milk itself.

Medium avatar

(10611)

on August 20, 2013
at 08:12 PM

My Nordic ancestors survived on dairy products. You could just as well argue that the Inuit were not made to survive on animals like seals and whales. They've only been in the Arctic for the last 10,000 years; about as long as other humans have found that milking cows makes better sense than killing them all for the meat.

0
6a71fc8648011f320a1e0059af35e223

on August 20, 2013
at 05:02 PM

I think you are also under estimating the importance the sea vegetation wheather directly or indirectly eaten. Fish do not make Omega 3, they get it from sea veggies basically and store it so when they eat the the sea animals and fish they get the high nutrients and omegas .. which they also get directly from the seaweed /sea vegetation ..one of natures best! I do understand this is a way of way and do not knock it. I also deplore the basic diet of the average person as it is very unhealthy and most have no clue what they are eating nor what they should be eating. Food is not what our grandparents ate not just the Inuits, but all over the world. When you can add human prisoners hair to food and call it protein , I think we have gone too far ( L-Cysteine ) sorry I went off subject.

0
Medium avatar

(10611)

on May 09, 2012
at 08:28 PM

I brought this one back rather than write a new question. It concerns studies done on the Greenland mummies:

http://www.mummytombs.com/mummylocator/group/greenland.htm

While this is a pretty salacious link, I feel a need to get the book by the discoverers of the mummies, as well as research on the causes of death. There are some anti-paleo sentiments floating around the web associated with these mummies.

9d43f6873107e17ca4d1a5055aa7a2ad

on May 09, 2012
at 08:38 PM

Also Greenlanders have the highest rates of Epstein-Barr virus associated carcinomas.

9d43f6873107e17ca4d1a5055aa7a2ad

on May 09, 2012
at 08:34 PM

It's silly if anyone thinks there is any diet that 100% prevents cancer. I've seen skulls deformed by cancer from every part of the world. That said, the Inuit lifestyle was unusually harsh. Homo sapiens are not very well adapted to polar climates and the smoke used to heat and cook in igloos is like smoking a pack a day.

Medium avatar

(10611)

on May 09, 2012
at 10:02 PM

LOL melissa, I just read your blog comments from a month ago on the current mummy craze. I think you said it best in this quote: Conclusion on Mummies: Relevance to your health: low Chance of being haunted by vengeful undead: high

Answer Question


Get FREE instant access to our
Paleo For Beginners Guide & 15 FREE Recipes!