Inuit hunters

Inuit hunters
This article (The Inuit Paradox by Patricia Gadsby and Leon Steele) presents a conundrum for many of us.

The Inuit demonstrate that humans can survive in good health, without diabetes, heart disease, tooth decay or constipation, on a 70% (saturated) fat carnivorous diet. Without oranges, where do they get vitamin C? Without grains, where do they get vitamin E? Without fiber how can they stay "regular"? How do they maintain their probiotics? Eating so much saturated fat, why didn't traditional Inuit endure chronic illnesses Americans believe come from consuming saturated fats?

While Atkins was mostly correct in his assertion that the human body can maintain normal weight and reasonable health on a very low carbohydrate, carnivorous diet, the Inuit show that he left out a few details. He relied on muscle meat rather than organ meats, overlooked probiotics, did not include bone broth or bone-based foods for minerals and other invaluable elements, and more. This could explain why dietary supplements are required for an Atkins diet, and may also explain why some people do not do well on this diet. In his defense, however, for cultural reasons Americans are unlikely to embrace an Inuit-style diet.

To live successfully on a carnivorous diet we must eat the organs (liver, e.g. - most of us don't eat liver anymore - offal is a source of vitamins and minerals, including B vitamins, and vitamin C), eat raw meat (a source of Vitamin C) and fat, make use of the bones and skin ("snout to tail" dining) and promote fermentation (rotted "stink fish", one Inuit source of probiotics). This is what the Inuit did. Since most of us eat an omnivorous diet sans organ meats (a.k.a. offal, considered "awful" by most Americans) but full of muscle meats, American omnivores are best served by eating nutrient-dense vegetables along with animal foods (meats, fish, eggs, poultry, our ancient B12 source). A clean source of raw animal foods would help us optimize our health. We need properly prepared bone broth (soup stock) to prevent mineral deficiencies, replenish and repair bones and joints, promote regularity and restful sleep, keep skin youthful, etc. (watch any film from the 1940s and notice the popularity of traditional home-made bone-based soups that take a day or two to properly prepare). We need natural fats for energy and organ support. Sadly, and to our peril, most American omnivores no longer value these dietary ways but depend on supplements and government regulated food fortification to make up for what we lack.

One might argue that the traditional Inuit were short lived as a reason not to look in their dietary direction. But most Inuit groups had a significant number of elderly individuals, sometimes living to 80 years and beyond. By and large mortality came from accidents, violent conflicts (human and animal), and infectious disease rather than chronic disease. The introduction of disease by the Russians is cited as one factor in Inuit mortality, much as war and European diseases such as syphilis, small pox, measles and influenza decimated Native American populations. To say these people were short lived due to diet is unsubstantiated. Theirs are the diets that carried humans to modern times and modern longevity, with our ambulances, surgeries, heart stents and bypasses, injectable insulin, chemotherapy, antibiotics, and dentistry.

On the subject of dentistry, in addition to contributing to tooth decay it turns out that the fermentable carbohydrates (sugars and starches) the Inuit lacked stress our insulin producing cells, promote obesity, strokes, heart disease and diabetes, and feed cancers. An abscessed tooth is a potentially deadly five-alarm fire you cannot ignore. Without modern dentistry, fearing the dreaded abscess you and I might be smarter about what we eat, and if so, you might not bother to read this article. Traditional native populations were acutely aware that obeying Mother Nature is the key to health. Wild animals obey her laws and have excellent teeth and overall health under normal conditions. Mother Nature's dietary law states that no matter what diet you embrace, if it rots your teeth don't eat it, 'just one more reason to be selective about your carbohydrate intake.

So, to those of us who insist humans require grains, fiber, fruits and vegetables, yogurt, and cannot be carnivores in good health, the Inuit demonstrate how early Native Americans survived their winters, how early humans survived the Ice Ages, and the complete nutrition available to us in wild fish and game. And, although we will not embrace their diet verbatim anytime soon, we can learn a lot from the traditional Inuit.

Dr. Childers is a child and adult trained psychiatric physician with a passionate interest in regaining our physical and mental health through nutrition and sleep. Her office is in Lake Oswego, Oregon where she sees children, adolescents and adults.