The Inuit Paradox – High Protein & Fat, No Fruits/Vegetables and yet Lower Heart Disease and Cancer

Want to know about a group of people who eat primarily only meat and fat, very little fruits and vegetables and are healthier than any other group of people? Well meet the Inuit from the frozen North. They seemed to eat all the things that are blamed for heart disease and cancers (meat and fat) yet somehow had little to no diseases of modern man. Let’s learn a little more about them. Below you will find several resources and reading materials on them (to keep you busy while I do my taxes for the next couple days!). But here are the highlights:

The Inuit traditional diet offers natural protection against two of the planet’s biggest killers — heart disease and cancer

Dewailly says the traditional Inuit diet is high in selenium, common to whale skin, and likely explains why prostate cancer is almost unheard of in the north, as are most other cancers. Cardiovascular disease is also rare, likely because the Inuit diet remains rich in wild game. “The traditional Inuit diet is fats and proteins, no sugar at all,” says Dewailly. “It is probably one of the healthiest diets you can have. The human body is built for that.”

from this article here

“The Inuit people are numerous groups of hunter-gatherers,” says Loren Cordain, a professor in the Department of Health and Exercise Science at Colorado State University and author of the book The Paleo Diet. “It’s not a single group. There are many, many cultures and they lived in many many parts of the Arctic. There was no single Inuit diet, other than the fact that none of them had a whole lot of carbohydrate or fresh fruits and vegetables.”

Scientists studying the Inuit in the 1970s found that as a group, they suffered much less than their European counterparts from certain diseases, such as coronary heart disease, rheumatoid arthritis, and diabetes mellitus. Yet their diet was very high in fat from eating foods like whale, seal, and salmon. Discover Magazine called this the “Inuit Paradox.”

from this article here

One of the differences is that the traditional Inuit’s diet is very high in omega-3 fats while our diet is very high in omega-6 fats. Science has shown that the ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 should be as close to a ratio of 1:1 and certainly no more than 4:1. Inuits are about the only people to approach the 1:1 ratio, while we typically come in at 20:1, or upwards of 50:1 for real junk food lovers. A balanced omega-6 to omega-3 ratio promotes a balanced, non-inflammatory state in the body, while tilting the scale toward a higher level of omega-6 will promote an inflammatory ‘ and therefore diseased and degenerative ‘ state.

Man-made vegetable oil diets (margarine and other hydrogenated oils) are high in omega-6 fatty acids and convert into high levels of arachidonic acid (AA) in the body. The excessive amounts of AA in our omega-6-rich Western diets contribute to our chronic inflammatory degenerative diseases such as heart disease, asthma and arthritis.

from this article here

The main nutritional challenge was avoiding starvation in late winter if primary meat sources became too scarce or lean. These foods hardly make up the “balanced” diet most of us grew up with, and they look nothing like the mix of grains, fruits, vegetables, meat, eggs, and dairy we’re accustomed to seeing in conventional food pyramid diagrams. How could such a diet possibly be adequate? How did people get along on little else but fat and animal protein?

Fats have been demonized in the United States, says Eric Dewailly, a professor of preventive medicine at Laval University in Quebec. But all fats are not created equal. This lies at the heart of a paradox-the Inuit paradox, if you will. In the Nunavik villages in northern Quebec, adults over 40 get almost half their calories from native foods, says Dewailly, and they don’t die of heart attacks at nearly the same rates as other Canadians or Americans. Their cardiac death rate is about half of ours, he says.

and finally from the BIG story article at Discover Magazine here

Now you are probably asking, what about vitamins that are found in fruits and vegetables? How did they stay healthy without them? Well….they actually did get vitamins from some surprising sources: (taken from the various articles above)

Seal meat, especially blubber, are also very high in vitamins E, A, D and selenium. Recently, researchers have concluded that these inherent antioxidants are big reasons why Inuits are free of cardiovascular disease, while other mostly-fish-eating populations are still prone to this disease. Fish oils alone will not do the same as seal oil.

But vitamin A, which is oil soluble, is also plentiful in the oils of cold-water fishes and sea mammals, as well as in the animals’ livers, where fat is processed. These dietary staples also provide vitamin D, another oil-soluble vitamin needed for bones.

As for vitamin C, the source in the Eskimo diet was long a mystery. If we don’t ingest enough of it, we fall apart from scurvy, a gruesome connective-tissue disease. However, Arctic peoples living on fresh fish and meat were free of the disease. Native foods easily supply those 10 milligrams of scurvy prevention, especially when organ meats-preferably raw-are on the menu. For a study published with Kuhnlein in 2002, Fediuk compared the vitamin C content of 100-gram (3.55-ounce) samples of foods eaten by Inuit women living in the Canadian Arctic: Raw caribou liver supplied almost 24 milligrams, seal brain close to 15 milligrams, and raw kelp more than 28 milligrams. Still higher levels were found in whale skin and muktuk. Thick skinned, chewy, and collagen rich, raw muktuk can serve up an impressive 36 milligrams in a 100-gram piece, according to Fediuk’s analyses. “Weight for weight, it’s as good as orange juice,” she says. Traditional Inuit practices like freezing meat and fish and frequently eating them raw, she notes, conserve vitamin C, which is easily cooked off and lost in food processing.

Ok so far so good. So what are we saying here is a license to eat as much meat and fat as possible? Well…..let’s look at a couple more things:

The solution to the paradox may lie in the fact that not all fat is created equal. “[The Inuit] ate a lot of marine animals, like walruses and seals, whales and so forth, and the blubber of these animals is a very high source of monounsaturated fat,”says Cordain. “So if you contrast the Inuit diet to the Western diet, it actually turns out to be lower in saturated fat- very high in fat, but high in healthful fat, monounsaturates and polyunsaturates, high in a specific type of polyunsaturates called omega-3 fatty acids that come from the marine food chain.”

Arctic people had plenty of protein but little carbohydrate, so they often relied on gluconeogenesis. Not only did they have bigger livers to handle the additional work but their urine volumes were also typically larger to get rid of the extra urea. Nonetheless, there appears to be a limit on how much protein the human liver can safely cope with: Too much overwhelms the liver’s waste-disposal system, leading to protein poisoning-nausea, diarrhea, wasting, and death.

plenty of evidence shows that hunters through the ages avoided protein excesses, discarding fat-depleted animals even when food was scarce. Early pioneers and trappers in North America encountered what looks like a similar affliction, sometimes referred to as rabbit starvation because rabbit meat is notoriously lean. Forced to subsist on fat-deficient meat, the men would gorge themselves, yet wither away. Protein can’t be the sole source of energy for humans, concludes Cordain. Anyone eating a meaty diet that is low in carbohydrates must have fat as well.

Stefansson tucked into his rations of chops and steaks with fat intact. “A normal meat diet is not a high-protein diet,” he pronounced. “We were really getting three-quarters of our calories from fat.”

A key difference in the typical Nunavik Inuit’s diet is that more than 50 percent of the calories in Inuit native foods come from fats. Much more important, the fats come from wild animals. Wild-animal fats are different from both farm-animal fats and processed fats, says Dewailly. Farm animals, cooped up and stuffed with agricultural grains (carbohydrates) typically have lots of solid, highly saturated fat. Much of our processed food is also riddled with solid fats, or so-called trans fats, such as the reengineered vegetable oils and shortenings cached in baked goods and snacks. Wild animals that range freely and eat what nature intended, says Dewailly, have fat that is far more healthful. Less of their fat is saturated, and more of it is in the monounsaturated form (like olive oil). What’s more, cold-water fishes and sea mammals are particularly rich in polyunsaturated fats called n-3 fatty acids or omega-3 fatty acids. But the polyunsaturated fats in most Americans’ diets are the omega-6 fatty acids supplied by vegetable oils. By contrast, whale blubber consists of 70 percent monounsaturated fat and close to 30 percent omega-3s, says Dewailly.

Summing Up

Ok….got all that? Whew….Yes I know alot to read….but loads of important points. Let’s summarize:

  • The Inuit ate a diet high in meat and fat, low in fruits and vegetables and still had low rates of heart disease and cancer (sadly only recently when more modernization came to them in the form of convenience stores, soda and other processed foods did you see the illnesses start to increase. Once sugar came to them….things went sour)
  • Their meat they ate was completely different from the meat you are eating. Theirs was wild, fresh, sometimes raw, seal and other animals that you are probably not going to eat. Not to mention they also ate the organ meats, which again….most people are not going to do. Because the animals were wild they were also not fed grains, contained good amounts of Omega 3s and low amounts of Omega 6s…the opposite of modern meats.
  • Their meat was actually low in saturated fat and more monounstaturated….completely different from the meat profile of fattened cows on grains (very high in saturated fats and loaded with omega 6s….proinflammatory).
  • Their meats were high in Omega 3s (anti-inflammatory) and overall diet was more a 1:1 ratio of omega 3s to 6s (unlike todays ratio of about 1:25(+) of omega 3s to 6s)

So although we are not about to move to the great white north and eat raw whale blubber, we can use the knowledge of the Inuit and take home the following lessons (and you will see many familiar things below)

  • Eat a diet of moderate protein (make sure you are eating with fat and not going overboard, for most this is not an issue as even a high amount of 1g/lb of bodyweight is still usually 30% of total calories)
  • We are not eating seals or their organ meats, so get your fruits and vegetables (as we need them for sources of vitamins that are not in our meats)
  • Have plenty of healthy fats including: some sat fats (but again look at how little sat fat the Inuit actually ate vs how much was monounstaturated), MUFA (Monounsaturated Fatty Acids like X-Virg Olive Oil). Even watch your sources of sat fat (see below), as most is very high in proinflammatory Omega 6s from grains/veg oils.
  • Take some fish oil (Omega 3s) to help balance the Omega 3:6 ratios (most people probably need about 3g a day of EPA/DHA….about 2-3 teaspoons of fish oil). Some may need less, but that would mean their diet is already low in Omega 6s….which are everywhere nowadays!
  • Lower dietary sources of Omega 6s including high fat grain fed beef/meats/eggs. Try for lean beef/meats (Omega 6s are in the fatty parts), Omega 3 eggs, or Grass Fed Beef (but be warned…even if it is says grass fed it doesn’t mean it is 100% grass fed…so read your labels carefully)
  • Inflammation = increases in heart diseases and cancers….so get rid of the big evil inflammation messengers of Omega 6s/Veg Oils (excess PUFAs), Sugar and Trans Fats. Get rid of those 3 and you will go along way to increasing your longevity and health.

I’m also guessing that their low stress lifestyle, low exposure to environmental toxins, daily active lifestyle (they didn’t wear HR monitors and go do “cardio”), adequate sleep/rest, strong community and family ties also contributed greatly to their health, longevity and happiness!

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