The Inuit (“Eskimo”) Diet Causes Rapid Aging, Early Death

The Inu­it are the indige­nous peo­ple of Green­land as well as north­ern Cana­da and Alas­ka. Since the 1970s, we have been told that the Inuit’s tra­di­tion­al high-fat, low-car­bo­hy­drate diet is healthy. Today, advo­cates of the “keto” and “Paleo” diets make false claims about the Inu­it diet. In real­i­ty, the Inu­it who were eat­ing their tra­di­tion­al diet did not go into keto­sis unless they were fast­ing. Also, the Inu­it have always had a short lifes­pan. That fact was obvi­ous to the ear­li­est Euro­peans who stud­ied them.

Inuit, Not Eskimo

The Inu­it were often called Eski­mos, but that name is con­sid­ered offen­sive. The cor­rect name is Inu­it. The sin­gu­lar form of the word is Inuk.

The Inuit Diet

The Inu­it had man­aged to sur­vive in a hos­tile envi­ron­ment: one that was frozen and cov­ered in snow for many months out of the year. As a result, the Inuit’s tra­di­tion­al diet for most of the year con­sist­ed of meat and fish, often eat­en raw.

Since the 1970s, many food fad­dists have been claim­ing that the Inuit’s diet pro­tects against coro­nary artery dis­ease. The goal of this pro­pa­gan­da is to encour­age peo­ple to eat meat and fish and to take fish oil cap­sules and to shun car­bo­hy­drates. Yet even the ear­li­est out­side observers of the Inu­it noticed some­thing odd about them. The young Inu­it seemed hale and hearty, but the Inu­it seemed to age quick­ly, and there were prac­ti­cal­ly no Inu­it old­er than 60 years. Stud­ies of ancient mum­mies and skele­tons of Inu­it peo­ple con­firmed that the tra­di­tion­al Inu­it diet caused ath­er­o­scle­ro­sis and osteo­poro­sis.

Health Problems Among the Inuit

The Inu­it have always had a remark­ably short life expectan­cy. They were at risk for dis­eases of pover­ty and dis­eases of afflu­ence. The dis­eases of pover­ty include star­va­tion, expo­sure, acci­dents, and gen­er­al lack of med­ical care and social sup­ports. The dis­eases of afflu­ence result main­ly from a rich diet: a lot of ani­mal pro­tein, fat, and cho­les­terol. In trop­i­cal and tem­per­ate regions, only the rich could afford to eat a lot of meat and oth­er ani­mal-source foods. But in the Arc­tic, meat was the only avail­able food for much of the year. Thus, the Inu­it were poor peo­ple eat­ing a rich diet. As a result, they aged rapid­ly and died young.

The Inuit’s tra­di­tion­al diet of fat­ty meats and fish can sus­tain a young per­son. Oth­er­wise, the Inu­it would not have suc­ceed­ed in set­tling in the Arc­tic region. How­ev­er, the Inu­it diet is bad for your health in the long run, for sev­er­al rea­sons:

  • Peo­ple can catch par­a­sitic dis­eases by eat­ing raw meat. (More than 12% of elder­ly Inu­it in Green­land had trichi­nosis).
  • The high fat and cho­les­terol con­tent of the Inu­it diet leads to clog­ging of the arter­ies.
  • A high-pro­tein diet increas­es the risk for liv­er and kid­ney dis­ease, as well as osteo­poro­sis.
  • Ani­mal-source food con­tains a con­cen­trat­ed dose of pol­lu­tants from the envi­ron­ment.

The Inuit Diet Was Not Ketogenic

Advo­cates of a keto­genic diet some­times use the Inu­it diet as a mod­el. The goal of a keto­genic diet is to put some­one into a state of keto­sis. Keto­sis means that the per­son has an abnor­mal­ly large amount of keto acids in the blood. This con­di­tion nor­mal­ly hap­pens dur­ing fast­ing or when the per­son is eat­ing no car­bo­hy­drates. It can also result from insulin defi­cien­cy. The Inu­it ate prac­ti­cal­ly no plant mate­r­i­al for months at a time. Thus, many peo­ple expect­ed that the Inu­it would have been in keto­sis most of the time. Yet a study done in the 1920s found that the Inu­it did not go into keto­sis unless they are fast­ing.

By the 1980s, the expla­na­tion was clear. The Inu­it had been eat­ing far more car­bo­hy­drate than any­one expect­ed. The Inu­it ate a lot of raw meat that was fresh-killed or that froze imme­di­ate­ly after being killed. This meat still con­tained a lot of glyco­gen (ani­mal starch). Also, the Inu­it would pre­serve a whole seal or bird car­cass under an intact whole skin, with a thick lay­er of blub­ber. Some of the pro­tein in the meat would then fer­ment into car­bo­hy­drates.

Omega 3 Fatty Acids and Heart Attacks

Back in the 1970s, some sci­en­tists from Den­mark claimed that the Inu­it of Green­land had a low risk of heart attack. They claimed that the Inu­it were being pro­tect­ed by the large amounts of omega-3 fat­ty acids in their diet. In real­i­ty, the Inu­it have a high risk of coro­nary artery dis­ease. The ear­li­er research sim­ply under­es­ti­mat­ed the num­ber of fatal heart attacks. The caus­es of deaths among the Inu­it were not being accu­rate­ly record­ed. In the 1970s, the Inu­it in Green­land sel­dom got med­ical atten­tion while they were alive. They sel­dom under­went autop­sy after their death. So their true cause of death was often unknown.

The Inu­it diet is a mod­el for how Stone Age peo­ple can sur­vive in the Arc­tic. It is not a mod­el for liv­ing a long and healthy life in a mod­ern indus­tri­al­ized soci­ety. The pop­u­la­tions that live the longest, health­i­est lives have two things in com­mon. They have access to mod­ern med­ical care, and they eat a high-car­bo­hy­drate diet based on starch­es and veg­eta­bles.

Pho­to by Inter­net Archive Book Images

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