The famous Tarahumara Indians of Mexico, who are free of western diseases and regularly run ultramarathons for pleasure through very rugged terrain, consume 75-80% of their calories from carbohydrates, 13-14% protein, and 9-12% from fat (3).
So, with a macronutrient range so far removed from what researches have discovered is ideal for health in traditional cultures, you have to immediately wonder about what the results will be for the Inuit, which we will get to next.
For more information about the macronutrient ratios of the longest lived, disease free, and most athletically active groups on earth, check out my book, Raw Food Weight Loss And Vitality.
Atherosclerosis On The Eskimo Diet
For decades, study after study has correlated the consumption of fatty meat, eggs, and dairy with a hardening of the arteries - atherosclerosis. When the arteries get clogged with fatty plaque, blood can't flow to your heart, brain, and penis, and so heart attacks, strokes, and erectile disfunction results.
Even when animal protein intake is extremely low (the equivalent of three chicken nuggets a day), a person's risk of heart disease (and a host of other diseases) is considerably higher than when a person eats less meat (4).
So it's surprising that the Inuit, with their high-fat diet based around meat, are held up as paragons of heart and artery health.
But are they actually free of atherosclerosis when eating their traditional diet?
The easiest way of getting a firm answer on this is to look at mummies from a period of time before the introduction of outside food.
Luckily, the ice is an excellent preserver of human remains, and dozens of Inuit mummies have been autopsied.
The oldest one, a 53-year-old Eskimo woman from St. Lawrence Island in the Bering Sea, is from 300 AD, well before the introduction of any outside food.
The autopsy showed that the woman had significant amounts of fatty plaque built up in her arteries (5).
The researcher wrote of this and many other Alaskan autopsies:
Heart Attacks And Strokes
So we know that fatty plaque builds up in the arteries of those following even the most traditional prewestern Eskimo diet, but do they have heart attacks and strokes that result from the impedance of blood flow?
When researches did a review of all the medical literature on the subject, they concluded that the widespread idea that the Eskimo diet lead to life free of heart attacks was completely unfounded and based on "unreliable mortality statistics" (6).
They found the Eskimo diet didn't seem to decrease heart attack risk at all over western diets, and that the chance of having a stroke was actually noticeably higher among the Inuit than among western populations (6).
The Eskimo Diet And Cholesterol Levels
When you keep your cholesterol below 150 and your LDL below 70, you essentially make yourself heart-attack proof. There is no record of anyone having a heart attack when they have cholesterol levels under 150 (8).
A huge part of our modern medical industry revolves around finding ways to use drugs to lower cholesterol levels so people don't have to stop eating their meat-centered, processed, unhealthy diets. If the Eskimo diet somehow managed to bestow low cholesterol levels despite being high in meat, they would have really found something amazing.
Again and again you hear those promoting meat-centered diets touting the low cholesterol levels of Eskimos, but where are they getting their data from?
The data relied on by Loren Cordain and other paleo diet promoters is from a single study from 1935 using an obsolete measurement technique, a small sample size, and very old samples, all from a population suffering from tuberculosis and other health problems like parasites. The patients were not eating a completely traditional Eskimo diet, with flour, alcohol, and cigarettes included (9).
This study found a mean cholesterol level of 141, but given all the data gathered since then from similar Inuit populations and the archaic standards of the study, this seems unlikely.
Below I list what other studies have found.
Every subsequent study I could find (I looked at about a dozen) showed cholesterol levels well within the heart attack range, which fits in well with what we found above about Inuit heart attack rates.
In the mid 20th century, before western food exposure had reached its current level, researchers found that cancer was extremely common among the Inuit (7).
But mummified remains of Eskimos show that cancer was common even before western foods were introduced into their diet (14).
There's no reason to think that the Eskimo diet offers any sort of protection from cancer.
The Eskimo diet has been lauded for producing healthy teeth and jaws, but overall, it does not produce healthy bones and joints.
Mummies preserved from before western contact show widespread osteoporosis and osteoarthritis (16, 17),
In a 1976 study, the Inuit were consuming an incredible 2,000 mg of calcium a day from soft-boned fish. Despite all this abundant calcium intake, though, they had the highest hip fracture rate in the world (17, 18).
Constipation And Flatulence On The Eskimo Diet
Although constipation and flatulence can have more than one cause, one easy way to guarantee them is to cut most or all of the fiber out of your diet.
Fiber is highly correlated with the number of bowel movements a person has per week as well as the quality of their stools. If you replace calories from fiber-rich plant food with fiber-free animal foods, you'll have fewer bowel movements.
This is why vegetarians have more bowel movements than omnivores and vegans have more bowel movements than vegetarians. Although there's no data to prove the point, this is also why raw foodists have far more frequent bowel movements than anyone else.
Eskimos eating a traditional diet were very familiar with constipation because they ate very little plant food. Central to their religious pantheon was their most powerful deity, Matshishkapeu, which translates into, "Fart Man,". In Inuit stories, he is cited as the explanation for the regular bouts of constipation his people experienced, and he was known to inflict it upon mortals and gods who displeased him (15).
The Eskimo diet has never been known to bring about a particularly long life spans.
Dr. Samel Hutton studied the Eskimos before widespread western food exposure from 1902 to 1913, and had access to detailed birth and death records kept by missionaries from the previous century.
He wrote in his book, "Health Conditions and Disease Incidence Among The Eskimos of Labrador," that, "Old age sets in at fifty and its signs are strongly marked at sixty. In the years beyond sixty the Eskimo is aged and feeble. Comparatively few live beyond sixty and only a very few reach seventy."
Compared to the Okinawans I mentioned before, who regularly live past 100 on a diet with almost no meat and plenty of plant foods, this seems rather pathetic.
If you want to live a long life, don't try to ape the Eskimos.
Finding A Better Model
The idea that we should look to the Eskimo for health tips is absurd, and the data in this article just reinforces what should be obvious - you won't find health and vitality by consuming animal foods.
If you're dead set on following a paleo diet, then you'd be much better off eating a version centered around raw and cooked fruits and vegetables and little or no meat. This is the diet followed by the fairly long-lived-and-healthy Trobriander, who live on Kitava, one of the Trobriand Islands in Papua New Guinea's archipelago.
I spoke about their diet here.
But even that's far from ideal.
Your best bet is to consume a healthy raw food diet centered around fruit but also containing plenty of greens. You don't need animal foods to thrive, and in fact these foods damage your health.
Don't believe the hype - In the scientific record there are no examples of very long lived, disease free, athletically dominant cultures which consume large amounts of animal food.
The Eskimo Diet won't take you where you want to go, so go raw instead.
You can find more critiques of unwise-but-popular diet ideas here.
Read Raw Food Weight Loss And Vitality, which will put you on a path toward better health.
The Eskimo Diet And Health: Sources
All the sources for this article on the Eskimo diet are listed here.
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