How Inuit Eat

Whenever I hear recommendations to eat at least five servings of veggies every day, to lower fat consumption, to emphasize grains in the diet, I often think to myself, “What about the Inuit?” It’s a population that’s disobeyed every rule we currently “know” about the foods we should be eating for proper health. And, yet, they’re much healthier than we are.

Traditionally, the Inuit diet has had little in the way of plant food. Due to the harsh northern conditions, they couldn’t engage in agriculture. The Inuit subsisted on what could be hunted and fished.

Moose, reindeer, caribou, duck, geese, crab, salmon, whitefish, tomcod, pike and char — these formed the base of the Inuit diet, supplemented at times with kelp or cranberries and various other foraged veggies.

Their diet was quite high in fat — animal fat at that. Yet, despite this fact, Weston A. Price, a dentist and nutritional researcher who visited many cultures in the 1930s to study their diet and health, found their population was robust and healthy. There was near complete immunity to tooth decay as well as a remarkable degree of muscular and skeletal perfection. The Inuit were also protected against heart disease and cancer.

Which brings me to the Inuit Paradox: How could this population be so healthy when their habits don’t resemble the “balanced diet” on our food group pyramid?

Simple: Fat from natural sources has never contributed to heart disease, osteoporosis or cancer. It’s the modern convenience foods that are making us sick and unhealthy — something that’s made evident in the below video. (In it, Jennifer Wakegijig, Territorial Nutritionist for the Government of Nunavut, illustrates how increased consumption of modern foods is leading to a degradation of the Inuit population’s health.)

Studying cultures around the world, it’s safe to say no single macronutrient ratio is ideal. Some do well on lots of fat, others on lots of carbs. But, you can’t skimp out on nutrients. Remember: There are no essential foods, only essential nutrients.

The Inuit got vitamin A and D from the fats of sea mammals. They received the vitamin C they needed from raw organ meats and kelp. Their diet was remarkably balanced — even though it did not resemble our own. They got all the vitamins, minerals and cofactors they needed, even though there were no whole grains in site.

I’m not suggesting we try to adopt the 90 per cent meat diet of the traditional Inuit. Trying to mimic their diet using grain-fed grocery store meat would be impossible (last time I checked, the adrenal glands of a moose weren’t at my local organic butcher). Rather, the point I’m trying to make is, worrying about fat content or carb ratios is missing the healthy eating mark. What matters is where you’re getting your nutrients from.

The Healthy Foodie is Doug DiPasquale, a Holistic Nutritionist and trained chef who lives in Toronto.