The Inuit And The Paleo Diet

The Inuit have long been used as a shining example that low carbohydrate approaches to diet can work.1 2 3 4 In fact, traditionally they consumed very little vegetables or any other typically Western foods, and subsisted mainly on fish, sea mammals, and land animals.5 And despite this diet (which would horrify most mainstream dieticians) the Inuit traditionally had very low rates of disease.6

By contrast, the traditional Western diet has been correlated with a plague of health issues.7 8 9 As a further example of just how nutritionally poor the Western diet can be, one third of all cancer deaths have been linked to continued intake of low quality foods – which are everyday staples of the Western diet.10

Interestingly, when consumed in a very low carbohydrate version, a Paleo Diet looks very similar – if not identical – to the traditional Inuit diet. Since this way of eating is higher in fat than most North American diets, it is commonly presumed (erroneously) that high fat diets must somehow be “bad.”11 12 What gets (purposely) left out of these arguments is the fact that the type of fat consumed is very important.13 14 15 16 17 Consuming omega-3 fatty acids is highly beneficial for health – while consuming industrial trans fat is pretty much the worst thing you can do for your health.18

To bring all this background knowledge to a head, new research published last week, showed that the Inuit have special mutations in genes involved in fat metabolism.19 These genetic mutations may allow them to thrive on their very low carbohydrate diet. This is thought provoking because these genetic mutations are found in nearly 100% of the Inuit. By contrast, only a mere 2% of Europeans exhibit the same mutations. This means that those of us from European ancestry may synthesize omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids differently than the Inuit.

While the initial buzz of this paper was high, in practice it really doesn’t change anything we know about consuming a healthy Paleo Diet. Omega-3 fatty acids, like those found in wild-caught fish, are still extremely beneficial for our health. In fact, researchers have found that omega-3 fatty acids have widely beneficial anti-inflammatory properties.20 This proves beneficial for inflammatory and autoimmune diseases, in addition to maintaining good health for those without specific health conditions. The advice to consume omega-3 fatty acids is great for mitigating coronary heart disease, depression, aging, and cancer.21

Beyond this, arthritis, Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis and lupus erythematosis are autoimmune diseases which may be helped by adequate omega-3 consumption.22 Of the omega-3 fatty acids available, DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) is the best, for a variety of reasons.23 24 Look for foods naturally high in DHA (such as wild-caught fish) and avoid inflammatory seed oils – like those commonly used by most major restaurants. This crucial step will help you stay healthy in the long term – no matter what genes and ancestry you may have.

REFERENCES

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