Ancestral Diets. The Eskimo paradox. A lot of fat and little vegetables

If there is an ancient diet that defies conventional thinking on the subject of nutrition, it is the diet of the Eskimos. For obvious reasons, they do not eat 5 servings of vegetables and fruit a day, and it is quite likely that they do not drink two liters of water a day. On the contrary, they eat a lot of fat (up to 75% of their calories), proteins and carbohydrates are reduced to 2% of total calories. However, Eskimo populations are free from most of the problems that afflict much of the world's population.

Despite having "chubby" faces, their body fat index is lower than the average for other countries. In fact, that swollen face corresponds to an adaptation to the cold, since it is the part of the body that is most exposed to the polar cold. Cases of Eskimos who died of heart attacks are practically unknown, and they do not show symptoms of cavities or dental problems. Always of course, let's talk about Eskimo populations that continue to live like their ancestors, who are less and less.

Are they adapted to eating differently? Not at all. In fact, one of the problems faced by those Eskimos who have become Westernized, and therefore have adopted different nutritional habits, is that in the same generation, they begin to have obesity, tooth decay and cardiovascular problems.

What do Eskimos eat?

Basically, fish meat, seals, whales, and especially their fats. One of the serious problems with diets based on a high proportion of proteins, is that if they are not accompanied by enough fat, they become toxic. A phenomenon known as protein poisoning or rabbit starvation occurs, mainly due to the low fat of rabbit meat and especially to the lack of essential fatty acids.

This is well known to British explorers, who fed almost exclusively on rabbit meat during their polar expeditions. In fact, in addition to suffering from protein poisoning, they also suffered from scurvy from a lack of vitamin C. But why are Eskimos not deficient in vitamin C?

The Eskimos, through many generations, seem to have learned their lesson. One of the tricks they use to get vitamin C is to eat raw meat. Meat also has vitamin C, but cooking it loses it. We have no problem because we have easy access to vegetables and fruits, but the Eskimos chose not to cook certain foods and thus get their vitamin C ration.

By the way, the one who did learn the lesson was Vilhjalmur Stefansson who lived and ate the same as the Eskimos for a long time and later, managed to reproduce their diet under strict medical control. His experiences led him to write a book entitled "Cancer, Disease of Civilization", where he collected his experience.

The ancestral diet of the Eskimos is free of a large part of the antinutrients that are so common in our diets. Its fats are healthy and have, due to its marine origin, a high percentage of omega-3 fatty acids and also its intake of omega-6 acids is very low, compared to ours. As we saw in this post, this ratio is important.

Furthermore, seal and whale fat also have a high proportion of fat-soluble vitamins. In particular vitamins A, D and E. But how do they get the rest of the nutrients that we ingest through vegetables or other sources?

Well, because they also consume a lot of organs. Specifically, seal liver and the viscera of other animals. The organ meats have a large amount of nutrients per unit and therefore allow them to easily access micronutrients that would otherwise be impossible to obtain.

Another interesting question is, how can it be that their high fat intake does not affect them and that they gain weight?

It would be reasonable to think that they "burn" them and that therefore, there is no time for them to accumulate. Since it's cold, your metabolism speeds up and this prevents you from gaining weight. In addition, they have a more active life than ours. This could be an explanation, but only in part. Why don't Eskimos who switch to a more Western diet burn those other calories? That is, why if they eat other diets, they do not burn those calories in the same way. The matter is complicated. Obviously, a change in diet also entails a change to more sedentary habits. In fact, many Inuit depend on the food shipments flown to them, and have stopped hunting.

What does your diet tell us?

To begin with, its study is interesting from the anthropological point of view because for millions of years, many of our ancestors lived in similar climatic conditions during the great ice ages. In that period, it is very likely that continued access to vegetables, fruits and vegetables was very limited, and may only have been limited to tubers and roots.Therefore, the Eskimo diet could well be derived from or be very similar to the diet that our grandparents from Atapuerca had for a long time.

Another important aspect to keep in mind is that a high-fat, low-carbohydrate diet does not necessarily have to be harmful. But a caveat must be made. If any of us were to put ourselves on this diet, we would have a problem. Not because we are not adapted, since there are explorers like Stefansson who have eaten like the Eskimos and have remained perfectly healthy for many years. The problem is that in our society, having access to the nutritional quality of food that Eskimos can have is very complicated.

The fish we buy is likely to contain heavy metals, it is not feasible to eat whale blubber or fish liver every day, and it would also force us to change some eating habits that we have lived with for many years.

However, it can be interesting to look at some details that we can incorporate into our nutrition. For example, the consumption of healthy fish fat, fish rich in omega-3 or fish liver patés, which by the way, are delicious. It is not a diet for every day, but it is to learn some interesting details about it.

Image via | By (maty), By nick_russill, AUTHOR
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