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Paleo Diet? How did the Inuit Thrive

Posted Jan 13 2013 11:46am

It was interesting in Sunday morning conversations about nutrition at the coffee shop, two different people asked me, “If the nine cups of vegetables, fruits, and nuts, for the paleo diet is so great, how did the northern native populations thrive.”  This is a really good question and shows how well the human body is capable of adapting as long as there are enough of critical nutrients available.  A different way to ask the question is, “If I don’t get the critical nutrients from plants, how can I survive on a meat only diet.”

The answer is relatively simple.  The Inuit survived the cold winters and lived long healthy lives by eating like the wolf.  That is they ate the entire animal including the organ meats.  This is true of all carnivorous animals and these carnivores are capable of surviving by eating only meats.  Don’t get me wrong, a diet too high in protein will kill you.  It is called protein poisoning or rabbit starvation or mal de caribou .  Caribou and rabbit in late winter are very low in fat.  If your diet is more than thirty five to forty percent protein then your liver and kidneys become overloaded.  This is more than 285 grams of protein for an eighty kilogram person.  To get enough calories the rest of your diet at high latitudes would need to be made up of fat and any available carbohydrates.  The primary source of fat for the northern natives is seal and whale.

Here are two articles that will give you a feel for how cold weather native’s diets work:  Discovery Magazine, 2004 – The Inuit Paradox and from Wikipedia – Inuit Diet .

In both of these articles you will notice there are the several nutrient requirements in which most of modern diets are deficient- vitamin D, vitamin A, and vitamin C.  The articles describe how each of these is obtained.  The one thing neither article mentions is the fact this diet has no grains and is very low in sugar.  Typically the only source of sugar is in the berries, a delight for children, which are picked in the summertime. The other three nutrients of deficiency suggested in my last post are magnesium, iodine, and sulfate.  This would not be a problem for populations living near a coast as sea live is rich in magnesium and iodine.  Being close to the coast also will guarantee a high incidence of sulfate in the water as well as food from animals in a high sulfate environment.

The human body is biologically robust and adaptive to whatever the environment has to offer as long as the biological necessities are met.  Eat paleo or eat like the wolf and the body will adapt and thrive as long as you are getting enough of the essential nutrients and there is low toxicity from things like too much sugar in your diet.  – Pandemic Survivor


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