In my previous post, I wrote this:
I don’t agree with the conclusion that we only need meat and fish to healthy, by the way. Perhaps that’s true if you’re eating wild-caught fish and caribou who feasted on nutrient-dense wild plants, but unless you live off the land in Alaska, that’s not your meat-and-fish diet.
Perhaps that statement could use some explanation. Our favorite poster-boys for a meat-and-fish diet are the Inuit. In fact, back in 2010, I wrote a review of an excellent book titled Kabloona: Among the Inuit, written by a French adventurer who traveled and lived with Eskimos (as he called them) in the 1930s. In one chapter of the book, he describes how he brought some white-man’s treats (bread and cheese) to a friend who was a priest. The priest, as it turned out, no longer liked those foods. As the author wrote, the priest had lived on nothing but fish, seal and caribou for six years and was none the worse for it.
Okay, so people can live well on meat and fish. But there’s a little more to it than that.
Back when I researching Fat Head, I came across a Discover Magazine article titled The Inuit Paradox – the “paradox,” of course, being that they were healthy despite living on fatty meat and not having any hearthealthywholegrains! in their diets.
Here are some quotes from that article:
Patricia Cochran, an Inupiat from Northwestern Alaska, is talking about the native foods of her childhood: “We pretty much had a subsistence way of life. Our food supply was right outside our front door. We did our hunting and foraging on the Seward Peninsula and along the Bering Sea.
“Our meat was seal and walrus, marine mammals that live in cold water and have lots of fat. We used seal oil for our cooking and as a dipping sauce for food. We had moose, caribou, and reindeer. We hunted ducks, geese, and little land birds like quail, called ptarmigan. We caught crab and lots of fish—salmon, whitefish, tomcod, pike, and char. Our fish were cooked, dried, smoked, or frozen. We ate frozen raw whitefish, sliced thin. The elders liked stinkfish, fish buried in seal bags or cans in the tundra and left to ferment. And fermented seal flipper, they liked that too.”
Seal, walrus, geese, moose, caribou, reindeer, crab, fermented “stinkfish” and fermented seal flipper … does that sound anything like the all-meat-and-dish diet the typical zero-carber living in America would consume? I’d urge people to read that paragraph several times before concluding Well, the Inuit didn’t eat plants, so I’ll be fine living on steaks, chicken, cream, bacon, eggs and a bit of broccoli now and then.
The Inuit did eat some plants, by the way, as the article explains:
In the short subarctic summers, the family searched for roots and greens and, best of all from a child’s point of view, wild blueberries, crowberries, or salmonberries, which her aunts would mix with whipped fat to make a special treat called akutuq—in colloquial English, Eskimo ice cream.
And even when they weren’t eating plants, they didn’t live strictly on meat and fish as we think of them:
One might, for instance, imagine gross vitamin deficiencies arising from a diet with scarcely any fruits and vegetables. What furnishes vitamin A, vital for eyes and bones? We derive much of ours from colorful plant foods, constructing it from pigmented plant precursors called carotenoids (as in carrots). But vitamin A, which is oil soluble, is also plentiful in the oils of cold-water fishes and sea mammals, as well as in the animals’ livers, where fat is processed.
Livers from cold-water fish and sea mammals – often eaten raw. Apparently that’s also where they got their vitamin C:
In fact, all it takes to ward off scurvy is a daily dose of 10 milligrams, says Karen Fediuk, a consulting dietitian and former graduate student of Harriet Kuhnlein’s who did her master’s thesis on vitamin C. Native foods easily supply those 10 milligrams of scurvy prevention, especially when organ meats—preferably raw—are on the menu. For a study published with Kuhnlein in 2002, Fediuk compared the vitamin C content of 100-gram (3.55-ounce) samples of foods eaten by Inuit women living in the Canadian Arctic: Raw caribou liver supplied almost 24 milligrams, seal brain close to 15 milligrams, and raw kelp more than 28 milligrams. Still higher levels were found in whale skin and muktuk.
Raw caribou liver, seal brains, kelp and whale skin. Again, not foods found in your local grocery store – not even at Whole Foods.
The Inuit hunted and fished for animals we don’t eat, and they ate them nose-to-tail – again, often raw. That’s why they didn’t need plants foods. They ate the animals that ate a variety of wild plants – and often they ate the digested plant matter found inside the animals, as the article explains. Yummy. I’d probably sprinkle some garlic salt on that side dish before digging in.
We’re critical of vegans for shunning meat, which provides necessary nutrients, then refusing to blame the meatless diet when their health tanks. So let’s be consistent here. If you’re not actually eating like an Inuit, an almost-plant-free diet is likely to leave you short on necessary nutrients. A small salad with dinner probably isn’t going to cut it. In most areas of the world, paleo humans consumed dozens (and sometimes hundreds) of local plants, including nuts, leaves, stems, roots and tubers.
But if you’d rather eat raw caribou liver and fermented stinkfish, I’ll be the first to applaud your dedication.