Eskimos’ Fat-Rich Diet Turns Out To Be Really Unhealthy

EskimoDiet2This new review that analyzed the diets and health of Eskimos and Inuits found that all their oily fish, far from being “heart-healthy” was, to use the lead author’s word, “dangerous”:

“Fishing” For The Origins Of The “Eskimos And Heart Disease” Story. Facts Or Wishful Thinking?, Canadian Journal of Cardiology, 14 April 2014

“During the 1970s, two Danish investigators, Bang and Dyerberg, upon being informed that the Greenland Eskimos had a low prevalence of coronary artery disease (CAD) set out to study the diet of this population. Bang and Dyerberg described the “Eskimo diet” as consisting of large amounts of seal and whale blubber (i.e. fats of animal origin) and suggested that this diet was a key factor in the alleged low incidence of CAD. This was the beginning of a proliferation of studies that focused on the cardioprotective effects of the “Eskimo diet”.

In view of data, which accumulated on this topic during the past 40 years, we conducted a review of published literature to examine whether mortality and morbidity due to CAD are indeed lower in Eskimo/Inuit populations compared to their Caucasian counterparts. Most studies found that the Greenland Eskimos as well as the Canadian and Alaskan Inuit have CAD as often as the non-Eskimo populations. Notably, Bang and Dyerberg’s studies from the 1970s did not investigate the prevalence of CAD in this population; however, their reports are still routinely cited as evidence for the cardioprotective effect of the “Eskimo diet”. We discuss the possible motives leading to the misinterpretation of these seminal studies.”

One thing you can say for sure … their diet is not protecting them from heart disease.

The press release:
Investigators Find Something Fishy With Classical Evidence For Dietary Fish Recommendation

Lead investigator George Fodor said:

“Bang and Dyerberg’s seminal studies from the 1970s are routinely invoked as ‘proof’ of low prevalence of CAD in Greenland Eskimos ignoring the fact that these two Danish investigators did not study the prevalence of CAD. Instead, their research focused on the dietary habits of Eskimos and offered only speculation that the high intake of marine fats exerted a protective effect on coronary arteries.”

Not only do Eskimos develop CAD at the same rate as non-Eskimos, but

“[Eskimos] have very high rates of mortality due to cerebrovascular events (strokes). Overall, their life expectancy is approximately 10 years less than the typical Danish population and their overall mortality is twice as high as that of non-Eskimo populations.”

Fodor et al. said the reason CAD prevalence was thought to be less 40 years ago was because Eskimos’ rural lifestyle and inaccessible geography prevented access to medical care which led to inaccurate and incomplete death records.

Dr. Fodor:

“Considering the dismal health status of Eskimos, it is remarkable that instead of labeling their diet as dangerous to health, a hypothesis has been construed that dietary intake of marine fats prevents CAD and reduces atherosclerotic burden.”

Salmon is not a health food.

7 thoughts on “Eskimos’ Fat-Rich Diet Turns Out To Be Really Unhealthy

  1. Bix Post author

    I just looked up salmon on NutritionData. It varies, but a tiny 3 ounce serving can have 11 grams of fat and 72 mg cholesterol. And that fat and cholesterol are, of course, oxidized, owing to their exposure to air/oxygen, heat, light, time exposed, processing (heat), and any acids or other chemicals they came in contact with.

  2. Bix Post author

    This work is a milepost in our understanding of diets and health. It should mark a turning point in our recommendations. I wonder how long it will take the American Heart Association to discard their “eat oily fish twice a week” advice.

  3. Marj

    I must have ten 3 oz. cans of red salmon in my pantry. Up until now it was just the thing for a quick salmon salad or sandwich. And never thought it necessary to read the label.

    1. Bix Post author

      You sound like me! When I decided to drop the animal food, it was last January I think, I had a bunch of those 3 oz. cans in my fridge. (I had already known about the fat going rancid so I kept them cold.) I ended up giving them to a food bank; our post office does a yearly collection.

  4. Bix Post author

    Dr. Greger just posted a video on Pollutants in Salmon and Our Own Fat.

    He quoted something I know from my work in diabetes:

    “In the general population, exposure to POPs comes primarily from the consumption of animal fat, like fatty fish, meat and milk products; the highest POP concentrations being commonly found in fatty fish.”

    POP: Persistent Organic Pollutant


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