Inuit populations have adapted over time to make the most out of the only food source available in the Arctic - blubber from whale and seal meat.
Diets are almost as varied as the people of the Earth, and different conditions lead people to eat different foods. The Mediterranean diet, for example, is characterized by nuts, olive oil, fish, fruits and veggies, and provides the nutrients necessary to protect against a long list of chronic diseases.
According to a report from NPR, while a Mediterranean diet is proven to be healthy, there are other radically different diets that still prove to be good for you. An interesting example is that of the Inuit, a group referring to the people who populate the Arctic region.
A traditional Arctic meal might include meat from a fatty marine animal like a whale or a seal. Not many vegetables and fruits can grow in the Arctic, so the people there rarely consume these foods. How is then that the Inuit rarely suffer from chronic diseases?
A new study suggests that it may have something to do with the omega-3 fatty acids found in the meat and blubber typically consumed by the Inuit. Genetic adaptations have allowed these people to survive on a high level of fat in the absence of vegetables and fruits.
In a genetic analysis comparing Inuit in Greenland to European and ethnic Chinese populations, researchers discovered a group of genes that help regulate how much omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids the body makes itself. It found that Inuit populations had genes that slowed down the body’s production of these fatty acids, allowing them to come from external sources.
Since Inuit populations have survived eating these foods for so long, their bodies’ metabolisms are fine-tuned to make the most out of the available nutrients. As Greenland gains access to more modern food choices, many Inuit are finding that they have trouble digesting the inordinate amount of sugar added to most products.
The Inuit are a fine example of human adaptation to available food sources, and can offer insights into the way other populations evolved to make the most of what they eat.