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Native American Food

A Healthier Way of Living

Guts and Grease: The Diet of Native Americans

by Sally Fallon and Mary G. Enig, PhD

The hunter-gatherer’s dinner is front page news these days. Drawing from the writings of Dr. Boyd Eaton1 and Professor Loren Cordain2, experts in the so-called Paleolithic diet, columnists and reporters are spreading the word about the health benefits of a diet rich in protein and high in fiber from a variety of plant foods. It’s actually amusing to see what the modern food pundits come up with as examples of the “Paleolithic Prescription.” Jean Carper offers a Stone Age Salad of mixed greens, garbanzo beans, skinless chicken breast, walnuts and fresh herbs, mixed with a dressing made of orange juice, balsamic vinegar and canola oil.3 Elizabeth Somer suggests wholewheat waffles with fat-free cream cheese, coleslaw with nonfat dressing, grilled halibut with spinach, grilled tofu and vegetables over rice, nonfat milk, canned apricots and mineral water, along with prawns and clams. Her Stone Age food pyramid includes plenty of plant foods, extra lean meat and fish, nonfat milk products, and honey and eggs in small amounts.4

Above all, the food writers tell us, avoid fats, especially saturated fats. The hunter-gatherer’s diet was highly politically correct, they say, rich in polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fatty acids but relatively low in overall fat and very low in that dietary villain—saturated fat. This is the one dietary factor that health officials tell us is responsible for all the health problems that plague us—everything from cancer and heart disease to obesity and MS.

REMARKABLE HEALTH

That the hunter-gatherer was healthy there is no doubt. Weston Price noted an almost complete absence of tooth decay and dental deformities among native Americans who lived as their ancestors did.5 They had broad faces, straight teeth and fine physiques. This was true of the nomadic tribes living in the far northern territories of British Columbia and the Yukon, as well as the wary inhabitants of the Florida Everglades, who were finally coaxed into allowing him to take photographs. Skeletal remains of the Indians of Vancouver that Price studied were similar, showing a virtual absence of tooth decay, arthritis and any other kind of bone deformity. TB was nonexistent among Indians who ate as their ancestors had done, and the women gave birth with ease.

Price interviewed the beloved Dr. Romig in Alaska who stated “that in his thirty-six years of contact with these people he had never seen a case of malignant disease among the truly primitive Eskimos and Indians, although it frequently occurs when they become modernized. He found, similarly, that the acute surgical problems requiring operation on internal organs, such as the gall bladder, kidney, stomach and appendix, do not tend to occur among the primitives but are very common problems among the modernized Eskimos and Indians. Growing out of his experience in which he had seen large numbers of the modernized Eskimos and Indians attacked with tuberculosis, which tended to be progressive and ultimately fatal as long as the patients stayed under modernized living conditions, he now sends them back when possible to primitive conditions and to a primitive diet, under which the death rate is very much lower than under modernized conditions. Indeed, he reported that a great majority of the afflicted recover under the primitive type of living and nutrition.”6

The early explorers consistently described the native Americans as tall and well formed. Of the Indians of Texas, the explorer Cabeza de Vaca7wrote, “The men could run after a deer for an entire day without resting and without apparent fatigue. . . one man near seven feet in stature. . . runs down a buffalo on foot and slays it with his knife or lance, as he runs by its side.” The Indians were difficult to kill. De Vaca reports on an Indian “traversed by an arrow. . . he does not die but recovers from his wound.” The Karaka was, a tribe that lived near the Gulf Coast, were tall, well-built and muscular. “The men went stark naked, the lower lip and nipple pierced, covered in alligator grease [to ward off mosquitoes], happy and generous, with amazing physical prowess. . . they go naked in the most burning sun, in winter they go out in early dawn to take a bath, breaking the ice with their body.”

GREASY AND GOOD

What kind of foods produced such fine physical specimens? The diets of the American Indians varied with the locality and climate but all were based on animal foods of every type and description, not only large game like deer, buffalo, wild sheep and goat, antelope, moose, elk, caribou, bear and peccary, but also small animals such as beaver, rabbit, squirrel, skunk, muskrat and raccoon; reptiles including snakes, lizards, turtles, and alligators; fish and shellfish; wild birds including ducks and geese; sea mammals (for Indians living in coastal areas); insects including locust, spiders and lice; and dogs. (Wolves and coyotes were avoided because of religious taboos.)8

According to Dr. Eaton, these foods supplied plenty of protein but only small amounts of total fat; and this fat was high in polyunsaturated fatty acids and low in saturated fats. The fat of wild game, according to Eaton, is about 38 percent saturated, 32 percent monounsaturated and 30 percent polyunsaturated.9 This prescription may be just fine for those who want to promote vegetable oils, but it does not jibe with fat content of wild animals in the real world. The table below lists fat content in various tissues of a number of wild animals found in the diets of American Indians. Note that only squirrel fat contains levels of polyunsaturated fatty acids that Eaton claims are typical for wild game. In a continent noted for the richness and variety of its animal life, it is unlikely that squirrels would have supplied more than a tiny fraction of total calories. Seal fat, consumed by coastal Indians, ranges from 14 to 24 percent polyunsaturated. The fat of all the other animals that the Indians hunted and ate contained less than 10 percent polyunsaturated fatty acids, some less than 2 percent. Most prized was the internal kidney fat of ruminant animals, which can be as high as 65 percent saturated.

Sources of Fat for the American Indian
Saturated Mono
unsaturated
Poly
unsaturated
Antelope, kidney fat 65.04 21.25 3.91
Bison, kidney fat 34.48 52.36 4.83
Caribou, bone marrow 22.27 56.87 3.99
Deer, Kidney fat 48.24 38.52 6.21
Dog, meat, muscle 28.36 47.76 8.95
Dog, kidney 25.54 41.85 7.69
Elk, kidney 61.58 30.10 1.62
Goat, kidney 65.57 28.14 0.00
Moose, kidney 47.26 44.75 2.11
Peccary, fatty tissues 38.47 46.52 9.7
Reindeer, caribou, fatty tissues 50.75 38.94 1.25
Seal (Harbor), blubber 11.91 61.41 13.85
Seal (Harbor), depot fat 14.51 54.23 16.84
Seal (harp), blubber 19.16 42.22 15.04
Seal (harp), meat 10.69 54.21 23.51
Sheep (mountain), kidney fat 47.96 41.37 2.87
Sheep (white faced), kidney fat 51.58 39.90 1.16
Sheep, intestine, roasted 47.01 40.30 7.46
Snake, meat 26.36 44.54 0.09
Squirrel (brown), adipose 17.44 47.55 28.6
Squirrel (white), adipose 12.27 51.48 32.3
Game fat, says Eaton 38 32 30

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