Inuit from the Arctic Circle and Pima from Arizona and Mexico Pic

At first glance it may not seem the Inuit and the Pima indigenous people have much in common.  The Inuit deal with a cold wet landscape without much of a growing season - but possibly an abundance of land and sea life they have hunted.  That along with some plant foods they gathered were what made up their traditional diet1.  Their traditional diet has been estimated at "50% of their calories from fat, 30–35% from protein and 15–20% of their calories from carbohydrates, largely in the form of glycogen (stored glucose) from the raw meat they consume"1 (see gluconeogenesis) - this looks to be a diet similar to the carnivore diet.

The Pima on the other hand dealt with a hot dry landscape with a long growing season, not a lot of water but they did manage take the dry land and turn it into a productive farming community that grew corn, beans, squash and cotton. They supplemented their diet with some game, fish and other plant foods.  And looking at the estimated macros of their diet, it broke down into "70-80% carbohydrate, 8-12% fat, and 12-18% protein"2 - a diet closer to vegetarian or vegan diets, than a carnivore diet.

Though both have dealt with extreme environments, they both have come up with different ways to deal with the hand they have been dealt.  Their adaptation was dictated by their environments.  Both seemed healthy before the advent of the Western diet.  "They (the Pima) were lean, active people who, until recently, had few reported cases of diabetes.”3  "Prior to 1950, diabetes was virtually non-existent in the Alaskan Inuit"4

But then along came sugar and simple carbs.  “The Pimas long have intrigued researchers because they suffer from one of the highest rates of diabetes in the world.”3  Then there is the Inuit: "among Alaskan Inuit (diabetes) increased by around 50% from 1957 to 1965, and by the early 1970s, the rate of diabetes in Alaskan natives had tripled."4  This leads to the following hypothesis (aka a half-assed theory):

Could it be that both a Vegan and Carnivore diet could work to control diabetes - depending on your genetic makeup?

It looks like the Inuit have "a faulty (or just different?) copy of the TBC1D4 gene, which increases their risk of type 2 diabetes."5  And the Arizona Pima look to be a bit too efficient with their food: "the introduction of a steady food supply to people (Arizona Pima) who have evolved a "thrifty genotype" leads to obesity, insulin resistance, and diabetes."6 Also it is worth mentioning the Arizona Pima's cousins on the other side of the border, the Mexican Pimas, are doing just fine with their traditional diet and lifestyle!

All this brings me to my wife and I and our different reactions to simple carbs and sugar 

My wife is Korean and has had type 2 diabetes for 30+ years and in this message board thread I wrote about how she has been dealing with it - especially note the last 2 1/2 years and her low carb diet!  Now guess what, it looks like Koreans are relatives of the Inuit: "analyses demonstrated genetic evidence of the origin of Koreans from the central Asian Mongolians" and "Inuits are of Mongolian descent"!  So since my wife might share some genes with the Inuit, would there be a chance she would do just fine on a carnivore-like diet?  I know right now someone would have to take her meat dishes out of her cold dead hands!

As for myself, as far as I know I'm not related to the Pima, however with my German-French-English-Irish (and spot of Italian) ethnicity I think it is safe to say my ancestors are from more temperate climates. And in the temperate climates there is quite the variety of vegetation and a longer growing season than up north.  I'm sure my ancestors ate their share of woolly mammoth, but when the hunting got slow I'm also sure they weren't above doing some plant chomping - why not, it was everywhere.  I'm guessing my ancestors were a long way from the Inuit, both genetically and distance wise.  However straight north from my ancestors would be the Scandinavian Vikings - a rowdy carnivore bunch if there ever was one! When they weren't kicking around my ancestors (we got even), at mealtime by "plugging common Scandinavian foods into a nutritional calculator, we can reasonably speculate that Vikings had a diet that was roughly 30-35% protein, 35-40% energy-supplying fats, and 30% carbohydrates.  Of course, this breakdown would vary from day to day and with the seasons. Still, overall this formula is VERY similar to what top body builders today consider optimal for extreme growth and performance."7 (but could that vary by body builder?).  Meanwhile my ancestors were subsisting on "19% protein, 28% fat, and 53% carbohydrates."7  I'm feeling a kinship with the Pima.

So I've mentioned how my wife has reacted to the simple carbs and sugar - type 2 diabetes.  So how have I reacted - heart problems and prediabetes.  Despite my more junk-filled diet than hers, I haven't strayed into the diabetic range.  However in the last post of the message board I mentioned, I write about why I thought much of my heart problems are related to my sweet tooth - and genetically low hdl cholesterol.  Exercise and a little better diet may have saved me from the same fate as many of my male relatives - an early death.  But despite handling the carbs better than my wife I'm thinking it is time to cut back on even the complex carbs, though maybe an occasional bowl of chili with beans would be ok.  However I don't think I'll be eating the meat protein like my wife, I try it and it is IBS-C for me (constipation).  I'll be sticking to my mostly low-carb vegetarian diet (ok, with occasional "meat breaks" and less occasional "carb breaks")

As a side note, I'll ask what do you get when an Inuit relative and Pima kin get together and have kids?  I'll tell you, it looks like the curse of my low hdl cholesterol has been broken!  All three of our kids have normal hdl!  However don't ask me where the daughter's kidney disease came from, best guess is strep throat and her immune system turned on her kidneys.  But what caused that?  A genetic quirk?  (nothing in our backgrounds we know of)  A diet that excluded something it shouldn't have?  Included something it shouldn't have?  Something we haven't thought of?  We may never know!

But I hope this article helps calms some of the mudslinging between the Vegan and Carnivore camps!  (next I'll work on Middle East peace)



3Why Are the Pima Sick - Washington Post


5Arctic Inuit Gene