This is yet another Duck Dodgers post….
He and I collaborated over answering Dr. Mike Eades’ tweets in counter to my post: To Reiterate, Just In Case You Missed It: No Elevated Ketone Levels in the Inuit. Duck came up with most of it.
Ask any ketogenic dieter about the Inuit’s eating habits and they’ll tell you to “read Stefansson.” Ah yes, Vilhjálmur Stefansson—easily one of the least capable Arctic explorers and well known for stretching the truth. One of Stefansson’s early claims to fame was his supposed sightings of “Blond Eskimos” in Western Nunavut—a claim that was later debunked by DNA testing.
In 1913, he set out to search for a “hidden continent” for the Canadian government which he believed to be concealed by the polar ice cap. He made the mistake of purchasing the Karluk—a retired whaler that was completely unsuitable for an expedition into the Arctic. Within three months, the Karluk became trapped in the Arctic ice, and Stefansson deserted 22 men (and two children) who were aboard. He just turned and walked the other way. Eleven of those men died before a rescue party finally saved the survivors.
Despite the expedition being fully backed by the Canadian government, it is now known that Stefansson skimped on purchasing quality supplies for his men. He bought subpar polar gear for the party and inferior tinned pemmican, which was the primary staple of any polar expedition. Historians now believe that improperly prepared pemmican contributed to the deaths of two of the party and the illness of some of the others.
Years later, he launched a book tour promoting “The Friendly Arctic,” where he set out to challenge the notion of the Arctic being a harsh and inhospitable land and promoted the idea that the “friendly” Arctic was open for development. He had the audacity to claim that the Karluk disaster not only wasn’t his responsibility, claiming the men who perished would have survived if they knew how to live off the land the way he did.
In 1921, Stefansson convinced four men to settle the same Arctic island where the Karluk members perished and within two years the four men died. Once again he shirked responsibility, blaming their incompetence—rather than their misplaced trust in him.
Rudolph M. Anderson, a zoologist and member of two of Stefansson’s expeditions, wrote, “Stefansson is the outstanding humbug in the exploration world at the present time—a persistent, perennial, and congenital liar who for years has made his living by sheer mendacity and skill in handling words.”
The idea that anyone would take dietary advice from Stefansson is mind-boggling, but in his 1946 low carb diet book, “Not by Bread Alone,” Stefansson Westernized the mostly raw Inuit diet by promoting a cooked, all-animal-food-diet including dairy and eggs. Never mind that the Inuit diet relied heavily on raw marine mammals and tended to look a lot like this…
To give you an idea of Stefansson’s mendacity, here’s how he dismissed the Inuit’s raw meat consumption:
From: Not by Bread Alone, by Vilhjálmur Stefansson
“If we compare the whole diet of a strictly carnivorous group of Eskimos with the carnivorous portion of our diet, they would be found to eat, on the average, a higher percentage of raw or rare meat than we do. But if we compare our whole diet with theirs, remembering that our milk and cream are sometimes raw, our fruit and vegetables frequently raw, our eggs usually soft-cooked while Eskimos invariably cook theirs hard, and that our roasts are more rare than theirs though their boiled meat is more rare than ours—if we consider the whole picture, we doubtless use nowadays a far higher percentage of uncooked food than did the pre-white Eskimo world.”
And never mind that those raw meats were what made them feel warm and strong.
Rather than providing an accurate representation of the Inuit’s dietary habits, Stefansson was more interested in winning over converts—and he stretched the truth whenever it suited him. The fact that nobody trusted Stefansson is why the year long Bellevue Experiment was performed in the first place.
[Editor’s note: Tim “Tatertot” Steele, who lives in North Pole, Alaska, tells me that the natives uniformly regard Stefansson as a liar. Of course, they’re munching canned Pringles when the say that. But it was passed down.]
Yes, “read Stefansson” if you want a Disneyland portrayal of the Inuit that isn’t supported by scientific observations and appeals to Westerners. Stefansson’s cooked and Westernized version of the Inuit’s diet became the cornerstone of future ketogenic diets—every single one pointing back to Stefansson as if he was a reputable source.
LAND MAMMALS ≠ MARINE MAMMALS
Stefansson—who died of a stroke at 82 (though, surprisingly, he lived longer than a lot of other VLC authors)—made the fatal assumption that land mammals and marine mammals are similar. They aren’t. They are entirely different, and the difference is tantamount to different species classification. The Inuit were exploiting unique carbohydrate properties in these marine mammals that aren’t found in land mammals.
It turns out that marine mammals that spend a good deal of their time diving to great depths have significant glycogen stores. Sperm whales make routine dives to 400 meters for 40 minutes and can reach a maximum depth of 2000 meters (6,560 feet, or 1.25 miles). Narwhals make some of the deepest dives recorded for a marine mammal, diving to at least 800 meters (2,600 feet) 18 and 25 times per day every day for 6 months, with many dives reaching 1,500 meters (4,900 feet). Narwhals have been recorded diving to as deep as 1,800 meters (5,900 ft, over one mile). In addition to making remarkably deep dives, narwhals also spend more than 3 hours per day below 800 meters—this is an incredible amount of time at a depth where the pressure can exceed 2200 PSI (150 atmospheres).
[Editor’s note: most of your grilled Paleo land food lives its entire life at 1 Atmosphere, or nearly so.]
During their deep dives these marine mammals run out of oxygen and switch to their unique glycogen-based energy stores. They store large quantities of glycogen in very odd places, but it typically gets concentrated in the skin and organs. Researchers have discovered significant “glycogen pools” in the narwhal’s arterial thoracic retia. Ringed seals have “large quantities of glycogen” in a gelatinous material near their sinuses. A sperm whale’s blubber ranges from 8—30% carbohydrates, mostly believed to be glycogen. The hearts and brains of weddel seals have concentrations of glycogen that are two to three times that of land mammals. Furthermore; in marine mammals, these organs tend to be larger in proportion to the total body weight than in land-based mammals.
In 1973, George and Ronald wrote about the harp seal, “All the fiber types contained considerable amounts of glycogen…it is postulated that the seal muscle is basically geared for anaerobic use of carbohydrate as an adaptation for the animal’s diving habit.”
In a paper on diving marine mammals Hochachka and Storey wrote, in 1975, “In the terminal stages of prolonged diving, however, even these organs must tolerate anoxia for surprisingly long times, and they typically store unusually large amounts of glycogen for this purpose.”
Perhaps what’s most disappointing is that Stefansson never bothered to clearly explain the Inuit’s favorite sweet-tasting whale skin dish (muktuk), that was already known by scientists to be a carbohydrate-rich food. In 1912, the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) had reported, “the skin [of the narwhal] contains a remarkable amount of glycogen, thus supplying sufficient quantities of a carbohydrate to cure the scorbutus. The walrus liver also contains much glycogen.”
So, this idea that we can compare glycogen content of a [grilled, braised, stewed, or otherwise thoroughly cooked, long after dead] cow or human to that of what the Inuit were eating is entirely misguided. We’re talking about marine animals that need large quantities of glycogen to complete their extended deep dives.
[Editors note: It’s almost like we’re talking about the other 2/3 of the planet earth!]
THE INUIT ATE GLYCOGEN-RICH FOODS QUICKLY
It’s well known that glycogen does not survive very long post-mortem. So, it was no coincidence that the Inuit often consumed glycogen-rich foods quickly and froze whatever they couldn’t consume. Peter Freuchen, a Danish doctor and member of the 5th Thule expedition based at Melville Peninsula from 1919-1925, wrote that when a whale was brought to the beach at Repulse Bay everyone feasted on large quantities of the skin until their jaws became too sore to continue.
After a hunt, seals are quickly cut to expose the internal organs. Kristen Borré writes in her 1991 report for the Medical Anthropology Quarterly, that “one of the hunters slits the abdomen laterally, exposing the internal organs. Hunters first eat pieces of liver or they use a tea cup to gather some blood to drink.” This was no coincidence. The parts of the animals with the most glycogen were eaten quickly.
At the time of death, the glycogen and free glucose in beef muscle contains approximately 6g of glucose equivalents per pound. As explained above, diving marine mammals have much more glycogen than land mammals. When we consider that the average Inuit consumed 5 to 10 pounds, or more, of raw fresh or flash-frozen meat per day, it should be clear that they were consuming a lot of glycogen.
[Editors note: no matter how you want to slice the blubber, they are not in ketosis, and it takes a long fast to get them there. Inuit are off the table for ketogenic low carbers. Find another ketogenic society, if you can.]
But, of course, the Inuit consumed other carbs, too. They consumed berries, seaweed, nuts, corms, and tubers—such as yupik potatoes, boiled polysaccharide-rich seaweed, glycogen-rich winter mussels. See the Disrupting Paleo series for a more indepth discussion of these foods and their importance in the Inuit diet.
THE INUIT INVENTED “FLASH FREEZING”
What about the glycogen in the foods that weren’t consumed rapidly? If only the Eskimos had access to extremely cold temperatures where they could rapidly freeze chunks of meats immediately after hunting… Hmmm… Kidding aside, the Inuit not only consumed fresh raw meat, blubber and skin that was rich in glycogen, but they also consumed it flash frozen—thus preserving and maximizing its glycogen.
Interestingly, Clarence Birdseye—who invented technology for “flash freezing”—learned about it from the Inuit. According to Wikipedia, “He was taught by the Inuit how to ice fish under very thick ice. In -40°C weather, he discovered that the fish he caught froze almost instantly, and, when thawed, tasted fresh.” He recognized immediately that the frozen seafood sold in New York was of lower quality than the frozen fish of Labrador, and saw that applying this knowledge would be lucrative.
ERRORS IN THE USDA NUTRITION DATABASE
You might be wondering why the USDA Nutrition Database lists known glycogen-rich foods like muktuk or beluga whale liver as having either zero or virtually no carbs. There are two reasons. The first reason is that glycogen tends to rapidly degrade post-mortem. This makes it especially challenging to measure, in a lab environment—particularly since nutrition scientists tend to not do their own slaughtering and butchering. The second reason might surprise you.
When measuring carbohydrates, the USDA and international Association of Official Analytical Chemists (AOAC) standards for nutrition data have decided that the standard procedure is to not measure the carbohydrates in a food sample. (Say what?) Yes, you read that correctly. Carbohydrates are actually inferred to save money and to highlight dietary fiber.
“Total carbohydrate content of foods has, for many years, been calculated by difference, rather than analysed directly. Under this approach, the other constituents in the food (protein, fat, water, alcohol, ash) are determined individually, summed and subtracted from the total weight of the food. This is referred to as total carbohydrate by difference and is calculated by the following formula:
100 – (weight in grams [protein + fat + water + ash + alcohol] in 100 g of food)
It should be clear that carbohydrate estimated in this fashion includes fibre.
The problems and errors that come with this calculation are well known. In fact, even the FAO does not recommend using subtraction for determining “available carbohydrates.”
“Obtaining values by difference should be discouraged because these values include the cumulative errors from the analytical measures of each of the other non-carbohydrate compounds; these errors are not included in direct analyses.”
And it’s not just the FAO that has noticed this. You can read about the problems of erroneous carbohydrate analyses from the subtraction method here, here and here. Each of these papers explain that the gold standard for measuring carbohydrates is to actually measure the carbohydrates by direct measurements.
You might wonder why the international “standard” is to infer carbohydrates. The first reason is that carbohydrates on nutrition labels are designed to highlight dietary fibers. By inferring carbohydrates, nutrition labs can be selective as to which fibers are counted. So, that candy bar with resistant oligosaccharides (maltotriose and maltotetrose) wouldn’t be labeled as a significant source of dietary fiber.
The second reason is to keep the labels neat and tidy. For instance, CHOAVLM is a carbohydrate analysis method that actually measures “available” (glycemic) carbohydrates, thus it excludes resistant fibers. CHOAVLM is typically expressed in monosaccharide equivalents and includes free sugars plus dextrin, starch and glycogen…
From: Impact of different macronutrient definitions and energy conversion factors on energy supply estimations
Therefore, if CHOAVLM is used, the sum of macronutrients in starchy foods often exceeds 100g. For example, 100 g starch expressed in monosaccharide equivalent weights 110 g. On the other hand, when calculating carbohydrate values by difference, the sum of macronutrients always equals 100 g food weight. Even though, chemically, the grouping of carbohydrates is unambiguous, five definitions of carbohydrates are in use in food composition databases and labeling regulations leading to different values and thus inconsistencies and possible confusion.
So, the subtraction or by difference method yields a nice and tidy number that won’t exceed the weight of the food. It makes the nutrition label less confusing but inaccurate.
…And this is why you see studies analyzing the nutritional content of the Inuits’ whale meat or blubber with the “subtraction” method, finding virtually no carbohydrates. And then you see other studies that actually measure the carbohydrate content of whale blubber with direct measurements and discover significant quantities of carbohydrates. In fact, the study that actually took the time to measure the carbohydrates by the direct method [Editor’s note: “direct” is euphemism for actually measuring] concluded that a large portion of the carbohydrate is probably glycogen still present in the blubber more than a day post-mortem. This is rather impressive since glycogen should degrade quickly from an animal, post-mortem.
ASSUMPTIONS ABOUT THE INUIT ARE NO LONGER VALID
The obsolete and overly-simplistic observation of the Inuit eating lots of fresh and raw marine mammal meat, and equating that with eating lots of cooked steaks and hamburger meat can no longer be considered valid. The Inuit were not eating like a Western low carb dieter—that much should now be abundantly clear.
The Inuit had a unique situation where they could find glycogen-rich marine mammals and flash-freeze them by cutting them up into chunks—preserving their glycogen for long periods of time. And then they would often eat those chunks still frozen and drink a little tea to help thaw the ingested pieces. You can’t easily reproduce that kind diet anywhere else.
Editor’s [second to last] final note:
What Duck Dodgers has done here is going to potentially help millions of people, once word spreads; and it’s going to spread even without my help. You’re going to spread it, and you’ll not be able to help yourself, because it’s truth, you wallow in wrong, and people you love wallow in wrong. It’s going to make them realize—in terms that are far from uncertain—that they have been wrong.
But I must say this, and I just want too. For a long time I’ve thought the whole thing is evolving. Stuff like this, and the gut biome, I’m more than sure of it. I’m making a commitment to be conciliatory, even though my tendency is to hubris. One big reason why I can’t wait to guest host jimmy moore’s show on April 28, just a few weeks away. You’re not going to miss it even if you try.
This is not about any bad people. It’s about people being wrong, and everyone is a member of the club.
Update: Hoping to persuade Dr. Mike Eades to dig deeply into this after his tweets from the last post about the Inuit not being in ketosis, demonstrating excellent glucose tolerance and insulin sensitivity, but then demonstrating awful glucose tolerance and insulin resistance when put into no-shit ketosis, I tweeted out last night after publishing and got a reply this morning.
I tweeted back “Welcome to the club, then.” There’s a problem with that sort of out-of-hand dismissal, from the perspective of PGH (Pretty Good Honesty). I have been a strong proponent of low carbohydrate dieting and lifestyle going all the way back to 2007 when I began blogging about Evolutionary Fitness, upon discovering Arthur De Vany. I promoted it, interviewed about it, shot a thousand pics of my food. I often ignored reports in my own comments—especially from women—reporting “issues.”
When I got to a weight of 175, about 10 lb. from my 165 goal, unless it was about 75F, I had ice cold hands & feet. Just didn’t really feel that great, anymore. Eventually putting on 10, then 20 lb., those problems rectified somewhat, but not entirely. Something wasn’t right. Long story short, simply adding some starch—no, not sugar drinks and pastries—fixed everything right up. We’re not talking swinging for the fence, but a mere 100-200 grams daily of rice, potatoes, legumes, more often 100-150. Now, when the wife unit is away, I can sit in the house with the furnace off, at 60-65F and have no problem at all.
Let me summarize my irritation in this:
- I am far from an enemy of LC, or “biased” against it. As example, jimmy moore knows this, and I’m gearing up to record my guest hosting of the Livin’ La Vida Low Carb Show that will air April 28. And I will do it professionally; i.e., what his audience actually is and does, with a view to helping them benefit from resistant starch. Sooper duper “bias,” there.
- Some elements of LC didn’t work for me and I have thousands of anecdotes in my comments from others similarly questioning. Namely: chronic LC. Sporadic LC, even ketogenic (like intermittent fasting) are not only A-OK in my view, but probably healthful measures. I go ketogenic on average of once per week or two by not eating for 30-40 hours.
- In that previous post that Dr. Mike sent out a bunch of tweets on, he/they seemed to miss the entire thrust of the post, which was: look how good their glucose tolerance is on their normal diet, and how bad it is when put into deep ketosis.
- Instead, it seemed to me to be a bunch of quibbling over whether or not they are really in ketosis or not, measuring methods, etc.; when the whole thing is staring you in the face. After an 82-hr. fast, quibbles over whether or not in ketosis ought be disregarded by any honest person. And the difference in glucose tolerance and insulin sensitivity are beyond stark. Today, anyone who spikes at 300 BG under any circumstances would be diagnosed clinically diabetic.
- Not one single up to 140-characters from Dr. Mike on that issue.
- And now, on this last post. Duck and I originally began to focus on those issues of whether in ketosis or not, the distraction of measuring, etc. What’s the point in that? Why did the Inuit have to have crossed some line? Bias, perhaps, because some have staked so much on it—it’s folklore at this point? Perhaps a different bias than I have, being biased against feeling shitty on LC while achieving a state of not burning a lot of body fat, anymore, at about 49 years of age?
- It’s “one thousand ways of confirming [my] bias” to simply point out that heretofore, nobody in this general LC/Paleo community has pointed out that the marine mammals the Inuit hunted as top prize have huge glycogen stores all over, owing to their completely different evolution in inner-space—that have some doing extended dives a mile deep in the ocean? It’s confirming my “bias” a thousand ways to point out that their entire body composition is so unlike land mammals as to realize that classification by species has human classification tendency limitations?
Ever heard of Ada Blackjack?
Ada Blackjack Johnson was born in Solomon, Alaska. Early in her life Blackjack relocated to Nome, Alaska. She married and gave birth to three children but only one survived past infancy. Her husband left her destitute, and she temporarily placed her son in an orphanage. Soon after, in 1921, she joined an expedition across the Chukchi Sea to Russia’s Wrangel Island led by Canadian Allan Crawford but financed, planned and encouraged by Vilhjálmur Stefansson.
Ada BlackJack: A True Story of Survival in the Arctic. From the book description:
“The last third of the book details the battles by Stefansson, who comes across as little more then a tireless self-promoter, to protect his belief in the Friendly Arctic. Stefansson’s detractors – including the man who led the 1923 relief expedition – were determined to discredit him. The families of the men who were lost, of course, want answers. And caught in the middle of this tragedy is Blackjack – praised at first for surviving the doomed project and then vilified before having her reputation restored.”
You get to decide for yourselves, but I’ll just tell you what I think anyway. When something reaches folkloric proportions, as has Vilhjálmur Stefansson in various LC communities, it means that there’s literally nobody asking questions, anymore. Instead, they actually see any detraction as from an outsider, and those questions are dismissed as confirmation bias. Hilariously, I might add.