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Ignoring the Importance of Fermented Foods (Inuit Paradox)…id-eskimos-eat/

Seth Roberts dug up some 1935 research that discusses the prevalence of fermented fish and oils in the Eskimo/Inuit diet. That research in combination with the observed “Inuit Paradox” (The Inuit diet consisting almost entirely of meat and Omega-3 rich fish fat) incited further research into the cardiovascular benefits of Omega-3 fatty acids. Roberts point, which he’s made before regarding Weston Price’s findings, is that little attention has been paid to the fermented aspect of these ancient human diets.

As someone who regularly reads numerous blogs that discuss evolutionary fitness, diet, paleo-diets, etc., I can attest that Roberts is right: the fermented food angle is overwhelmingly ignored by people who should know better, with the notable exception of Stephen at Whole Health Source (Maybe one or two others have mentioned fermented foods in passing, but it is overwhelmingly given short shrift).

When I say the Paleo/evohealth pundits should know better, I mean that it just makes intuitive sense (whether the back-fitting story is ultimately true or not) that, prior to refrigeration and other modern food preservation technologies, human beings would have been forced to eat fermented foods. This would be for no other reason than the fact that (for example) a band of humans probably couldn’t polish off a wooly mammoth in one sitting. There would be leftovers; and no way were these hunter-gatherers going to let that hard-earned food go to waste!

Apply the same concept to fruits and vegetables ripening at a certain times of the year as well as other food-timing problems and you reach the unavoidable conclusion that human beings must have regularly eaten rotten or semi-rotten foods.

I suspect Seth Roberts is on to something.

[At first, Stefansson didn’t want to eat decayed fish.] While it is good form [in America] to eat decayed milk products and decayed game [well, well], it is very bad form to eat decayed fish. . . . If it is almost a mark of social distinction to be able to eat strong cheeses with a straight face and smelly birds with relish, why is it necessarily a low taste to be fond of decaying fish? On that basis of philosophy, though with several qualms, I tried the rotten fish one day, and if memory serves, liked it better than my first taste of Camembert. During the next weeks I became fond of rotten fish.

So Eskimos ate fermented whale oil and a lot of rotten fish. (”A lot” because if they didn’t eat a lot of it, Steffanson wouldn’t have felt pressure to eat it.) I had no idea that Americans used to eat decayed game.

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Bacteria, saliva, and overall health…ref=mpstoryview

First, Seth Roberts blogs on Oral Health, Heart Disease, and Fermented Foods here:

A relevant snippet:

Epidemiologic data have shown a statistical association between periodontal disease and coronary heart disease and stroke. In a meta-analysis, the odds ratio increase for CVD in persons with periodontal disease was almost 20%. Poor oral health also seems to be associated with all-cause mortality.

Emphasis added. As I blogged earlier, during my last trip to the dentist I was told my gums were in great shape, better than the previous visit — and the only intentional change since the previous visit was a huge increase (a factor of 50?) in how much fermented food I eat. So perhaps fermented foods improve oral health. A reason to suspect that fermented foods reduce heart disease is that Eskimos, with very low rates of heart disease, eat lots of fermented food. If both these ideas are true — fermented foods improve gum health and reduce heart disease — it would explain the observed correlation between gum disease and heart disease. …

The shift to a diet high in sugar and refined flours has usually happened at the same time as a shift away from traditional diets. In other words, the increase in sugar and flour wasn’t the only change. I suspect there was usually a great reduction in fermented foods at the same time. Maybe the reduction in fermented foods caused the trouble rather than the increase in sugar and flour. The reduction in fermented foods is almost always ignored – for example, by Weston Price and John Yudkin (author of Sweet and Dangerous).

Cross-posting here a comment I made on Seth Robert’s blog post:

I saw a potentially relevant article on saliva and bacteria in CNN recently:

A quote:

Since people have different eating habits in different places, you might think an American’s saliva might look a lot different from, say, a South African’s. But a new study published in the journal Genome Research finds that bacteria in saliva may not be as related to environment and diet as you might think.

In fact, researchers found that the human salivary microbiome — that is, the community of bacteria in saliva — does not vary greatly between different geographic locations. That means your saliva is just as different from your neighbor’s as someone’s on the other side of the planet.

Americans in particular have a lot of amylase in their saliva because their diets are full of starch: chips, rice and baked potatoes. But the Pygmies of central Africa, for example, eat mostly game animals, honey and fruit. They have relatively little amylase in their saliva.

Dominy and colleagues found these differences at the genetic level, meaning natural selection has favored large quantities of amylase in populations with starchy diets.

But there is also evidence that amylase levels can rise and fall within an individual’s lifetime. A study on college students in Ghana, who typically eat a lot of meat at the university, found that students who had grown up eating traditional starchy Ghanaian home-cooked meals had lower levels of amylase after attending the school.

Finally, trying to get Stephan of WholeHealthSource hooked up with Seth Roberts as I’m willing to bet there might be some synergies in their research and experimentation on fermentation (particularly as examining the changing diets a la Weston Price’s research).

(H/T Nathan)