The Inuit are Genetically Adapted to a High-Fat Diet, Study Says

Smiling Eskimo woman wearing traditional clothing in wind against clear blue sky

Is a strict low-carb diet super healthy for everyone? People who argue for this often bring up the Inuit people. However, this particular argument has never been a very strong. And now it got even weaker.

According to a study released in Science yesterday, the Inuit, who have lived in the extreme conditions of the Arctic for a long time, seem to have developed genes that make them especially well suited to eat large amounts of omega-3 fat. Adaptation to high-fat diet, cold had profound effect on Inuit, including shorter height

A “shorter height” is of course an excellent adaptation to a cold climate as it decreases the surface area of the body, thus reducing heat loss.

We’re all slightly different

This piece of news is a good reminder that genetical adaptations to extreme circumstances starts out right away. While it may take hundreds of thousands of  years for humans to completely adapt to a new environment, the first genetic drift (that does not require new mutations) gets going instantly.

This also means that the diet that the Inuit stay most healthy on is not necessarily the best diet for everyone on the planet. Obviously all humans are pretty similar genetically, but we are not exactly the same.

Another example: Even though insulin-resistant people (like people with obesity or type 2 diabetes) usually do best on a strict low-carb diet it does not mean everybody on the planet needs it to stay healthy.


For more on about the traditional diet in very northern climates – and the effect of the introduction of new Western diets – watch the documentary “My Big Fat Diet” on the membership site.


  1. Bob Niland
    re: Is a strict low-carb diet super healthy for everyone? People who argue for this often bring up the Inuit people.

    It's also argued that the Inuit are not on a ketogenic diet, as they might be getting more carbs than at first so appears, such as from game glycogen. The diet is certainly VLC/HF grain-free, apart from whatever junk comes in from the outside world.

    In any event, there are those advocating to eat like a Blue Zoner (diets of people in specific regions who have long lives). Before doing that, one need to discover if getting that benefit also requires having the genes of said BZs, living in that BZ and conforming to a specific (and perhaps quite inconvenient) BZ lifestyle. So, eat like an Inuit if ...

  2. Nate
    Yeah, the fact that everyone is different metabolically should be great news for nutritionists. Helping people sort out their unique metabolism should be a money maker. I think that those practicing functional medicine may be doing that now.

    I think that nutritionist must be understanding that more these days. The Credit Suisse report says that only 40% of the nutritionist believe fat is the problem compared to the 70% of doctors that believe that.

  3. Jason K
    This study does not state that Inuit are genetically adapted to a high-fat diet.

    The study states that Inuit "have probably adapted to the cold Arctic climate and to their traditional diet, which has a high content of omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) derived from seafood and a content of omega-6 PUFAs that is lower than in Danish controls". The study is only claiming that the Inuit have a high intake of omega-3.

    Perhaps the Inuit do have genetic adaptations to a high fat diet, but if they do this study does not comment on that.

    Most people eating low carb diets are not eating diets high in omega-3, certainly not the level of a traditional Inuit diet, so this study has little bearing on the typical low-carb diet.

    Reply: #4
  4. greensleeves21
    I agree. Andreas has misrepresented the findings of this study, which are only around omega 3s. It says nothing about butter, lard or olive oil or other fats. Just really surprised that Andreas of all people would mistake a PUFA study like this & incorrectly generalize it to all fats.

    I expect better reporting from Andreas on fat issues, and I hope he updates this blog entry to be in line with what the report actually finds. I think we all know that most of us shouldn't overdo PUFAs, even if they're omega 3.

    Reply: #5
  5. Dr. Andreas Eenfeldt, MD Team Diet Doctor
    I updated the post to better reflect the focus on omega-3 fat.

    However if there are several genetic adaptations to a high omega-3 fat intake, there may very well be specific adaptations to a higher fat diet in general too. I think the interesting thing about the study is it confirms how quickly humans start to genetically adapt to changes in the environment.

  6. Björn Eriksson
    Dr. Eenfeldt

    What are your thoughts on a new study being done at Stanford by Gardner

    One Diet Does Not Fit All: Weight Loss Study - Diet X Genotype Study
    Gardner ( he's a vegan ) doesn't impress me much after watching a presentation with Gary Taubes recently

    How will this play out on the success of low carb high fat

    Reply: #7
  7. Dr. Andreas Eenfeldt, MD Team Diet Doctor
    At first glance that looks like an interesting trial.

    As in the A to Z trial by Gardner I expect the very low-carb diet to do better on average, but there may certainly be differences in effectiveness due to genetics.

  8. Björn Eriksson
    Interesting, yes

    My thoughts were more on the line perhaps in being a "waste of time and money"

    "If" the study is rehashing the

    "thrifty gene hypothesis"

    But problems abound with it, unfortunately. In fact, James Neel himself ( who came up with the theory ) ultimately dismissed his thrifty gene hypothesis as likely not true. Instead, he came to blame obesity on the carbohydrates in our foods -- specifically sugars and refined carbs.

    Even Gary Taubes walked readers through the various arguments against the thrifty gene in his book Good Calories, Bad Calories (see pages 242-251)

    Either way it's too hard too tell as the study won't be complete for a year.

    However, seeing as Amway a multi level marketing company that sells health, beauty, and vitamin supplements with a shady background gave Stanford tens of millions of dollars for health research is a little worrisome as to their interests.

    What I am concerned is that the study will say all diets can be tolerable and healthful and depending on "genes" be it Latino, African American, Oriental that predispose one to negative health markers one may need to stay away from saturated fat, red meat and so on.

    Dr. Eenfeldt

    But if this study is a redone version of the thrifty gene hypothesis, then it just defends the Caloric Balance Hypothesis and is giving it support. Because Gardner believes in the calorie balance hypothesis anyway
    Weren't studies such as these done before?

    Thoughts ?
    Thank you for your reply I learn new things everyday while reading your site when I am at my desk. You are number one Dr. Eenfeldt

  9. Marc
    I have read that Eskimo's have a genetic adaptation that keeps them out of Ketosis..
  10. MIsha
    Its funny how no one considers that iniuts need to keep their fat levels high in order to survive in Arctic temperatures, and that the adaptation comes from this and not because ketosis is inherently bad.

Leave a reply

Reply to comment #0 by

Older posts