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What are the habits of carnivorous peoples in regards to salt? Is it necessary or not?


Recent History

October 5, 1949

Helge Ingstad

Nunamuit: Among Alaska's Inland Eskimos


The Nunamiuts thrive on this almost exclusively meat diet; scurvy or other diseases due to shortages of vitamins do not exist. They are, in fact, thoroughly healthy and full of vitality. They live to be quite old. I lived only on meat for nearly five years.

I am writing at the beginning of October. Now the women are going for trips up the hillsides in small parties and enjoying themselves picking berries and gossiping. They find a fair number of cranberries and whortleberries, but no great quantities. Cloudberries are scarce in the Anaktuvak Pass; there are said to be more farther north, on the tundra.

The berries are stored raw, sometimes in a washed-out caribou's stomach, and mixed with melted fat or lard. This dish is called asiun and is considered a special delicacy.

They also dig up some roots. The most sought after are maso, qunguliq (mountain sorrel), and airaq. What is collected is consumed before winter sets in. No new green food is to be had till May; then roots and the fresh shoots and inner bark of the willow are eaten. Thus, for about seven months the Nunamiuts live on an exclusively meat diet, and for the rest of the year their vegetable nourishment is very scanty.

The caribou is dealt with traditionally. Every single part of the animal is eaten except the bones and hooves. The coarse meat, which in civilization is used for joints and steaks, is the least popular. In autumn and spring it is used to a certain extent for dried meat; otherwise it is given to the dogs. The heart, liver, kidneys, stomach and its contents, small intestines with contents (if they are fat), the fat round the bowels, marrow fat from the back, the meat which is near the legs, etc., are eatn. Both adults and children are very fond of the large white tendons on the caribou's legbones; they maintain that food of this kind gives one good digestion. The head is regarded as a special delicacy; the meat, the fat behind the eyes, nerves, muzzle, palate, etc., are eaten. Finally, there are the spring delicacies--the soft, newly grown horns and the large yellowish-white grubs on the inside of the hide(those of the gadfly) and in the nostrils. The grubs are eaten alive.

The meat is often cooked, but to a large extent it is also eaten raw. The children often sit on a freshly killed caribou, cut off pieces of meat, and make a good meal. It is also common practice to serve a dish of large bones to which the innermost raw meat adheres. Dried meat and fat are always eaten raw. 

The Nunamiuts' cuisine also offers several choice delicacies. First and foremost is akutaq. To prepare this dish, fat and marrow are melted in a cooking-pot, which must not get t oo warm, meat cut fine is dropped in on the top, and then the woman uses her fist and arm as a ladle to stir it about. The result is strong and tastes very good. Akutuq has since ancient times been used on journeys as an easily made and nourishing food and is fairly often mentioned in the old legends. 

Then there is qaqisalik, caribou's brains stirred up with melted fat. A favourite dish is nirupkaq, a caribou's stomach with its contents which is left in the animal for a night and then has melted fat added to it. It has a sweetish taste which reminds one of apples. Finally, there is knuckle fat. The knuckles are crushed with a stone hammer to which a willow handle has been lashed. Then the mass is boiled til the fat flies up. The Eskimos attach great importance to the boiling's not being too hard; delicate taste. Sometimes it is mixed with blood, and then becomes a special dish called urjutilik. 

The Nunamiuts like chewing boiled resin and a kind of white clay which is found in certain rivers. Salt is hardly used at all. If an Eskimo family has acquired a little, it is used very occasionally, with roast meat. The small amount of sugar, flour, etc., which is flown in in autumn is of little significance and has, generally speaking, disappeared before the winter comes. Some Eskimos do not like sugar.

For a while coffee or tea is drunk, but these are quickly finished. Then the Eskimos fall back on their old drink, the gravy of the cooked meat.

The Nunamiuts thrive on this almost exclusively meat diet; scurvy or other diseases due to shortages of vitamins do not exist. They are, in fact, thoroughly healthy and full of vitality, so long as sicknesses are not imported by aircraft. They live to be quite old, and it is remarkable how young and active men and women remain at a considerable age. Hunters of fifty have hardly a trace of grey hair, and no one is bald. All have shining white teeth with not a single cavity. The mothers nurse their children for two or three years.

It is an interesting question whether cancer occurs among the Nunamiuts or among primitive peoples at all. On this point I dare not as a layman express an opinion, but I heard little of stomach troubles. During my stay among the Apache Indians in Arizona (1936) a doctor in the reservation told me that cancer had not been observed among the people. According to a Danish doctor, Dr. Aage Gilberg (Eskimo Doctor, George Allen and Unwin, London, 1948), cancer is never sene among the Thule Eskimos in northwestern Greenland. The matter deserves more detailed investigation; it may possibbly give certain results of assistance to cancer research.

The Indian caribou hunters I once lived with in Arctic Canada had a similar meat diet and good health. As for myself, my fare was the same as the Indians' and the Eskimos'--practically speaking, I lived only on meat for nearly five years. I felt well and in good spirits, provided I got enough fat. My digestion was good and my teeth in an excellent state. After my stay with the Nunamiuts I had not a single hole in my teeth and no tartar.

No doubt the hunters of the Ice Age, in Norway and elsewhere, lived in a similar way many thousand years ago. We are probably in the presence of what is most ancient among the traditions of primitive peoples. Taught by experience, they have arrived at a manner of living which, despite its onesideness, fully satisifies the body's requirements. The principle is to transfer almost everything that is found in the caribou to the human organism. 

It is interesting to note that the stomach and liver of animals are regular features in the diet of primitive peoples, whereas modern science has only quite recently established that these contain elements of special value to human beings. The remedy for the previously deadly pernicious anemia is obtained from them. The contents of the caribou's stomach and the newly grown horns merit a closer examination by modern methods. It is a question, for example, whether the cellulose of the moss decomposed in the caribou's stomach and thereby becomes available to the human organism. With regard to the horns, it is of interest that certain deer's horns from northeastern Manchuria have from time immemorial been a regular article of commerce in China, where they have been used as a cure for impaired virility.

Typed up by Travis Statham from physical book. This is the best quote in the entire book. 

Note: Helge Ingstad lived to be 101 (1899-2001).

Ancient History


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