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Inuits' diet consists almost entirely of meat. As per my understanding, meat does not provide us with fibre and fibre is obtained from plant products only. Do the Inuits suffer from any malnutrition or digestion issues because of a lack of fibre in their diet? Have their digestive systems adapted to their diet or does the climate they live in have a role to play? If so, what would happen if an Inuit person changes to a "mainstream" diet that includes cereals and vegetables? What if a "mainstream" person goes vice versa?

  • Inuit diet of mainly meat to is fiber an essential nutrient is a bit of a stretch. – paparazzo Jan 3 '18 at 22:29
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Essential nutrient means any substance normally consumed as a constituent of food which is needed for growth and development and/or the maintenance of life and which cannot be synthesized in adequate amounts by the body (fao.org).

Dietary fiber does not meet the criteria of being needed for life/growth, so, strictly speaking, it is not an essential nutrient. Anyway, according to some authors "dietary fiber is essential for a healthy diet" (Mayo Clinic), for example, insoluble fiber may help maintain bowel regularity and soluble fiber may contribute to intestinal health and lower cholesterol levels. Fiber may also slow down digestion and thus help to control blood sugar levels (PubMed).

Inuits do not eat only meat but also plant foods, such as berries, tubers, roots, seaweed...(Wikipedia: Inuit Cuisine) and, according to the documentary The Last Ice Hunters, some commercial food delivered from Denmark.

Results of a 1930 experiment, in which 2 men were eating exclusively meat (no plant food and hence no fiber) for a year:

At the end of the year, the subjects were mentally alert, physically active, and showed no specific physical changes in any system of the body.

The control of the bowels was not disturbed...

...the clinical observations and laboratory studies gave no evidence that any ill effects had occurred...

From this very small experiment it is not possible to reliably predict long-term effects of lack of fiber in humans, though.

Conclusion: While not essential for life, fiber can be good for health, especially for bowel regularity.

  • Pretty good answer, and yes by strict definition. But It's hard to define what's essential when some sequelae of diet take decades to manifest. If you look at the hormone spikes and pro-inflammatory cytokines associated with meat consumption, meat may not be so benign. and I'll definitely highlight the fiber = good for health. That 1930's experiment was just a case study with an n=2, I wouldn't make dietary changes based on that. If we're talking anecdotes, I have dozens of patients with severe constipation, like 99% of which have low fiber and fluid intake that improves by changing it. – DoctorWhom Nov 9 '18 at 14:38
  • I edited it a bit. I never want to emphasize the benefits of fiber beyond its role in maintaining bowel regularity and reducing blood glucose fluctuations after meals. The evidence about the effect of fiber on cholesterol levels and intestinal health is not convincing enough, so far. They don't do crazy studies like that 1930 one any more and all you have now are some epidemiologic studies: a lot of participants, but unconvincing. – Jan Nov 9 '18 at 15:01
  • Most people only get about 15 grams of fiber a day, the RDA is 40 grams a day, while indigenous populations typically get 80 to 100 grams a day. If your diet is mainly a whole food plant-based diet that can include a bit of meat and fish, your fiber intake is bound to be above 60 grams a day, simply because most whole energy rich foods have a fiber to calorie ratio between 2 to 3 grams per Kcal, and fruits and vegetables will typically have a much higher ratio. A 2500 Kcal diet that contains significantly less than 60 grams of fiber a day is almost by definition an extremely unhealthy diet. – Count Iblis Nov 11 '18 at 15:04
  • @CountIblis, less than 60 grams being extremely unhealthy - was that a typo? Adequate intake for adult men is 38 g and for women 25 g (NationalAcademics). And Daily Value (in 2,000 Cal diet) is 25 g (FDA) – Jan Nov 12 '18 at 9:14
  • Well, how does someone eating 3000 Kcal get to less than 40 grams of fiber? Your diet needs to include a substantial fraction of non-whole foods. The health effects of not eating mostly whole foods have yet to be rigorously established. Now, if you give the normal Western diet the benefit of the doubt and demand rigorous evidence that it's unhealthier compared to an alternative, then you'll end up with the current recommendations of 38 grams of fiber a day. I'm not going to take that gamble as it's not just fiber but also magnesium and many other nutrients that you'll be getting a lot less of. – Count Iblis Nov 12 '18 at 15:20

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