There are several ways to understand the nutritional contributions of wildlife animals and plants to diets of Arctic residents. The first avenue of understanding is based on laboratory studies of food components, particularly nutrients, of sampled wildlife tissues. The second avenue is to understand the contribution to daily nutrition of the portion of the individual or community diet derived from wildlife. Both avenues are required for an assessment of dietary intake and quality. Research on the use of food by Arctic residents has been carried out for communities in Alaska, Canada, the Faroe Islands, Greenland, Norway, Sweden, and Russia.
Arctic wildlife animal foods are very high in nutrient quality. Although all nutrients have not been documented in all food species tissues consumed, the general knowledge of analyses completed to date has shown remarkable nutrient contents in several animal wildlife foods. Sea mammal blubbers and Arctic fish have high contents of omega fatty acids (the good fats), vitamin A, vitamin E, selenium, and vitamin D. Sea mammal and land animal muscle tissues are lean and low in fat, and rich in many essential minerals for human nutrition, particularly iron and zinc. Vitamin C is known to be present in high levels in sea mammal mattak or muktuk (skin of whales), livers of all species, and fish roe. Unusual foods comprised of organ meats or other tissues (e.g., goose lungs) are now known to be rich sources of iron. Wildlife plants consumed in the Arctic, although small in yearly quantities consumed, provide important contributions of fiber, vitamin C, and minerals. It is therefore evident that understanding Arctic animal and plant wildlife food use and composition gives important knowledge on the biodiversity of global food resources.
Although it is evident that Arctic peoples consume only a portion of their average daily food intake as animal and plant wildlife foods, it is useful to consider the contribution of this portion to overall nutrition. This can be done using techniques of assessing dietary nutrient density. Recent studies on nutrient density for selected nutrients in diets of Arctic adults have consistently shown that the portion of the diet containing wildlife food is higher in protein, iron, zinc, magnesium, and copper than is the portion of the diet from purchased store food. Vitamin A is in higher density in the traditional food component of Inuit diets than in the market food component, but market food makes a greater contribution today to dietary calcium. Inuit adult diets contain a greater density of fat from traditional food than traditional food components of diets from First Nations adults; however, Dene/Metis diets contain a greater density of fat in purchased food.
In considering overall daily fat intakes, older adults and elders in Inuit or First Nations communities who consume more traditional wildlife meats than younger people consume less total dietary fat. Generally, all Arctic communities consume reasonably equivalent quantities of dietary fat grams from the two portions (traditional, market) of the diet; however, Inuit consume more total fat from traditional food sources than First Nations adults. Younger people throughout the Arctic are consuming more of this fat from market food than from traditional food.
It is therefore important to conclude that Arctic wildlife animals and plants are excellent sources of nutrients. It is also known that dietary nutrient quality is less when wildlife foods are consumed in lower quantities. Wildlife fats are not consumed in excess, and are important sources of essential nutrients. To reduce fat intakes in Arctic diets, the best strategy is to reduce intakes of market sources of fat (such as fried foods, chips/crispy snacks, pastries) rather than wildlife food.
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