My Big Fat Diet
by Mary Bissell
Produced by Bare Bones Productions in association with CBC Newsworld
Alert Bay is a fishing village near Vancouver, British Columbia, populated mostly by members of the Namgis First Nation. Their ancestors traditionally ate a lot of salmon, cod and shellfish. Fish farming has made those good, wild fish increasingly scarce. For many decades now the local people have been eating a typical carb-heavy diet and the results among the Namgis are the same as everywhere else—obesity, diabetes, heart disease and other illnesses. A century ago, one-hundred-year-old elders would still be dancing on special occasions. Now, nobody lives that long.
The Namgis were trying to lose weight by following expert medical advice to eat less and exercise more. The results so far were underwhelming. Then Dr. Jay Wortman came along and suggested something a little different. He began signing people up for a medically supervised high-fat diet more in line with what their ancestors ate. Dr. Wortman was well aware of the fact that this advice went against the dictates of dieticians and the heart foundation. It took a while but he eventually found almost one hundred people who were not insane and were willing to consider the possibility that doing something different might be the best way to get different results.
Among the foods that traditionally supplied fat to the diet was oolichan grease—a traditional, highly esteemed fat prepared from great quantities of a small but lipid-rich fish of the smelt family. The Namgis had nice big jars of oolichan grease and they seemed to like it.
Well, what happened? Was Dr. Wortman a dirty, lowdown hooligan who destroyed the health of these poor people? After three months the average change in weight was about sixteen and one-half pounds. No, they didn’t gain that weight, they lost it. After six months the average weight loss was twenty-four pounds. Some who had diabetes saw improvements in symptoms in as little as three days. Total cholesterol was down by thirty percent. Maybe there is some magic in that oolichan grease. Maybe the experts are idiots. Or hooligans. My thumb is UP for this one.
This article appeared in Wise Traditions in Food, Farming and the Healing Arts, the quarterly magazine of the Weston A. Price Foundation, Fall 2010.