Animal foods in traditional Australian aboriginal diets: Polyunsaturated and low in fat

Joan M. Naughton, Kerin O'Dea, Andrew J. Sinclair

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Australian Aborigines develop high frequencies of diabetes and cardiovascular diseases when they make the transition to an urban lifestyle. The composition of the traditional diet, particularly its lipid components, is a most important aspect of the hunter-gatherer lifestyle that would bear on the risk of these diseases. We have examined the fat content and fatty acid composition of a variety of animal foods eaten traditionally by Aborigines from different regions of Australia. The muscle samples of the wild animals from all over Australia were uniformly low in fat (<2.6% wet weight) with a high proportion of polyunsaturated fatty acids (≥20% PUFA). Liver samples had a higher range of fat content (5-10% wet weight) but were also rich in PUFA (33-42%). Depot fat samples varied widely in their PUFA content (5-40%). In terms of their PUFA composition the foods tended to fall into three groups: (i) those rich in both n-3 and n-6 PUFA, which included land-based, coastal and freshwater animals; (ii) those rich in n-3 PUFA, i.e., marine species; (iii) those rich in n-6 PUFA, mainly land-based species. The results of these analyses suggest that even when the traditional Aboriginal diet contained a high proportion of animal foods it would have been low in fat with a high proportion of PUFA and thereby could have protected Aborigines against cardiovascular diseases and related conditions through a combination of factors: low energy density, low saturated fat and relatively high PUFA content.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)684-690
Number of pages7
Issue number11
Publication statusPublished - 1 Nov 1986
Externally publishedYes

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