The Eskimo Diet Cookbook by Dr Reg Saynor MSc PhD C.Chem FRSC FIMLS and Dr Frank Ryan MB ChB (Hons) FRCP was published in 1990, well after the offensive ‘Eskimo’ was replaced by Inuit, indigenous or First Nation. Having lived in Canada, the e-word, is as bad to me, as the n-word, for people of colour.

The ancestral Inuit diet was mostly fish, so I hoped that the book would be chock full of interesting fish recipes.

Photo by Théroigne S B G Russell

Dr Jay Wortman, a Métis doctor from Alberta, based in Vancouver, reversed his Type 2 diabetes with a low carb diet. He worked with an indigenous community in Alert Bay and made a documentary, My Big Fat Diet, for CBC. Here, he talks about it on a CBC podcast, in 2018 Revisiting My Big Fat Diet: How a Métis doctor lost weight with traditional Indigenous meals |

This cookbook, with more than 150 recipes, was preceded by The Eskimo Diet. According to the authors, the book became an unexpected bestseller, when newspapers started writing about it. Clement Freud is mentioned in the introduction, as someone who wrote about the diet in his column for The Times.

Low carbers can get behind this diet’s principles of eating more oily fish, more fibre and less sugar. Dr Saynor and Dr Ryan advise moderating alcohol intake, but use it quite a bit in their recipes. Suggest that low carbers check carb content of the wine or spirit. The alcohol may dissipate with cooking but the carb content won’t.

Photo by Théroigne S B G Russell – Rascasse at Jempson’s FOODIE FIND: JEMPSON’S

The authors are anti-fat, presumably following the discredited Diet-Heart Hypothesis which led to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans.

Some of the recipes can be made low carb, just by using full-fat whole milk, yogurt and cream cheese and replacing polyunsaturated margarine, with butter. Konjac noodles or courgetti (spiralised courgettes) could replace tagliatelle or fettucine, in other recipes.

Cornflour can sometimes be omitted from sauces, if they are reduced. Other people may not worry about the 1.77 – 2.72g of carbs in 1 teaspoon of cornflour.

Photo by Théroigne S B G Russell

There are recipes containg sugar, honey, fruit (eg apples, peaches and pineapple), dried fruit (eg raisins, sultanas, prunes) flours, beans, lentils, sweetcorn, breadcrumbs, soy sauce, potatoes and rice. Many of these recipes can’t be tweaked,because the carbs are an integral part of the dish.

Recipes start with sauces. Tomato and vegetable sauce, Basque sauce with Vinho Verde and Basque sauce cooked with fish can all be tweaked to become low carb.

Soups and Starters includes Herring and vegetable soup (if carrots reduced or omitted), kipper pâté, smoked mackerel and chive pâté, kipper soup, salmon and Parma rolls, fish and prawn terrine and cucumber and dill sauce, from the salmon ring recipe.

As the grilled herrings with spiced raspberry sauce can be made with 250g fresh raspberries between four people, some low carbers could choose this for a light lunch or starter. Tomato herrings are easily tweaked. Moules à la marinière allows 1 pint of mussels per person and serves six – not the cheapest of lunches. If a cauliflower rice pizza base is used, the sardine and tomato pizza topping is low carb. Herring with red peppers can be tweaked by omitting the orange. Pasta with hot tuna sauce becomes low carb if konjac noodles or courgetti are used. Crisp and crunchy plaice salad is low carb and looks interesting. If you’ve had any luck with a crustless quiche before, the filling for the Caerphilly and crabmeat flan, sounds delicious.

close up photo of sliced salmon
Photo by Valeria Boltneva on

Oily fish main meals’ is not the most attractive sounding title for a chapter. It begins with cucumber cream for salmon steaks. Paprika sauce for salmon, contains half a teaspoon of cornflour, split between four people. Scottish salmon with cucumber and tomato sauces sounds quite Nouvelle Cuisine. Grilled mackerel with sage sauce is flourless, but contains both 75ml of dry white wine and the same quantity of dry vermouth. Baked trout with dill is a little bit boozier. Some people may want to swap out the single shallot, for an equally small quantity of red onion. Other fish dishes are mackerel fillets with mushrooms, spiced halibut steaks, parchment-baked salmon, spicy Jamaican fish and savoury halibut. Swapping konjac noodles or courgetti for spaghetti will make spaghetti with anchovy and oregano sauce low carb.

food cold water animal
Photo by Eva Elijas on

White fish main meals is another lacklustre chapter heading. Representing low carb are: paupiettes of plaice, French-style sole with tomatoes, Plaki, savoury fish steaks, spicy coley and baked fish steaks.

Microwave fish recipes kicks off with garlic prawns and scallops, poached salmon, herring salad, Welsh cod bake, tomato whiting, Mediterranean-style halibut, skate with wine and fennel and salmon steaks with cucumber sauce. Not many low carb recipes in that chapter.

Photo by Théroigne S B G Russell

There’s a special occasions chapter, whch includes crab and shrimp bisque as a starter. Low carb special occasion fare includes baked scampi and spinach in Pernod sauce, salmon trout steaks with watercress sauce, paupiettes of sole with salmon mousseline, Scottish salmon cutlets with Highland whisky sauce and Scottish salmon cutlets with avocado and brandy mayonnaise. Some of these sound a really good idea, if you’re not a turkey lover, for Christmas.

There are a selection of dishes which don’t include fish. Chicken with mustard sauce, turkey fillets with mushrooms, chicken in a pot. chicken and cheese salad, and chicken in yogurt and spices.

None of the dessert recipes is suitable for low carbers.

Vegetable curry is low carb if the potatoes are missed out, or subbed with swedes. There’s a ratatouille sauce for pasta, but these are the only vegetarian/vegetable low carb recipes.

I just don’t believe that any Canadian First Nation community is regularly tucking into paupiettes of sole with salmon mousseline. The title seems to have appeared just because the book is based on fish recipes. A lot of them could be learned from any French cuisine-based catering cookbook.

The brief biography for Dr Saynor, says that he’s a ‘world authority’ on the ‘Eskimo Diet’. I would suggest that refers to the Saynor and Ryan diet, rather than the ancestral diet of indigenous Canadians.

Plus points, are that there are 56 recipes out of 150, which can be made suitable for low carbers and they include recipes for special occasions.

For a low fat cook book, it’s a surprise, to find TEN flourless sauces. Don’t bother with it if you’re vegetarian.

According to the copyright info, the authors of the book have a copyright on the text only. The publishers, have a copyright on the recipes. This suggests that the publishers may have commissioned the recipes for the book or used recipes from another title they own.

Verdict: If you find it in a local library, photocopy recipes which appeal to you, Otherwise, give it a miss, unless you can buy it really cheap in a charity shop or boot fair.

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