Wednesday, January 28, 2015


Many people still accept a Hobbesian view of prehistoric man - that life was "solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short”. 

We’ve all seen the depictions in cartoons and movies of hairy and disheveled savages grunting, waving clubs, tearing raw meat from a giant femur with their teeth and dragging women around by their hair. 

But according to evolutionary psychologist Dr. Christopher Ryan, this ‘Flintstonization’ of Paleolithic man is unfair and just plain wrong. 

Ryan argues our hunter-gatherer forebears were actually quite civilized. They were well groomed, highly social creatures who loved, laughed, played and were probably a lot happier in the most primal sense than your average modern man who has been ‘civilized to death’ (Ryan, 2014). 

A hunter-gatherer life was necessarily about living in the moment. In a nomadic tribe material possessions were a burden. Amassing land, things, or power was simply not an objective. Community was everything. Your life literally depended on your fellow tribesmen. Everything was shared, including the raising of children. There was no state, no land-owners, no taxes or fences. A hippy dream! 

According to Ryan, the average hunter-gatherer only ‘worked’ a few hours a day and spent the rest of their time at leisure, bonding - playing, sleeping, having sex, building relationships, living. 

Sure there were plenty of rough times with weather, famine, injury, lack of medicine, warfare and wild beasts that could potentially kill you, but overall life wasn’t so bad. It certainly wasn’t solitary, brutish and poor.

A member of the Hadza Tribe

Littered throughout the literature on contemporary hunter-gather tribes are countless anecdotes of the inexplicable joy and happiness present among such tribes. Being human means deriving pleasure from simple things - food, shelter, companionship, belonging. 

Modern society has become so complex yet trivial and so detached from our base needs that most people in developed societies need constant stimulation, distraction, pharmaceutical intervention, drugs and alcohol or some other addiction (whether it be exercise or Netflix) just to cope, let alone to be “happy”. It really seems that the more ‘civilized’ become the less happy we are. 

When your biggest anxiety in the day is not getting 40 likes on your latest Instagram post (i.e. a trivial fear) you end up being more neurotic and less happy than when your biggest fear in the day is being trampled by a wooly mammoth (i.e. a real fear). 

Now I don’t want to romanticize Paleolithic times. As much as I love the outdoors and understand the immense satisfaction from getting back to basics and going ‘bush’ once in a while I’m an urban dude, a tamed homo sapiens domesticus fragilis

Comparing me to a hunter-gatherer is like comparing a shaky Chihuahua in a Louie Vuitton bag to a wild wolf in the Alaskan wilderness.  

I am not pining for a hunter-gatherer existence. I don’t even think we should be trying to emulate or replicate aspects of that era, unlike some other Paleo zealots out there.

I mean, if you want to hunt some of your own food, fashion your own sandals out of elk hide and go to bed at sundown that’s totally cool with me but I’m quite happy being a Millennial dude with an iPhone for a hand and having my neatly packaged wild salmon being available at my supermarket from 7am - 11pm seven days a week. 

I’m not saying that my urban life makes me happy, but I’d sure rather be part of our messed up society than an outcast, off-the-grid freak with no community at all. 

So yes, I am “Paleo", but only in the sense that I use an ancestral health framework to inform some of my nutrition choices. I am not in anyway trying to emulate a hunter-gather lifestyle! That’s silly. More on this later.


What I strongly disagree with, however, is this ignorant argument that cavemen died young thus why should we eat like them? 

There are two major flaws in this logic.

Firstly, cavemen did not die that young. People keep quoting an average lifespan of between 25 and 40 years in the Paleolithic era. This is highly misleading. Yes the average, ‘mean' age is quite low when you include a very high infant mortality rate. But infant mortality has always skewed life expectancy downwards until as recently as the early 20th century… not long after we realized it was probably a good idea to wash your hands before delivering a baby!  

During the Upper Paleolithic, life expectancy at birth was 32 years (Kaplan, 2000). But a 15 year old - who made it through infancy and into adolescence - could expect to live another 39 years, to the age of 54. 

Compare this to Classical Roman times where life expectancy was 20-30 and at age 10 one could expect to live 35 more years, to 45 (Frier 2001). 

Even in the early 20th Century life expectancy at birth was still only 31… less than in the Upper Paleolithic! So even by this crude measure it is unfair to pick on the Paleolithic as a period of particularly short life spans when in fact life expectancy has always been this low right up until last century. 

So even using basic averages for lifespan our Paleo ancestors were actually doing just as well, if not better than the Ancient Romans or Medieval Brits. But were hunter gatherers really dropping dead at 40 during a Mammoth hunt or did many live a lot longer than that?

Well, a more pertinent statistic to look at instead of the average (or ‘mean’) lifespan is the ‘mode'. The mode is the value that occurs the most frequently in a set of data. 

Take this set of data points: [0.3, 0.7, 1, 1, 2, 4, 7, 7, 7, 9]. The average (mean) is 3.9, while the mode is 7. Big difference.

The best known study into longevity among hunter-gatherer tribes concluded that the mode age amongst a variety of different hunter-gatherer tribes across the world ranged from 68 to 78 years of age, with the overall mode calculated to be 72 (Gurvan, 2007). 

This means that, by and large, if you didn’t perish as an infant or succumb to infection, illness, warfare or walk off a cliff in the darkness of the night then a healthy hunter-gatherer could expect to live to a respectable ripe old age, even by modern global standards.

So this notion of brutish cavemen dropping dead of old age at 30 is plain bullocks. It’s a myth. 


The second biggest flaw in the “trying to eat like a caveman is stupid” camp is that the Paleo diet is NOT about trying to replicate a caveman diet. I have drummed on about this so much that my neighbors have been lodging ‘relentless percussion’ noise complaints with the landlord.

But my drumming can’t compete with the ignorant argument resonating loudly throughout the mainstream media by your run of the mill “eat-a-balanced-low-fat-diet-with-heart-healthy-whole-grains” blog commenters, dietician and nutritionists. 

You know the ones. They talk like this: trying to eat like a caveman is stupid and as if you would want to live like a caveman anyway since they dropped dead before they were even old enough to get heart disease from all that red meat, and they were ugly and stupid and dragged women around by their hair, blah blah blah. 

Talk about Homo sapiens ignoramuses!

The Paleo diet is not a recreation or replication of some imagined caveman diet from 30,000 years ago. 

Rather, the Paleo diet is a template or framework for optimizing modern nutrition by looking to our past and pondering what we may have eaten for 98.5 percent of our evolution before agriculture came along and changed everything. 

And why would we want to do that? Well, from all the research that has been done over the past century into hunter-gatherer societies - both contemporary and ancient - and by looking at some alarming modern health trends there is some fairly compelling evidence suggesting the following:

  • Hunter-gatherers generally had superior bone density, structure, stature, strength and overall robustness of health than modern agricultural humans (Ryan 2014).
  • Hunter-gatherers did not seem to suffer from most modern ‘diseases of civilization’ such as obesity, diabetes or heart disease. Not to say that it definitely didn’t exist but it was rarely, if ever, observed (Cordain, 2010). 
  • At the advent of agriculture human health took a sharp decline: stature diminished, infectious disease proliferated, infant mortality increased, life expectancy decreased and malnutrition was widespread (Nicholson, 1999).
  • While we have been able to combat the above maladies with technology such as public sanitation, food fortification and modern medicine our collective health has taken another turn for the worse in the last few decades. 
  • The modern epidemics of obesity, diabetes and heart disease are escalating. Today one-in-four Americans have some form of heart disease. By 2050 it is predicted one-in-three adult Americans will have diabetes (CDCP, 2015). 
  • Life expectancy in the US may be on the decline (Olshansky, 2005)
  • It seems increasingly obvious that the industrialization and commercialization of our food since the mid 20th century has been a major culprit in our health decline. The more processed, adulterated and unnatural our foods are, the fatter and sicker we become. 
  • A diet of whole, real, unprocessed, organic, wild, raw, grass-fed, non-GMO, unconcentrated, additive-free, local, fresh, healthy animal and plant foods is clearly the best way to eat in order to thrive and to avoid the preventable diseases that end up killing most of us.  

Now frankly, my dear reader, I don’t give a damn how you arrive at your healthy diet of choice or even what that diet constitutes. As long as you are improving your health and it is working for you then that’s all that matters.

If you have an issue with cute, fluffy animals being murdered so you can ingest their wonderful nutrition and you’d rather eat quinoa (impoverishing Bolivians) and almond milk (worsening the drought in California) to fuel your 90 minute 40.6'C / 105'F Bikram session (contributing to global warming) then power to you! 

There are plenty of paths to better health. NONE OF THEM ARE PERFECT. So you can take your sustainability issues, write them down on a little piece of recycled paper, and burn them. Homo sapiens sustainabilis hypocritis.

As you all know I follow a Paleo template because it makes sense to me. Avoiding animal products does not make sense to me. Eating a lot of carbohydrates does not make sense to me.

And so I focus on healthy fats, lots of above ground vegetables, some roots and tubers, some fruit and berries, wild-caught seafood, some meat - preferably grass-fed and not factory farmed. I eat some full fat fermented dairy. I strictly avoid milk, gluten and industrial vegetable and seed oils.

But I am not dogmatic and I certainly consume my fair share of neolithic foods. I drink wine, tequila, vodka, sometimes a few low-gluten beers. I eat white rice. I’m even partial to a few corn tortillas or some premium full fat ice cream once in a while. 

And if the Paleo Police have an issue with my impurity they can get stuffed because I know my diet is 90 percent awesome. And then 10 percent of the time I go treat myself by doing some things that are clearly bad for my health but oh so much fun - like drinking a couple of Old Fashions or clubbing until 4am in Brooklyn. 

You see life is not meant to be "solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short”. It was not like this for our Paleolithic ancestry and it shouldn’t be like this for us. 

Being Paleo is not about trying to be a bad-ass, spear hurling, rock carrying caveman. It is not about creating a perfect grain-free, dairy-free, legume-free diet and sticking to it 100 percent. But it is about avoiding most industrial junk foods to prevent becoming your typical fat, sick and nearly dead Westerner. 

Modern Americans may have a higher life expectancy than our Cavemen ancestors. But not necessarily that much higher - currently it is 78 (World Bank, 2015). And when you consider that the quality of later life for your average American (or Australian) is pretty poor these days we may not have advanced as much as we think. 

Four-out-of-five Americans suffer from at least four chronic illnesses by the age of 67 (AARP, 2015). Most rely on serious pharmaceutical and medical intervention to prolong a pretty crappy life for the final few years, often in a care facility, only to finally succumb to complications from metabolic diseases such as diabetes, heart disease or Alzheimer's. 

The good news is that these diseases are preventable by making the right lifestyle choices over time, especially nutrition. And the best way to optimize nutrition is to focus on a real, whole foods diet… like the Flintstones. 

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References

AARP (2015). ‘Chronic Conditions Among Older Americans’: http://assets.aarp.org/rgcenter/health/beyond_50_hcr_conditions.pdf

Christopher Ryan, PhD (2014): Tangentially Speaking Podcast: http://chrisryanphd.com/tangentially-speaking/

Ryan, C., & Jethá, C. (2010). Sex at dawn: The prehistoric origins of modern sexuality. New York: Harper.


Frier, Bruce W. (2001). "More is worse: some observations on the population of the Roman empire". In Scheidel, Walter. Debating Roman Demography. Leiden: Brill. pp. 144–145.

Gurven & Kaplan (2007). 'Longevity Among Hunter-Gatherers: A Cross-Cultural Examination’: http://www.anth.ucsb.edu/faculty/gurven/papers/GurvenKaplan2007pdr.pdf

Hillard Kaplan, Kim Hill, Jane Lancaster, and A. Magdalena Hurtado (2000). "A Theory of Human Life History Evolution: Diet, Intelligence and Longevity"Evolutionary Anthropology 9 (4): 156–185.


Loren Cordain (2010), The Paleo Diet: Lose Weight and Get Healthy By Eating the Food You Were Designed to Eat, John Wiley & Sons.

(OFR) Obesity Facts and Resources. In Campaign to End Obesity (accessed September 2013).

Olshansky et al. (2005) 'A Potential Decline in Life Expectancy in the United States in the 21st Century': http://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMsr043743

Timothy M. Ryan and Colin N. Shaw (2014). 'Gracility of the modern Homo sapiens skeleton is the result of decreased biomechanical loading’, PNAS 2015 112 (2) 372-377

U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, (2010). Number of Americans with diabetes projected to double or triple by 2050. [Press Release] (accessed March 2011).

Ward Nicholson (1999), ‘Longevity and Health in ancient Paleolithic v Neolithic Peoples’: http://www.beyondveg.com/nicholson-w/angel-1984/angel-1984-1a.shtml

Monday, January 12, 2015


If you're eating a healthy (Paleo) diet you should be getting 30-70 percent of your energy requirements from fat. This sounds like a lot but keep in mind that fat is more than twice as energy dense as carbohydrate or protein (1).

Many of the fats we consume on a Paleo diet come from whole foods such as oily fish, full fat cuts of meat from (grass-fed) ruminant animals, avocados, eggs, nuts, seeds, etc. 

But we also need to liberally add fats and oils to our foods to make them more nutritious and palatable.

Many vitamins are fat soluble which means they need to be consumed with fats to be properly absorbed. I highly recommend everyone use healthy cooking fats liberally and always add at least some fat to your vegetables, salads and green smoothies. 

So let’s take a detailed look at most of the commercially available sources of fats and oils and then consider which ones we should cook with, which ones we should not cook with but can consume raw, and which ones we should avoid completely. At the end of this post I have embedded a .pdf infographic summarizing this guide, which you can download for future reference.

But first we need a basic lesson in fatty acids. 

There are many different fatty acids, each with their own structure, benefits and potential detriment. Basically without exception any naturally occurring fat in healthy, unprocessed whole foods can be safely consumed in its natural state. Even naturally occurring trans fats are completely healthy (Kresser, 2013). And we certainly now understand how saturated fats are healthy if they are from the right sources. 

However, when fats are refined and processed many of them become unhealthy. For example, if you were to take a handful of sunflower kernels and eat them - yes they would be relatively high in omega-6 linoleic acid - but they wouldn’t be harmful. 

Yet take those same sunflower seeds and process the bejesus out of them using extremely high heat and chemical solvents and what you are left with is an unhealthy refined substance - nutrient-poor, unstable and prone to oxidation - that is simply not fit for human consumption. 

Polyunsaturated fats are not inherently unhealthy. Omega-3 is a PUFA and we all know how healthy that is, even though most of us don’t consume enough of it. 

Nuts, seeds and poultry have high levels of omega-6 PUFA but I wouldn’t avoid eating them just because of this. We do require some omega-6, but not in the prodigious amounts that a Standard American Diet dishes out. 

The problem is that unhealthy refined PUFAs like corn, soybean and canola oil absolutely dominate the Western Diet and we are unwittingly consuming them by the truckload.

Pick up any processed food and you will more often than not find one of these three junk oils listed as an ingredient. Go into any restaurant and they will almost certainly be using one of these oils to cook with. Even seemingly healthy "organic, gluten-free, vegan” snacks tend to use sunflower or canola oil as their fat source. 

This is the reason why our omega-6 to omega-3 ratio is completely out of whack - close to 20:1 where in Paleolithic times it would have been closer to 2:1 - because we are completely inundated with very highly concentrated omega-6 vegetable and seed oils (Sisson, 2014). 

Americans get 70% of their polyunsaturated fats (mainly omega-6) from oils, shortenings and margarines (ibid).

It would be impossible to get such high ratios of omega-6 to omega-3 by eating whole foods. But refined vegetable and seed oils can contain up to 75% omega-6 by weight so you can see how easy it is to consume 20g of omega-6 by eating half a bag of corn chips. And how much omega-3 is in that piece of salmon you ate for lunch? Maybe 3-4g at the most. You see my point?

The effect on our health of all these cheap, crappy, inflammatory oils should not be underestimated. We’re slowly getting the message that added sugar is bad for us but most people are still completely unaware how harmful these industrial PUFAs are and the role they play in metabolic diseases such as obesity and heart disease. You have been warned!


FAT 101

Fat v Oil

Fats and oils are both compounds of glycerol and various fatty acids. The only difference being that at room temperature, fat is solid and oil is liquid. For the purpose of this article the terms 'oil' and 'fat' are interchangeable.

Saturated Fats (SF)

Have no double bonds between the carbon atoms of the fatty acid chain. This makes them very stable when heated or exposed to light and oxygen. Examples include Coconut oil and butter.

Monounsaturated Fats (MUFA)

Have only one double bond between the carbon atoms of the fatty acid chain. These are fairly stable when heated but can still go rancid if exposed to light and oxygen. Examples include olive oil and avocado oil. 

Polyunsaturated Fats (PUFA)

Have many double bonds between the carbon atoms of the fatty acid chain. These are the most unstable fats and do not stand up well to heat or oxidation. Examples include sunflower, canola and corn oil. 

Polyunsaturated fats are the worst to cook with because those double bonds are reactive - they tend to react with oxygen when heated, forming harmful compounds and free radicals (Grootveld, 2006). 

The longer and more often these oils are heated (like over several weeks in a restaurant fryer) the more dangerous they become. Dietary linoleic acid that has been oxidized via heat has been shown to directly lead to atherosclerosis (Starprans, 2005). 

Smoke Point is simply a measure of the temperature at which heated oil starts to break down and burn. The more leftover (protein or sugar) particles there are in a fat the lower the smoke point will tend to be - so an unfiltered extra virgin olive oil will have a lower smoker point than a more refined light olive oil; just as butter will have a lower smoke point than clarified butter (ghee).  

It is important to note that smoke point is not the most important factor though when it comes to the health outcomes of consuming cooking oils - the number of double bonds is far more important (Gunnars, 2013). 

So you can take smoke point into account if you are cooking at very high temperatures but you should never choose to cook with a polyunsaturated fat like grape-seed oil just because it has a high smoke point.

For example, olive oil may smoke slightly when you cook it at really high heat, but it won’t necessarily inundate you with harmful compounds or free radicals. Or more accurately, even if there are some free radicals produced they seem to be countered by the anti-oxidant properties of olive oil. 

By contrast, grape-seed oil probably won’t burn even at very high temperatures but it may still be causing havoc to your metabolism from all the nasty toxins produced when those double bonds react to heat and oxygen. 

The last thing I would like to mention before going through each of the oils in detail is that it is worth considering the source of the oils you are consuming: do they come from naturally fatty substances like olives or coconuts and therefore require minimal processing? If yes then they are probably fairly healthy. 

Or do they come from industrial by-products like corn cobs, cotton seeds or grape seeds that aren’t very oily at all? If yes then they require extreme processes to extract that fat and the end product is effectively refined waste that big corporations have found a way to trick consumers into eating. Who in their right mind would eat oil from cotton? It’s a con.


COCONUT OIL

92 % Saturated Fat
6 % Monounsaturated Fat
2 % Polyunsaturated Fat

Coconut oil is a real Paleo darling. It has countless scientifically-backed benefits from enhancing weight-loss to its antimicrobial properties. It’s high saturated fat content means it is stable at heat and stores well for years. I think it is delicious and I even use it as moisturizer. 

Verdict: Use liberally for cooking or eating raw

OLIVE OIL

14 % Saturated Fat
74 % Monounsaturated Fat
10-20 % Polyunsaturated Fat

Olive oil is one of those unique foods that everyone can agree is healthy. It is a time-proven staple of the Mediterranean diet. It is delicious raw and should be a mainstay in everyone’s pantry. My Italian Nonna basically drinks the stuff and her skin at 87 is better than most 50 year olds’. 

I used to think that Olive Oil wasn’t suitable for cooking but some recent research has completely quashed those fears and it seems that it is completely safe even at high temperatures for very long periods of time. Due to its relatively low smoke point though I don’t personally use it for high heat cooking. I prefer ghee or coconut oil for baking. 

You need to be careful to find a good quality olive oil as some generic blends will actually add in cheap vegetable oil. To avoid this go for an Australian brand if you’re in Oz or a Californian if you’re in the U.S. 

My Abruzzese family in Italy make 500 liters every second year and go through it all! 

Verdict: Use liberally raw and for lower temperature cooking

BUTTER

64 % Saturated Fat
26 % Monounsaturated Fat
3-6 % Polyunsaturated Fat

Our grandparents were right. Butter is amazing. Not only is it delicious but it is packed with nutrition - one of the best source of vitamin A, E and K2, as well as the fatty acids butyrate and conjugated linoleic acid. 

I love the stuff so much I put it in my coffee and now use it as my main cooking fat. 

It is very important to get pastured/grass-fed butter. It is slightly more expensive but still relatively cheap compared to good coconut oil. I pay $3.29 for 250g sticks of Kerrygold Irish butter. 

Like olive oil, butter has a relatively low smoke point due to some leftover protein or sugars but if this concerns you then you can use clarified butter (ghee) for cooking at higher temperatures. 

Verdict: Use liberally for cooking or raw - even as a condiment or in your coffee.

PALM OIL

50 % Saturated Fat
40 % Monounsaturated Fat
10 % Polyunsaturated Fat

Palm oil is highly controversial because of it’s reputation for destroying native orangutan habitats. However, sustainable palm oil, particularly the less refined red variety, has a lot of reported health benefits - notably it’s high content of CoQ10 and Vitamin E. Like coconut oil it is fairly unprocessed, heat stable and tasty. 

Verdict: Great for cooking or raw but look for a sustainable source

BEEF TALLOW

51 % Saturated Fat
46 % Monounsaturated Fat
2-4 % Polyunsaturated Fat

Personally I don’t use beef tallow but only because it isn’t easily accessible to me. Like all animal products it is best to buy organic, grass fed. I would happily use it for cooking though if I had it. 

Verdict: A great cooking fat

LARD (PIG FAT)

39 % Saturated Fat
45 % Monounsaturated Fat
11 % Polyunsaturated Fat

Except for some occasions where I will render the leftover grease from my bacon I don’t use too much lard. However, I think it can be completely healthy to use as a cooking fat so long as you can guarantee it is from a healthy source. Unfortunately most pork production in the U.S is questionable at best. 

Verdict: Can be a good cooking fat but I think there are better options 

CANOLA OIL

7 % Saturated Fat
63 % Monounsaturated Fat
28 % Polyunsaturated Fat

Canola oil come from rapeseeds. Because it has a high level of monounsaturated fat and a decent amount of omega-3s it has been (incorrectly) labeled as a “heart healthy” oil. The problem is that it is highly refined and requires temperatures upwards of 500 degrees and chemical solvents to extract it, meaning that most of the omega-3s are destroyed or rancid on the shelf. It is a cheap, industrial seed oil with little to no nutrition.

Verdict: Avoid

FLAX SEED OIL

8 % Saturated Fat
20 % Monounsaturated Fat
72 % Polyunsaturated Fat (47% Omega-3)

Flax Seed oil has been proffered as a healthy source of omega-3 for a long time. It is very high in omega-3, up to 50%. However, because it is so high in overall PUFA it is highly unstable and prone to oxidation and rancidity. People taking it for a supplement would be better off taking fish oil. I certainly wouldn’t recommend consuming too much of this stuff, let alone cooking with it. 

Verdict: Don’t bother

CORN OIL

13 % Saturated Fat
24 % Monounsaturated Fat
59 % Polyunsaturated Fat

This is one of those industrial bi-product oils that is just heinous. Getting oil from a corn cob is clearly a bad idea and nothing good can come of it. It is very high in omega-6, has zero nutrition and is not even close to being a real food. 

Verdict: Strongly Avoid

PEANUT OIL

17 % Saturated Fat
46 % Monounsaturated Fat
32 % Polyunsaturated Fat

Peanuts are legumes and along with wheat are one of the very few foods that I recommend people strictly avoid. The reason being is that peanut lectin is the only anti-nutrient I know of that is not broken down by heat or digestion and has been shown to penetrate the gut lining and enter the bloodstream in at least one study (Lalonde, 2012). Peanuts are also prone to mould and rancidity. 

Verdict: Avoid

SUNFLOWER SEED OIL

10 % Saturated Fat
19 % Monounsaturated Fat
63 % Polyunsaturated Fat

Another ugly industrial oil that also happens to be utterly pervasive in packaged food and restaurants and egregiously marketed as healthy. It’s not healthy. Very high in omega-6 PUFAs with no nutrition.

Verdict: Strongly and actively avoid

SAFFLOWER OIL

6 % Saturated Fat
14 % Monounsaturated Fat
75 % Polyunsaturated Fat

Similar to sunflower oil but actually worse, if that’s possible. Even higher PUFAs. 

Verdict: Strongly and actively avoid

SOYBEAN OIL

14 % Saturated Fat
23 % Monounsaturated Fat
57 % Polyunsaturated Fat

Along with canola, corn (U.S) and sunflower oil (Aus), soybean oil is freakin’ everywhere. It is another cheap, subsidized (GMO) crop oil that is even partially hydrogenated… all round bad news. If I see another can of ‘tuna in olive oil’ that has soybean oil listed in the ingredients I’m going to drop my shopping basket and scream until the Whole Foods security dudes frogmarch me onto the street. 

Verdict: Strongly avoid

GRAPE SEED OIL

9 % Saturated Fat
16 % Monounsaturated Fat
70 % Polyunsaturated Fat

The only thing going for this oil is that it has been very cleverly marketed. It is actually just a pig with lipstick on. The health claims are bogus at best and even though it has a high smoke point it is very high in PUFAs and is therefore unstable and potentially harmful to your health. The final kick in the guts is that it’s expensive... Well done Don Draper. 

Verdict: Avoid

COTTONSEED OIL

26 % Saturated Fat
18 % Monounsaturated Fat
52 % Polyunsaturated Fat

Like corn oil this one makes me laugh/cry. In fact it’s even worse than corn oil. If you can’t eat cotton why the hell would you eat cotton oil? It is a farce and a tragedy that this ever made it to the shelves.

Verdict: Avoid

RICE BRAN OIL

25 % Saturated Fat
38 % Monounsaturated Fat
37 % Polyunsaturated Fat

I am pretty suspicious of this stuff. Rice bran is definitely something us Paleo folk like to avoid and I very much doubt its highly refined oil is a substance we want to be putting in our bodies. It is neither a traditional fat nor a minimally processed one and it has no known health benefits. 

Verdict: Avoid

AVOCADO OIL

12 % Saturated Fat
70 % Monounsaturated Fat
13 % Polyunsaturated Fat

With a similar fatty acid profile to olive oil and also from a naturally, fatty source it’s probably fair to say that avocado oil is fair game. Honestly I have no experience with it but from what I’ve read it is a healthy and tasty option. I’m not convinced that it would constitute a good cooking oil though. 

Verdict: Consume raw 

WALNUT OIL

9 % Saturated Fat
23 % Monounsaturated Fat
63 % Polyunsaturated Fat (10% omega-3)

Walnuts are indeed healthy nuts with a decent amount of omega-3 but this is far outweighed by their high omega-6 content. Like other nut oils its high PUFA content makes it prone to oxidation and rancidity. Definitely not suitable for cooking but could be used as a condiment on salads. Store in a cool dark place. 

Verdict: Consume raw in moderation 

SESAME SEED OIL

14 % Saturated Fat
43 % Monounsaturated Fat
43 % Polyunsaturated Fat

The only real benefit I can see of sesame oil is the specific flavor profile that is perfect for some asian dishes. However, it just can’t compare to olive oil, butter or coconut oil in terms of nutrition and it is less stable than these oils. I would be wary to consume too much of this stuff or to use it for high heat cooking.

Verdict: Consume in moderation

MACADAMIA NUT OIL

12 % Saturated Fat
71 % Monounsaturated Fat
10 % Polyunsaturated Fat

Macadamia nuts are awesome. In terms of fatty acid profile they are probably the best nut out there, with a relatively high omega-3 to omega-6 ratio. Like brazil nuts, walnuts and flax seeds, though, these fragile nuts are prone to mould and rancidity. It is also rather expensive so you may want to use it sparingly. 

Verdict: Consume raw or for low temperature cooking. 

CONCLUSION

Fats are a huge part of the Paleo diet and it is paramount that you are consuming the right ones. Like with all foods you need to consider nutrient density, potential health benefits or detriments, price and accessibility, taste and convenience. Personally I stick with the big three that I know are healthy for cooking or raw: Grass-fed butter, organic virgin coconut oil and cold-pressed extra virgin olive oil. 

For your final take away in this comprehensive guide to oils and fats consider the following rules that generally hold true:

  • The less processed the oil the better - if it requires extreme heat or chemicals to refine it, avoid.
  • The healthier the source of the oil the better - if it is a whole, Paleo food that you can eat raw, even better. (e.g. Coconuts, olives).
  • If you can’t eat the source material, don’t consume the oil. (e.g. Cotton seeds or corn cobs).
  • Animal fats from healthy animals are a good choice for cooking due to their high saturation.
  • The more saturated a fat is the better it will stand up to heat and oxidation.
  • The more unsaturated a fat is the more harmful it will become when heated and the more prone it will be to oxidation and rancidity - cooked or raw.
  • Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated oils should be stored in dark glass bottles in cool, dry cupboards. 
  • Vegetable and seed oils tend to be very high in (omega-6) PUFAs and low in nutrition and should generally be avoided.
  • Always opt for organic, grass-fed animal fats and extra virgin, cold-pressed olive/coconut oils.
To download this free .pdf infographic click here:
Thanks so much for reading and props if you read the whole thing! You guys are awesome. Remember you can always email me thepaleomodel@gmail.com with questions, blog suggestions, feedback, etc. And if you found this useful you can help me out by sharing this article with your followers using the little social media icons below the references. Thanks!

FOOTNOTES:

  1. Think of it this way… Say you eat 270g (10oz / 2 cups) of cooked kale sautéed in 28g (1oz / 2 tbsp) of butter. The kale is 90 percent of the volume of this meal but only 25 percent of the energy (70 calories). The butter, by contrast, is only 10 percent of the volume of the meal but it makes up 75 percent of the energy (200 calories).

    The point is that fat is an incredibly rich and efficient fuel source that also happens to be very easy to consume, digest and utilize as fuel. 

    Unfortunately our messed up and perverse modern take on diet and nutrition has vilified fat and made us fear calories. How fat became the enemy is beyond me. And we were all a lot less neurotic about food (and leaner) a few decades ago when we didn’t know calories existed.  

    It is an unfortunate fact that we use the same word for delicious dietary fat like avocado and dark chocolate as we do for the disgusting adipose tissue that wobbles on our arms or hangs over our belts.

    Still, blaming fat and calories for making us fat is as stupid as blaming diesel for making trains run faster, further and more efficiently than steam. Ludicrous!

    I laugh when I see restaurants promoting certain meals because they have less calories.

    "This low-fat Caesar salad has only 240 calories.” 

    Why the heck would I pay $10 for a salad with 240 calories and more highly processed ingredients when I can get a tuna salad with eggs and olive oil that has 480 calories for the same price and is also healthier? It’s terrible logic. It’s like paying for a full tank of gas but only getting it filled half way. 

    Anyway, rants aside a Paleo diet tends to favor fats over carbohydrates as the primary source of fuel, with protein consumption fairly similar to a Western diet but much from higher quality sources. 

References:









Sunday, January 4, 2015


Hi David,

Just found your blog today and pretty much read the entire thing in one sitting. 

I'm trying to figure out carbohydrates in my diet. I've been pretty low carb for the past few years, but I'm beginning to feel that perhaps the evidence does point to consuming more carbs for performance, hormonal balance, etc. You seem to feel the same way. I wonder if you have any thoughts on a cyclical ketogenic diet? Such as eating very low carb and staying in ketosis during the week and then "carbing up" on Sunday. This seems to avoid elevated insulin levels for long periods of time while getting all of the benefits of giving your muscles a hit of glucose and helping your thyroid to function better on a somewhat regular basis. 

Do you have any thoughts on resistant starch carbs (seems to be all the rage on the paleo blogosphere currently)?

My other question is in regards to supplements: do you have a recommendation or list of supplements that you take? Also, Vitamin D3 - I try to avoid sun and wear sunscreen every day for anti-aging purposes and take vitamin D. It seems like you do not think this is a good idea and that it would be preferable to get sun daily? If so, how long do you think would be best? Also, antioxidants--do you supplement these (like taking resveratol and such)?

Erm, final question! Fasting and autophagy. Do you think IFing with BPC gives us enough time to get daily autophagy going? Would it be beneficial to not have the BPC to better induce autophagy? I've started doing a weekly 24 hour water fast for this reason, but maybe it's not necessary.

Ok, thanks if you've actually read through this long message! I think your take on nutrition is on the nose and clearly your in super awesome and healthy shape. Kudos!

Jade

---

Thanks for your excellent questions. Clearly you're very well read in the Paleo realm. I'm going to address your questions one by one.

DISCLAIMER: I am not a doctor and this is not medical advice but I'm happy to share my thoughts with you. 


1. Carbohydrates

Let me start by reiterating that I believe the chronic excessive consumption of refined carbohydrates such as flour, sugar and corn syrup is at the root of much modern metabolic disease such as obesity, diabetes and heart disease. 

I don't think that whole food sources of carbohydrate are necessarily "bad" for healthy people and there are many instances of very healthy populations with high longevity who have a carbohydrate-heavy diet from say, rice, corn or roots and tubers. 

Chris Masterjohn did some very interesting work on the prevalence of the amylase gene mutation in humans - an enzyme that helps break down starch. This suggests that we are certainly adapted to digesting rich sources of glucose - more so than other primates - and that increased copies of this gene seem to have an evolutionary benefit. 

And while there are certainly instances of some populations like the Inuit who would have been in ketosis for most of the year, I don’t think that being in a constant and perpetual state of ketosis is desirable or optimal - particularly for fertility and peak human performance. 

Having said that I think we should be fully fat adapted and be in ketosis periodically. The more fat adapted you become the easier it is to switch in and out of ketosis. Intermittent fasting and avoiding carbs and protein in the morning and eating more dietary fat and less carbs are excellent ways to become more fat adapted. If you aren't hungry between meals, don't crave carbs and don't wake up ravenous then that's a good sign you are fat adapted. 

If you aren't doing a lot of high intensity training, aren't looking to get pregnant and/or don't tolerate carbs well then I think a cyclic ketogenic diet could be an appropriate lifestyle for you, so long as you are doing a proper carb re-feed at least once or twice a week. 

Personally, my sweet spot for carbs is about 100-150g a day most days of the week with maybe one or two lower carb days and one or two higher carb days. 

As with most things I think it is important to mix it up. I don't really like the idea of setting a strict schedule for low carb days and high carb days but rather listening to your body and also your circumstances. If you happen to go to a Thai restaurant on a low carb day you want the flexibility to be able to eat some rice if you want, right? 

I know for me that going low carb for months on end screwed me up. Probably because I was doing CrossFit a lot and often having late nights. I started getting lethargic, grumpy and not sleeping well. 

Carbohydrate tolerance varies hugely among the population though. It is a very personal thing and can easily change over your lifetime depending on factors such as stress, sleep, activity levels, season, latitude, etc. 

Some people may eat 150g of carbs a day and develop type II diabetes because they just can't tolerate that amount of glucose over time. Other people could eat 300g a day and have perfect blood sugar control and low levels of inflammation. 

The only real way to tell is to get a glucometer and measure your fasting and post prandial blood glucose over a period of time and see how different amounts of carbohydrates from different sources affect you. I found that my blood sugar rarely goes above 110 even after eating white rice and ice cream, as long as I consume a fair amount of fat and fibre with the meal. So for me I think I can tolerate carbs fairly well. 

You need to self-experiment. Even without a glucometer you should be able to tell if you feel better introducing some more carbs into your diet. 

By the way I am not recommending you go crazy with white rice and ice cream! They certainly shouldn't be staples. 

2. Resistant Starch (RS)

This has definitely been a hot topic in the Paleo-sphere in the last 12 months. For those unfamiliar with resistant starch it is a type of starch that cannot be fully broken down by human digestion so it passes through into the large intestine to be digested by our gut microbes. 

There are four different types of resistant starch, three of these from whole food sources such as unripe bananas or cooked and cooled potatoes and rice. However, it is fairly difficult to get a substantial dose from real foods so typically a refined version of RS such as potato starch or plantain flour is used as a supplement. 

Even though the mechanism isn’t fully understood the anecdotal evidence is that RS improves glucose tolerance (stabilizes blood sugar), can lead to fat loss and other health benefits via an improvement in the state of your gut microbiome (2).

I've looked into it and experimented a bit with potato starch. I didn't notice any benefit and definitely had some issues with gas. Maybe I didn't stick to it long enough.

Even though it is one of the hottest topics in health at the moment our understanding of the gut microbiome remains in its infancy. 

RS has a lot of potential and seems to be helping a lot of people improve their health but it I see it as a very blunt, crude instrument. If RS feeds the good bacteria in our gut, doesn’t it also feed the bad bacteria? Couldn’t RS worsen symptoms for some people whose gut flora is out of whack - like those with Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth? 

It is certainly an interesting area but my gut instinct (see what I did there?) is that it doesn't make sense to eat a refined food such as potato starch in order to get some short-cut benefit. It just doesn't gel well with me and I remain cautious while the evidence for it remains anecdotal at this stage. Many other Paleo professionals such as Dr Tery Wahls feel the same way - that we should focus on pro and probiotics from whole food sources. 

I don't see much harm in trying RS for yourself though, especially if you focus on the real food sources rather than the potato starch. 


3. Vitamin D3 and sun exposure

There is some research out there that sunscreen can be mildly toxic and you may be better off not using it and instead limiting sun exposure to build up a natural tolerance to the sun. But I am an Aussie and where I'm from going out in the summer sun without sunscreen is akin to stirring boiling bone broth with your bare hands - you're gonna get burnt. 

So I think wearing sunscreen on your face to prevent aging is probably a good idea, but I certainly wouldn't be afraid to get some smart sun exposure on your body where possible. You can check the UV on a weather app. Levels of 2-4 are a good time to get some sun without risk of getting burnt. When UV is 4-5 or higher you probably don't want to spend more than 20 minutes without sunscreen. 

In summer you may want to avoid the highest UV times of the day but in winter - assuming you’re from North America or Europe - you probably don't have to worry about sunscreen. I don't wear sunscreen most of the year in New York except for summer. 

In the midday summer sun 30 minutes of sun exposure will produce 10-20,000 IU of vitamin D in someone with pale skin (4). Someone with darker skin will produce less than that. 

Unless you are living in the tropics, and especially if you are darker skinned and living in North America or Europe then Vitamin D3 supplementation is probably a good idea. My vitamin D levels are quite low, which is very surprising considering how much time I spend in the sun. 

5,000 - 8,000 IU of supplemental vitamin D3 can be taken daily pretty safely until you get your Vitamin D levels to at least 35-50ng/mL. Make sure it's D3 and not D2 you are taking. 

4. Supplements

I don’t think it is wise to rely on supplements. Real food sources always trump supplements. The problem is that the supplement industry is a massive and hugely profitable business which is also grossly unregulated. This means there are a lot of snakes out there making false claims and producing very poor quality products. 

Many supplements don’t have solid science behind their proposed benefits and some even may be harmful. 

Having said that, I do take some supplements. In the US you can get some fairly decent supplements at low cost through Amazon. Because it is relatively cheap I am willing to spend a few dollars a month to take certain supplements even though I realize they may not offer a huge benefit. For example I take 10,000mg Biotin for my skin and hair, Milk Thistle for liver function and  Activated Charcoal for when I drink some beers or nasty food. 

The supplements that I do think have value and that I take consistently are the following:

DHA and EPA (Fish oil)

I don’t always eat as much oily fish as I would like to so I supplement with 1000mg of DHA and 500mg of EPA on days that I don’t eat fish. I like this brand:



Magnesium

Due to soil degradation and our modern food system most people don’t get enough magnesium in their diet. I take about 300mg of Ionic magnesium citrate every night before bed. I use Natural Calm. I find that it noticeably improves my sleep.



Vitamin D3

I haven’t supplemented with Vitamin D3 before but now that I know that I have low Vitamin D levels and it is New York winter I am going to start supplementing 10,000 IU a day until I get my levels up and then I will probably stop supplementing until next winter.

Vitamin C

If I feel a cold coming along I will load up on 3,000 - 6,000mg of Vitamin C per day until I get over it. It is such a cheap supplement that even if it doesn’t do much I think it’s worth the placebo. Sometimes I’ll take 1,000mg a day just for maintenance.

Whey Protein

I have a really high quality unflavored whey protein in the cupboard that is 100% grass-fed whey and I use it in smoothies from time to time. BCAAs have many proven benefits and whey is scientifically backed as the best form of supplemental protein. If you are vegan hemp protein is probably the best substitute. Check out my Low Carb High Fat Paleo Super Smoothie.

You may also want to consider eating some seaweed for iodine and oysters for copper and zinc when possible. 

I do not take antioxidant supplements. I think antioxidants should come from food only. From what I’ve heard resveratrol is a waste of money. See the Kresser article below for his supplement recommendations.


5. Fasting and autophagy 

Autophagy, literally ‘self-eating’ is a cell process whereby excess junk and nasties are destroyed and cleared out. It’s like a spring clean of your cells or emptying the trash folder on your computer. It is a very important process for a variety of metabolic pathways and longevity. 

From what I understand autophagy is stimulated by fasting among other things such as sleep, sun exposure, exercise and possibly caffeine. I’ve heard from various sources that protein and carbohydrate consumption can inhibit autophagy but that fat doesn’t. Dave Asprey (the bulletproof coffee guy) says that BPC does not interfere with autophagy and may even boost it. I couldn’t find any science to back this up though. 

Either way I think fasting both with or without bulletproof coffee should still see some benefit from autophagy. 

I find intermittent fasting with bulletproof coffee to be far easier, more sustainable and better from a performance perspective. But, since my mantra is to mix things up I don’t have Bulletproof coffee every time I fast and I certainly don’t have Bulletproof coffee every day. 

I probably intermittent fast five days a week and may have bulletproof coffee on two or three of those days. On the other fast days I just have black coffee or coffee with a splash of heavy cream then workout and break my fast around 2-4pm. On days that I am hungry in the morning I eat breakfast. 

Doing a 24 hour water fast once a week is pretty hardcore. If it makes you happy do it but it’s probably not necessary. Brad Pilon from ‘Eat Stop Eat’ says there isn’t much reason to fast for more than 24 hours. Personally I find any longer than 18-20 hours and I’m fighting myself. 

Remember that the ultimate goal is to find a sustainable, healthy lifestyle that is easier to follow than not to follow. The goal is not perfection but gradual improvement. 

References and further reading: