Thursday, May 7, 2015


Hi guys,

Long time no see! 

I apologize it's been some time since my last post. New York winter was unforgivingly brutal and kinda froze solid my creative flow. Thankfully I managed to escape on an amazing vacation to Tulum with the fiancé, then to Barbados to renew my visa, and now it's well and truly spring and I finally feel myself again and ready to write. 

I created The Paleo Model Blog because I'm passionate about nutrition, fitness and writing and because I genuinely enjoy sharing my knowledge and experience with you. I don't make any money from this blog and it takes a lot of time to create good content so sometimes it's difficult to find the motivation. The last few months being a case in point. 

But fear not! I'm back. And I hope you enjoy this post that has been percolating in my grey matter for some time. 

BACKGROUND

I often get complimented on my skin. "I hope this isn't creepy but you have the softest skin I've ever felt" is actually a variation on a phrase I've heard more times than any normal human should. 

FACT: A few years ago I was a shirtless greeter for Abercrombie & Fitch at the flagship London store. This involved getting my photo taken with hundreds of people a day... With my shirt off.  

Essentially a lot of people have touched my skin (in a non-creepy way... for the most part).

I'm half Italian and half Irish-descent Australian. Dad's side has thick, smooth, tanned olive skin. Mum's side has thinner, freckley, dry, pale skin (sounds worse than it is). My skin is a mix - a bit on the thin and freckley side but not dry and I do tan. 

Genetically I would say my skin is quite soft, clear and resilient, if not a little orange. I have mild carotenemia, a condition whereby my body doesn't properly excrete carotenoids from food so these natural pigments accumulate in the skin giving it an orange tinge, which makes me look like I always have bad fake tan on. I don't help the cause by eating several carrots every day! But all in all my skin is pretty good and I'm thankful for that. Yet, like all of us I'm still prone to sun damage, wrinkles and aging. 

While genetics clearly play a role in the expression of physical characteristics like having flawless skin or having acne, I still believe that your lifestyle and environment are the biggest determinants as to the health of your skin. 

And while we can't do anything directly about our genetics (yet), we can in fact indirectly impact the way our genetics are expressed by manipulating our lifestyle and environment. 

This ability to affect gene expression via lifestyle change is now being explored through the field of epigenetics, and it gives hope to all of us with a genetic disposition to obesity, heart disease or acne.

Now is probably a good time to stress the fact that I am not a dermatologist nor doctor and I am certainly no expert on skin care. 

I do, however, know a fair bit about nutrition and have read and listened to a bunch of dermatologists, doctors and health experts talk about the skin. I can also talk about my own experience, whatever that's worth. 

Firstly let me emphasize that even as a model I do not make much of an effort with my skincare routine. I do, however, pay close attention to my diet. Which brings me to my first point:

Good skin comes from the inside.

Your skin is a reflection of your internal health. Yes, genetics plays a role, as does your environment. If you work in a chemical factory in northern Norway and smoke two packets of cigarettes a day you're probably not going to have glowing skin no matter what you eat. But if you live in a reasonable environment, like most of us, and you take some measure to limit direct hazards to your skin - like the Australian sun - then you should be able to improve your skin by improving your diet. 

It's what you put in, not what you put on. 

L'Oreal doesn't want you to know this but you can't buy your way to good skin with cosmetics or hygiene products. 


My Nonna, at 87, has better skin than most Aussie women in their 50s and her idea of a skin care routine is soap, a damp face cloth and olive oil. I'm 99% sure she's never put anything on her skin that couldn't be added to a salad or baked in a cake. And unlike Mum she's certainly never spent $100 on 50mL of Estée Lauder Resilience Lift Cream. 

You see, if you've eaten minimally processed, whole, real foods for your entire life - much of which grown in your backyard and nearly all of which cooked in your own kitchen - your skin should reflect your healthy diet. 

Healthy fat is essential to healthy skin. I attribute Nonna's (and my) soft skin to the high quantity of healthy fats in our diet. For me this means daily slugs of extra virgin olive oil, spoonfuls of coconut oil and regular consumption of eggs, nuts, avocado, oily fish and butter. 

Healthy dietary fat is the foundation of good skin. Fatty acids and cholesterol are the building blocks of our hormones, our connective tissue and our skin. Restricting fat intake is one of the worse things you can do for your skin and overall health. Eat more fat!

On the other end of the spectrum certain processed foods are kryptonite for your skin. The two biggest enemies to your skin are sugar and dairy, with industrial vegetable and seed oils being a close third. 

All three of these modern dietary mainstays can contribute to inflammation - the insidious, nasty type of systemic inflammation that when in excess of what the body can tolerate manifests itself as skin irritation, breakouts, acne, rashes and itching. In more severe circumstances unchecked chronic inflammation can lead to (or at least correlate to) autoimmune and metabolic disorders such as rheumatoid arthritis, diabetes and heart disease. 

In particular, anything that tends to chronically elevate insulin - such as a high (refined) carbohydrate diet and/or dairy (I've spoken before about the insulinogenic effect of dairy) - will tend to worsen the health of your skin. 

It's a hormone thing. Anything that throws your endocrine (hormonal) system out of whack will result in funky stuff happening to your epidermis. 

This means that stress is a huge factor for your skin. You need to manage your stress. Likewise, good sleep, adequate (but not excessive) exercise and sun exposure, and avoiding things like the contraceptive pill and excessive alcohol consumption will all help optimize your hormones and thus get your skin as healthy as possible. 

Ultimately, healthy skin comes from the inside. Optimizing your nutrition and other lifestyle factors is the only tried and true method to achieving healthy, glowing skin. 

On the flip side, you do also need to pay attention to what you're putting on your skin. All those creams and lotions might be doing more harm than good. 

I don't like to fear-monger but cosmetics and personal hygiene products are full of nasty junk. Industrial chemicals, skin-drying alcohols, endocrine-disrupting parabens and cell-breaching nanoparticles of metal oxides are pervasive in all but the most natural of skincare products. 

Just go and pick up your shampoo or moisturizer and read the list of ingredients. It's terrifying. 

A good general rule (which my Nonna unintentionally lives by) is not to put anything on your skin that you couldn't eat. 

It may seem silly to think of drinking Vaseline shooters but we absorb substances transdermally (through the skin) just as we absorb substances via digestion (through the gut) so those chemicals listed on your volumizing shampoo are entering your body one way or another. 

Now I'm not telling you to go and throw out your entire bathroom cupboard and start concocting your own deodorant out of apple cider vinegar, baking soda and coconut oil (although that would be pretty bad-ass). And I'm not saying you can never use a cleanser or moisturizer again. But it would be wise to reconsider which products you're putting on your skin and whether you can find a safer more natural alternative. 

For example, it is becoming increasingly evident that most sunscreens could be quite harmful. A 2014 study by The Environmental Working Group (EWG) found that 75% of the 2000 sunscreens they tested contained potentially toxic and carcinogenic compounds such as oxybenzone, which has been linked to cancer (Kunisue, 2014). I suggest downloading the EWG app and only choosing sunscreens that get a safety rating of four or below. 

To conclude, I'm going to leave you with some actionable bites of advice... 

The Paleo Model's skincare tips:

1. Minimize your consumption of sugar and dairy. Specifically, avoid added sugar (soda, sweets, treats, packaged foods), refined carbohydrates (grain/potato/cereal products), high fructose foods (dried fruit, agave, "natural" sweeteners) and dairy sugars (lactose) and dairy protein (whey and casein). Pure dairy fat in the form of butter of ghee is fine.

Note - Not everyone needs to avoid dairy or restrict sugar to have good skin but for most people with bad skin dairy and sugar are the main culprits. 

If you have acne I strongly suggest you completely eliminate dairy for 30 days and limit sugar/carbohydrates to only vegetables sources and less than three pieces of fruit per day. After 30 days slowly reintroduce to discover what your trigger foods are. 

2. Minimize your consumption of processed modern foods, particularly industrial vegetable and seed oils, refined grains and other non-Paleo crap. If you don't understand what I mean by this read some of my other articles. 

3. Eat more fat. Replace those refined carbs with healthy sources of whole food fats such as oily fish, eggs, nuts, coconut oil, olive oil, butter, cacao, avocado, etc. 

4. Don't put anything on your skin that you wouldn't eat. Try olive oil and/or coconut oil as moisturizer. Substitute natural, organic or even home-made products for commercial chemical ones. 

5. Optimize your hormones by improving lifestyle factors such as sleep, stress management, exercise, supplementation and by limiting exposure to environmental toxins and things that can disrupt hormonal balance like excessive alcohol, phytoestrogens, the contraceptive pill or overtraining. 

6. Drink plenty of good quality water. Coffee and some alcohol should be fine as long as you stay hydrated. 

7. Get some sun exposure, not too much, and use a safe sunscreen. Don't get burnt.

8. Leave your skin alone. If you have oily skin then using drying (foaming) cleansers, acne treatments or harsh medications, or simply by over-cleansing, scrubbing and moisturizing your skin can actually make matters worse by disrupting the natural balance of good and bad bacteria on your skin, causing more breakouts.  

If you optimize your nutrition and lifestyle you can mostly leave your skin alone except for some basic cleansing and moisturizing once or twice a day and it will sort itself out. 

Less is more. 

And ladies, don't wear too much makeup! Truth be told most of us lads don't like a face full of makeup. Natural beauty is far more attractive than a mask of makeup. Basically if we can tell you're wearing makeup you're probably wearing too much. Also, powder mineral makeups should be avoided as there is some evidence that the metal oxide particles can lodge in your lungs and potentially cause harm down the road.

If you follow these basic guidelines there is no reason why you can't walk around with glowing, blemish-free skin your whole life like my Nonna! Who knows? Maybe one day someone may also say to you, "wow, I don't mean to be creepy but your skin is incredibly soft". 

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PS - Thanks for reading and if you liked this post please share it with a friend. Every extra person I reach makes writing these that little bit more worthwhile. And follow me on Instagram @davidsciola for shameless selfies and travel pics. 

Sources

Kunisue T, Chen Z, Buck Louis GM, Sundaram R, Hediger ML, Sun L, Kannan K. Urinary Concentrations of Benzophenone-type UV Filters in U.S. Women and Their Association with Endometriosis.  Environ Sci Tech 2012 Apr 17;46(8):4624-32. Epub 2012 Mar 29. http://breakingnews.ewg.org/2012sunscreen/

Wednesday, March 18, 2015


I can trace my passion for nutrition and fitness back to 1997. I was a pudgy twelve year old and I wasn’t happy about it. I was sick of my self-identity as a tubby kid. I wanted to be a healthy, strong and fit guy. I wanted to be a leader. So I gave up sugar and started doing push ups in my bedroom every night. I never looked back. 

My self-education into health really started to deepen after I finished my undergraduate degrees. I was traveling the world modeling and had ample free time to delve into the scientific literature and nutrition research. But it was only when I discovered Podcasts about three years ago that I found the ideal vehicle for ingesting incredibly useful and succinct nutrition and fitness information anywhere at anytime. The beauty of the podcast is the interview format. You can listen to an expert in one particular field of study distill their entire life’s work into one hour of good Q & A. 

When you’ve listened to hundreds of doctors, trainers, researches, anthropologists, athletes and authors share their raw knowledge you begin to see certain patterns emerge - certain truths that seem to transcend different disciplines and biases. 

I’d like to share with you 10 major truths I’ve learned from listening to over 1000 hours of health podcasts. 

1. The pursuit of health is a highly individualistic one. Every human is infinitely complex and so must find their own path to wellbeing. There is no one-size-fits-all diet or training regimen. Veganism, Paleo or CrossFit may work for you but it won’t necessarily work for everyone.

2. There are no shortcuts to health and fitness. Biohacking is an interesting field but no supplement, piece of equipment or guru can help you cheat your way to your goals. There is no such thing as a free lunch when it comes to your health. Making good choices, consistently, year after year is the only tried and true method to long term success.

3. The effect of exercise on health is an inverted U-shaped curve. Zero exercise is bad. Some exercise is good. Too much exercise is bad. If you are not an athlete you probably don’t require as much exercise as you might think. Integrating lots of movement, like walking, into your lifestyle is key. Then a couple of short, higher intensity “workouts” per week is probably enough to achieve your fitness and body composition goals, given that your nutrition, sleep, stress-management and otters lifestyle factors are optimized.  

4. Don’t trust anyone whose primary concern is financial gain. You begin to sense which health ‘gurus’ are in it for the money and which ones genuinely want to help people. Be very skeptical of any health advice from corporations and government bodies. It is clear that we have been grossly mislead for decades by organizations with vested interests. You don’t need five servings of dairy or six servings of whole grains a day to be healthy, as much as the dairy and grain industry would like us to believe it.

5. You are not a slave to your genetics. The field of epigenetics is teaching us that the expression of our genes is influenced by our environment. This means that our lifestyle choices greatly impact our physiology and health. It is within our power to prevent disease even if we are predisposed to it.

6. Everyone should have some kind of mindfulness practice. So many of the most successful and productive people I have listened to have a mediation practice. It seems to be very common among high performing people. But you don’t necessarily have to meditate to rest and reset. A long walk by yourself, some intentional breathing or a good yoga practice can be incredibly effective ways to maintain inner balance.

7. Intangible things like gratitude, relationships, humor, purpose and meaning are crucial to health. You can have an ideal nutrition and fitness regimen but if you are bitter, resentful, lonely and unhappy you are not in good health. Health is far more than the the physical. Wellbeing means having a healthy disposition. You need to nourish your emotional being. There’s no point having a well fed body if you have an undernourished soul.

8. Perfection is not the goal, consistency and small improvements are. "Never let perfection get in the way of improvement" is one of my mantras. It’s much better to be mostly good over a lifetime than to be perfect for a few weeks or months. Trying to be 100% perfect is a certain path to failure.

9. A sustainable, easy and enjoyable lifestyle is the goal. There is no point doing anything that you cannot sustain over the long term. Find what works for you - that you can maintain with little effort - and just stick to it.

10. Your idea of optimal nutrition and fitness will evolve over time. Sometimes you will be wrong but it doesn’t matter. Maintain an open mind and be flexible, not dogmatic. All that matters is that you do the best you can with your current understanding and always strive for improvement. 

My top five health podcasts: 






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Thanks for reading. You guys rock!

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.
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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. 

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