Modern Paleo obsession with Fat

by 353 · May 23, 2010 at 06:54 PM

Hello, I'm new to Paleo (coming from a veganesque diet), and fat currently makes up about 40-50% of my daily calories (pemmican, coconut, nuts, etc) which might be on the low side for some. Seems like everyone in the Paleo community loves their fat and I still haven't figured out why. I would think Paleolithic peoples did not have butter, many did not have access to coconuts, nuts where sporadic, and rendering animal fat probably didn't happen much if at all. Is it just that modern paleo eaters eat fewer organ meats that we need to get fat from other sources?

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10194 · May 21, 2010 at 10:54 PM

@Jason T

This may sound annoyingly paradoxical -- but I would caution you not to think of the Paleo diet in terms of what food you can eat or not eat. Or what macro-nutrient you should focus on.

Get a little more meta. Think about it in terms of replicating the evolutionary metabolic milieu. See here at Kurt's site:


This should lead you to understand why many Paleos (myself included) prefer fat.

363 · May 23, 2010 at 04:03 AM

The high-fat paradigm comes from PaNu, who was heavily influenced by Taubes, who argued for the carbohydrate hypothesis (that carb, particularly refined carb, cause us to gain weight and are at the root of today's health problems). Thus, paleo has inherited the low-carb style diet from Taubes. There isn't much difference between a LC paleo's diet, and a hardcore Atkins low carber. Though each may be operating within different philosophical frameworks and doing it for different reasons, the diets are similar.

I like to think of it as optimizing within the paleo framework. Cordain gives you free reign to nuts, vegetables, fruit, seeds, and lean meat -- as if they are all equal. Carbohydrate sources' nutrients (potatoes, fruit) pale in comparison to LC products like cheese, meat, and eggs. Thus, by eating LC, you are maximizing nutrients and minimizing toxins. Fats themselves play a number of important roles in the body, while carbs are primarily just fuel (PaNu explains this somewhere).

Besides, what is paleo? The paleolithic diet varies widely between location and time period. PaNu has selected what he believes to be the optimal paleolithic diet -- one high in animal products and relatively low in carbohydrate. It's more of a diet guided by evolutionary insights than the paleolithic lifestyle mimesis of Cordain.

I started out on a Cordain-style diet as well, but am now full-on PaNu. The benefits that people boast about on paleo (healing of injuries, lack of illness, disappearance of acne), have come largely only after taking up the PaNu diet.

Though I miss the nut and fruit gorging of my Cordain days, I'll take my heavy cream over those any day :)

4533 · May 21, 2010 at 11:06 PM

It's only a story from one culture, but consider that the Native Plains Indians would push a large number of buffalo off a cliff band in the heat of summer. They would consume the brain, marrow, liver, heart, tongue, back fat first. The lean would be left to waste or dried for a ration of jerky at a later time. It was certainly possible to eat very high fat in Paleolithic times!

621 · May 23, 2010 at 02:07 PM

Because saturated fat is one of the most nutrient-dense foods on earth, and the fat-soluble vitamins play a role in just about every important process in the body.

A high-fat, moderate protein, moderate or low carbohydrate diet is the one we evolved on. I disagree with Cordain that our ancestors favored lean meats. There is plenty of evidence to suggest they prized the fatty tissues and organs, and the cultural reference to Native Americans that Tim provided is only one example.

It is possible (though I don't advise it) to live on a 100% fat and protein diet. The same cannot be said for carbohydrate. Although I have nothing against vegetables, and eat them regularly, studies consistently show that there is no benefit to eating the "5 servings a day" that conventional diet authorities and paleo gurus like Cordain advocate.

170 · May 23, 2010 at 05:01 AM

I could be completely wrong about this, but for some reason it seems like Cordain tries too hard to avoid being categorized with other low-carb/high-fat diets...

On thepaleodiet.com's FAQ section Cordain even goes as far as to continue the demonization of saturated fat - citing it as dangerous. I have to wonder if this is truly his opinion, or if he thinks this is one of the only ways to avoid classification with Dr. Atkins?

Personally, I eat fewer than 80g of carbs a day, and most days I'm lower than 50g. I don't even think about it and find myself wanting grass-fed meat/healthy fats if I do even get a craving.

I agree with Patrik's recommendation to the PaNu prescription - less thought required and way easier to comply with in my opinion!

Check out John Welbourn's blog for a good post on Saturated fat - http://talktomejohnnie.com/diet/saturated-fats

From the paleodiet.com FAQ "The diet doctors with their low-carbohydrate, high-fat diets offer us an alternative, but this nutritional gambit is nothing more than a short term ploy to lose weight that in the long run is unhealthy because of its reliance upon fats (bacon, butter, fatty meats, cheeses, etc.) at the expense of healthful fruits and vegetables.... My research group and I believe that the high amounts of dietary saturated fats in the western diet promote atherosclerosis because they down-regulate the LDL receptor (a concept for which the Nobel prize in medicine was awarded in 1984). We do not believe that dietary saturated fats are the sole or even main cause of atherosclerosis, but rather are a part of many dietary elements that promote heart disease."

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