Animal Fat, Protein & Paleo

Back when I answered some reader questions the other day, I forgot to address a couple of things. Trygve had asked:

Also read that you eat less fat now? why is that? and how much are you eating now of the different nutrients?

He also asked how to get down to 6-8% body fat, a question I’ll answer in the immediate: I’ll let you know when I get there.

First I should clarify that I really don’t know, for sure, that I’m eating appreciably less fat. It certainly seems so (I don’t count anything), but it’s also the case that I no longer obsess over it. That is to say: I just increasingly go with what I have an appetite for and I don’t try to single out animal fat for consumption most times. Sometimes it’s a ribeye smothered in melted butter — or a fat-dominant sauce of my own creation — and sometimes I slightly gorge myself on fruit. There’s an aspect of this that takes time — that is: a year to two. I have a clue on that score, which I’ll save for a future blog. Hint: your body fat composition; i.e., what is your own body fat made of in terms of fatty acids: saturated, monounsaturated, and polyunsaturated, and how long does it take to shift those ratios? Think about that.

I make myself laugh, sometimes. While I was never one to sit in front of a TV and munch on pure junk (well, very occasionally), I did used to munch on sunflower seeds by the pound, in shells. You see, when I was a kid, my dad ate sunflower seeds. He tossed a small handful in his mouth and shelled, ate them, and spit out the seeds one at a time — all “see mom, no hands” style. All very impressive to a five-yr-old. In short order, I could do it too (it’s all in the tongue), and that habit persisted for decades (hundreds of pounds worth). But I’ve never sat regularly and munched sweets, potato chips, or any of the related products. In spite of that, I ballooned to 230 pounds, at least 50 pounds overweight.

But now, if I do munch or graze over a period of hours in front of the tube — which is less and less — I’m just not that desirous, anymore — it’s gonna be nuts and fruit. For fruit, various grapes are my absolute favorite. It’s my new candy. Cherries, sweet and in season, will certainly do too.

The question really raises a much larger issue: the conflation of adequate healthful diet and optimal healthful diet. I describe my diet as “Paleo-like,” which means I generally ascribe to The Paleo Diet as espoused by Loren Cordain. However, I have a really huge problem with his stance on animal fat — which review of his book I’ll definitely get to later. Why? Because the way I eat is in fairly true “paleo” fashion in terms of quality. But he’s telling me that in term of quantity (relative macro-nutrient ratios: protein, fat, carb), I’m not eating paleo. I’m eating too much fat: “artery clogging saturated fat.” He’s full of shit. To wit:

While Stephan is far too much the detached scientist and gentleman, I — on the other hand — suffer no such limitations. That’s why Stephan would never claim to have put Cordain in short pants, but I believe he has.

The Myth of the High Protein Diet

You really owe it to yourself to get a load of that. It’s really simple mathematics. We really can’t eat that much protein for very long (I have tried). For nearly a week I was eating around only 1,000 calories per day, 95ish% protein and I was stuffed — and probably nutritionally starving. My wife had the same experience.

As a result, I will never even experiment with an unsustainable diet ever again (wait until my Oprah post — maybe tomorrow). Why?

The phrase “low-carbohydrate diet” is a no-no in some circles, because it implies that a diet is high in fat. Often, the euphemism “high-protein diet” is used to avoid the mental image of a stick of butter wrapped in bacon. It’s purely a semantic game, because there is no such thing as a diet in which the majority of calories come from protein. The ability of the human body to metabolize protein ends at about 1/3 of calories (1, 2), and the long-term optimum may be lower still. Low-carbohydrate diets (yes, the ones that are highly effective for weight loss and general health) are high-fat diets. [emphasis added]

Stephan always knows how to give you the overview in the first paragraph. Let me get to my point, mix up another cocktail (not paleo), and admonish you once more to read and grasp Stephan’s — what I consider – inviolable deduction.

I think there’s a huge conflation going on. Remember: it only takes one single observation that contradicts the hypothesis to send you back to the drawing board. I’m not going to take time at the moment to cite examples, but what we know is that we have observed healthful primitives (generally no cancer, heart disease, diabetes, auto-immune diseases, etc.) from both extremes. You have the Inuit at about 80-90% animal fat with all but about 1-2% of the balance protein, and you have — on the other extreme — the Kitavans and Kuna, upwards of 50-60% cabohydrate.

What’s the difference? They don’t eat derivative, processed crap produced by large, state-protected corporations marketed  via TEEVEE to your kids, subsidized through the euphemism of “taxation” (in the Animal world: theft; try it: you’ll see what I mean).

Five minutes later: I forget to make my point about the conflation of adequate with optimal nutrition. The point is, we don’t really know. I question whether it’s worth really finding out. My strategy is intermittency in the relative quantitative consumption of naturally occurring fat (animal) and carbohydrate (fruits). Most vegetables are pretty irrelevant to the equation – so eat up.

Richard Nikoley

I'm Richard Nikoley. Free The Animal began in 2003 and as of 2021, contains 5,000 posts. I blog what I wish...from health, diet, and food to travel and lifestyle; to politics, social antagonism, expat-living location and time independent—while you sleep—income. I celebrate the audacity and hubris to live by your own exclusive authority and take your own chances. Read More


  1. Sam on December 18, 2008 at 19:51

    What's your take on the amount of fruit to eat? I ask in light of Peter (@ Hyperlipid) and Stephan (@ Whole Health Source) discussing the rather severe impact of fructose on the liver, even in apparently small quantities.

    I think it was Peter who had an amusing comment about fruit – something like "it's great stuff – to throw in the trash…" 😉

  2. jo on December 19, 2008 at 08:30

    Hey Richard,

    Your free flowing stream of thought style of writing keeps the posts interesting. Sometimes it's hard to follow though, it feels like you were taking down notes in a University lecture and just writing down the parts you wanted to remember.

  3. J on December 19, 2008 at 12:54

    Richard is right, we are well adapted to eat fruit. There actually is a good article written by Tom Venuto a natural body builder who was trying to dispell the notion that fruit was bad. Conventional thinking in the body building world was that fructose had a tendency to be converted to fat because it isnt used by the muscles as glycogen but only replenishes limited liver glyogen stores. He dispelled the myth by showing that fructose is only bad when eaten in extremely high quantities like 50 grams or ore. Fresh fruit su5h as an apple has like 8-10 grams of fructose, berries even less. The truth of the matter is that it would take an impossible amount of fruit to get fat off of and that fructose is only bad with things like high fructose corn syrup. Generally speaking, a diet that focuses on meat, fruit, nuts, and veggies is not likely to get one fat.

    As to the person who posted about dropping body fat percentage, I posted one earlier when I had my body fat measured at 10.7% in october. I cut back on the fruit just a bit(it happened naturally) and I have dropped to 8-9% body fat. 6-1 170 to 6-1 165 or so. Just listen to your body, and it will naturally bring itself to a naturally leaner look over time, but let it happen naturally over time. I crave less fruit then I did before, but it still can be a sound part of the diet. dont feed ur body junk, and do IF fasting, and the rest will take care of itself.

  4. Richard Nikoley on December 19, 2008 at 12:18


    Well I'm pretty sure we're fairly well adapted to fruit, though probably not all the time, not in huge quantities, certainly not concentrated (such as fruit juice) and some of the very sweetest (like bananas) should probably be avoided altogether.

    It may be that lots less to no fruit is more optimal — but I just have no idea how much it could be, particularly in the case of any one individual.

    So, for me, I have decided to have fruit from time to time, and on some occasions, to gorge on it, slightly.

  5. Lily Marlene on December 21, 2008 at 15:52

    Enjoy following your blog and respect your commitment to your health and wellness goals. You are an inspiration.

    Warmest Holiday Greetings to you and yours.


  6. Dave on December 22, 2008 at 14:11

    They also have it at Kroger's. Kroger's has a pretty good Supplement and organic food section.I have had this bread before and while it does not taste like "regular" whole grain bread, I agree that for occasional use, it's pretty good stuff. Sometimes a grilled cheese just really hits the spot. I'll just have to start making my own butter! I'm fortunate enough to have a source of raw milk from a farm just 20 miles away.

  7. Dr Dan on December 22, 2008 at 09:51

    Great post. Its a huge grey area. I have finally accepted saturated fats and thank god because its so much more cheaper. Like you some days I crave saturated fats, others lean protein and other fruits and vegetables. I just go with what I feel like and assume my body is telling me something. I definitely agree with you that if you can find a tribe that is free of the modern diseases of civilisation and they eat a diet high in fat/saturated fat then this tends to show that that it is not the problem. But then you get into the grey area. The Dinka – the healthiest tribe as described by weston price – eat grains. Not processed grains. But certainly carbohydrate loading grains. So does this mean inprocessed grains are ok? Thus we enter the grey area. What do you think?

  8. Richard Nikoley on December 22, 2008 at 10:26

    Dr. Dan:

    I could find only a tiny reference to the Dinka in NAPD:

    "Dinkas, Jebelein, Sudan. This tribe lives on the Nile. Its members are not as tall as the Neurs. They are physically better proportioned and have greater strength. They use fish from the Nile and cereals for their diet. They decorate their bodies profusely with scars."

    Do you have additional references?

    Also, checking out the Wikipedia entry…

    …It appears that in addition to fish from the nile, they cultivate and eat millet, not wheat. Millet is gluten free and there is growing suspicion that huge percentages of people are to some degree gluten sensitive or intolerant without being full-blown coeliac. Also, as most primitive peoples do, they probably soaked, sprouted and/or fermented their grains and this has also been shown to be a wise traditional practice for removing or mitigating some of the natural toxins.

    I suppose I'm going to have to look into this.

  9. Dave on December 22, 2008 at 11:14

    AS far as "grains" go, what is your opinion of "Ezekial Bread".

  10. Richard Nikoley on December 22, 2008 at 13:38


    I think that if one is going to eat bread regularly, or, for the paleo type, an occasional use, this seems like the way to go. I've seen 'em in Whole Foods. They also have a line of gluten and yeast free breads and other products:

  11. JMC on December 24, 2008 at 12:47

    Hi guys,

    I really enjoy this blog, as I enjoy others, like Stephan's blog, which is a very bright guy.

    Nevertheless, I believe that insulting someone who has dedicated the last 20 years of his life to understand how evolution dictates our dietary needs is not correct. I've exchange some e-mails with Cordain and I have to tell you that he's very open minded and is a very nice, polite and professional guy, who provides references and papers so we can look up ourselves.

    Anyway, he has told me that he believes that most of the fat that our ancestors ate came from marrow, which contains almost 70% monounsaturated fat. REgarding saturated fat, from what I understand from the e-mails and from some interviews, he believes that our ancestors ate from 7 to almost 20% of total calories as saturated fat, and that ~50% of it was stearic acid.

    Regarding the eskimos and the Masai, he sent me a paper with an autopsie on an eskimo woman from 500 years ago showing atherosclerosis, and another with autopsies on the Masai showing the same. Nevertheless, since they didn't have inflammation, they didn't die from it. He believes that Omega 6/Omega 3 ratio, wheat and peanut lectin, small dense LDL (which increases due to a high glycemic load diet) are much more important factors than saturated fat in driving Heart Disease, which he is beggining to believe that it may also have an auto-immune component (for a better overview of his work on auto-immunity, which is my field, see: ).

    Here's an interview I found interesting

    And finally the Protein discussion, here's a great article he wrote on the subject (it was a debate with a professor of Nutrition who was vegetarian).

    (I know that this is a crazywebsite, but It is the only place where I could find it for free)

    Well, guys, I hope you don't get offended, but I really like polite and scientific discussions, and I think Cordain may be wrong on some aspects, but if you show him the evidence, he's the type of guy who is willing to change his view. S

    o, instead of insulting, try to read his work and what he thinks (his 2002 book is not the best thing you should read if you want to know more about his ideas, since the book was adapted to be a diet book, and the guy had to change a number of things); instead read his papers and articles and especially read the stuff he and others wrote 10 years ago on a discussion forum: (see the discussions from 1997 to 2000).

    All the best to you all and Merry Christmas and please don't take me wrong: I really enjoy this blog, but I suffer from RA for some time and after reading and applying Cordain's papers and articles, I'm in remission, with better health than ever.

  12. JMC on December 24, 2008 at 12:54

    Oh, I forget: the eskimos are not representative of our H/G ancestors, since we evolved in Africa and I've just finished an article as part of my mandatory work in genetics (I'm a student of Biomedical Sciences, and will continue my studies in auto-immunity) and there's less genetic variation out of Africa than in Africa, which, along with other recent genetic studies, show that the Out of Africa theory is probably correct.

    So, I believe that trying to point the eskimo diet as the diet our ancestors ate is not really correct. Of course, the eskimo lifestyle (including diet) is much more healthy than the western lifestyle, but it is not really representative of the ancestral human Diet.

  13. J on December 24, 2008 at 20:36

    Richard, I have an interesting question. For us to really balance out the omega 3/6 ratio, wouldn't it be relatively difficult given the way meat is now. For example, pork chops are like 1:25 omega 3/omega 6. Beef is pretty lopsided too. I know grassfed beef is "said" to be a lot lower than grainfed beef in that regard, but if one didn't eat a lot of salmon(which is absolutely excellent for omega 3), wouldn't one's diet be troublesome.

    From what I understand of Eskimos, they ate a high salmon diet, and with such a high omega 3 percentage in their diet, it would be awfully hard to get heart problems. As a northerner myself, I sort of model my diet after the Inuit which is high in salmon (have trained myself to eat enjoy salmon and am starting to love it especially if you dont overcook it). I imagine the ancestral human diet varied depending on the climate. It appears as though I am eating a lot of salmon, berries, nuts, and veggies(berries, veggies, and nuts were seasonal I am sure) somewhat like what they would eat in the Arctic/Canada.

  14. Richard Nikoley on December 24, 2008 at 14:36


    I suppose you're right about my demeanor towards Cordain. It's just that reading that book and seeing the continual bromide references to sat-fats sets me off, a bit. In fact, I do hold him in high esteem and recognize a great debt we owe him for the voluminous number of things he's gotten right.

    I'm very glad that you've vouched for his scientific mindedness, and you know what? I believe you. I'll try to keep this in mind going forward. It'll take a while to get through your references. If I have anything, I'll likely wrap it into a new entry.

    BTW, I wonder what Cordain would say about the Tokelauans, a CVD-free population that gets about 55% of total energy from saturated fat.

  15. Richard Nikoley on December 25, 2008 at 08:20


    I seem to recall that roughly speaking, H-G diets are anywhere from 2-3:1 6/3 all the way to 1:4 for Inuit. So, I think it's OK to get 2-3 times more 6 than 3, which is a far cry from the 15-30:1 in the SAD. I don't worry about grain-fed meats in this context because I avoid vegetable oils like the plague, and of course processed foods of ALL kinds, which is where you get most of the 6.

    I like the grass fed stuff and get it when I can, but I also consider convenience a value, so I supplement 3s just to be sure and get my K2 that I might otherwise get from grass fed butter.

  16. J on December 25, 2008 at 19:53

    I actually got the book "Paleolithic diet for Athletes" as a present and I kind of think that the book title itself is a oxymoron. There is all this stuff about carb and premeal/postmeal loading, and its called a paleodiet for athletes. The ancestral populations were not doing ultramarathons or doing these supreme triathlons, so it is moot to even come up with a diet that is "paleolithic for athletes." Cordain's research is very good, and he hits all the points right but again there are many skepticisms.

    He says that those eating bacon and sausage are not following a present day paleodiet because of the salt content and because the meat came from feedlot animals, then he advocates diet soda…….very questionable.

    He acknowledges that a high protein low fat diet is really bad and that our ancestors ate the fat(marrow and organs), but then he advocates eating only lean meat. He says that the paleolithc people really did not favor the lean meat at all. Why call this fat trimming of meat idea as paleolithic when it is nothing like our paleo ancestors and then promote it as a present day paleolithic diet. This trimmed meat comes from feedlot animals no?

    He acknowledges that our modern hybridzed fruit is way different from the tasteless sour fruit back in paleolithic times, but then again recommends modern fruit as part of a present day "paleolithic diet" implying that it replicates the diet of our ancestors.

    To me Cordain has good info about ancestral diets, but to put a stamp on his recommendations as the "paleo diet" doesnt' make sense. In reality there is no such thing as a paleolithic diet that can be applied to today, but instead perhaps a better way of putting this diet is "a bang for your buck natural food diet".

  17. Richard Nikoley on December 25, 2008 at 20:09

    Good points, J. You hit on most of the stuff I have problems with. As far as I'm concerned, if diet soda and today's sweet fruit are in, then why not sausages? You can get them uncured, and, i think it's a great way to get a bit higher fat content. Then there's pate, where you can get both fat and organ meat.

  18. J on January 5, 2009 at 12:21

    I think Cordain makes sense and gives a foundation for eating natural whole foods. It terms of specifics, I think its about individuality and what they think are better taste/health choices for them.

    I know that Cordain recommends a ton of Omega 3s, and unlimited amount of seafood(except for tuna, shark, marlin, swordfish, king mackerel, etc. ) He also recommends that one gets these from eating a ton of seafood, but what do you think the risks are from mercury toxicity with daily fish eating? I eat a ton of salmon and trout, and I was advised to lower this by friends because of possible mercury content. If I read Cordain, he doesnt think that trout/salmon are problems but how about anybody on this message forum? Thoughts on daily fish eating and mercury problems?

    I love fish….and would hate to have to limit it.

  19. JMC on January 5, 2009 at 11:19

    I believe he only recommends diet soda as a transition phase, since it's not easy to give up on sugar cold turkey, especially for americans (who, and I apologize for this, have the worst diet in the western world – I live in Spain).

    As for fruits, well, he tried to recommned low glycemic load fruits, but he recognizes that these can be problematic for people prone to insulin resistance, not only because of the glycemic load, but also because of the fructose content (on his website in the Q&A section he discusses many of these questions that you guys are rightly posing

    Regarding lean meats, that has to do with the fact that he believes that by consuming fatty meat from domesticated animals (as opposed to wild game) will be vastly different in terms of fatty acid balance than what our H/G ancestors got by eating marrow and brain (which he believes were the main sources of fats for H/G). As so (and he know it is far from perfect), he recommends lean meat + fish oil and olive oil (marrow has aproximately the same amount of monounsaturated fat as olive oil).

    I've listen to an interview he gave and apparently his diet is similar to mine: no diet sodas or fruit with a lot of sugar, but instead fish, seafood, wild game, organ meats (when they are organic, because of toxins) some nuts, olive oil, berries & veggies and Vitamin D & Omega 3 supplements.

    Happy 2009

  20. Richard Nikoley on January 5, 2009 at 11:24

    Good synopsis, JMC. Thanks.

  21. Richard Nikoley on January 5, 2009 at 12:27

    I agree about the individuality. Also, intermittency. None of this could possibly be an issue if you eat as much variety as possible. That's why I don't think mercury contamination in fish is an issue for me. While I might have it three times in a week, I also go a week or two without, now and then,

  22. JMC on January 6, 2009 at 03:49

    J and Richard,

    I believe mercury & other toxins in fish are an important issue and I actually read two papers showing it seems safer to use a fish oil supplement than to eat fatty fish (although Alaskan wild salmon has been shown to contain much less mercury and sardines are generally safer than tuna and swordfish and that is the main fatty fish I eat here in Spain).

    Regarding Cordain, he acknowledges this problem in an interview he gave and in one of his latest newsletters (I can't find it right now) he also talked about oxidized cholesterol in canned fish.

    I guess this why he, himself, supplements with Omega 3 fatty acids.

    And yes, he also says that for him The Paleo Diet is a starting point and that there isn't one sole diet for everybody, but general principles, according to our evolutionary past.


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