Dear Mark: Saturated Fat

Dear Mark,

In one of last week’s Cheap Meat discussions, you said something about ratios and saturated fats and how saturated fats aren’t really the issue in your mind. I might have been missing something in the conversation. Can you fill me in?

The issue of ratios within animal fat was raised by reader Jaana as she shared Cordain’s discussion of the varying polyunsaturated fat content and corresponding omega ratios in muscle meat versus different organ meats. Cordain compares wild game (that we can assume are comparable to the meats our pre-agricultural ancestors ate) with the domestically raised livestock we eat today. As a general rule, the muscle meat of conventional livestock today has less polyunsaturated fat than wild game does. Conventional domestic meat also has more saturated fat than wild game.

I’ve said before that the hype over saturated fat is overblown in many respects. Saturated fats are required for many crucial functions in the body. They make up 1/2 of cell membrane structure. They enhance calcium absorption and immune function. They aid in the body’s synthesis of the essential fatty acids and provide a rich source of fat soluble vitamins. My beef isn’t with the beef fat. It’s with the carbs – the grains that conventionally raised animals are fed as well as the buns, chips and other assorted carbs we modern humans eat with the side of beef.

This is the part conventional “wisdom” doesn’t get: saturated fat in the diet doesn’t directly translate to saturated fats in the blood. It’s all how it’s metabolized. Saturated fat levels in the blood are influenced by the prevalence of carbs in the diet and the subsequent carb-generated lipogenesis process.

And it’s my opinion that CW’s hobby horse takes attention away from the more legitimate concerns surrounding saturated fat intake. An animal’s fat stores carry the highest load of antibiotics, feed pesticides and herbicides, and hormones. Obviously, this didn’t matter 20,000 years ago, but it matters a whole heck of a lot in the modern world. One way to ameliorate the situation is to eat organic meat. (And, to a lesser extent, grass-fed and -finished, but we covered that last week.) Another way is to eat lower fat meats. (Even the best organic, grass-finished meats will still carry dioxins in their fat stores as a result of acid rain in most regions of the country.)

Finally, as reader Charles noted in last week’s discussion (thanks for the lead, Charles), really the polyunsaturated fat content in either grass or grain fed beef isn’t that substantial to begin with. Grass-fed is better, but it’s not worth excessive concern or breaking the bank.

Whether you choose to eat higher fat meats or lower fat cuts, my message is the same. Look for the cleanest meat you can find and afford. Sure, shoot for grass-fed and finished when possible, but clean should trump grass-fed by a long shot. Beyond this, arm yourself with a diet and supplement regimen that offers copious antioxidants and plenty of omega-3 fatty acids to achieve a 1:1 ratio.

Thanks to everyone for all their comments and questions. There’s nothing like a vigorous and spirited discussion! Keep it coming.

Daniel Y. Go, Flickr Photos (CC)

Further Reading:

I’m Not Afraid of Fat

Are There Any Good Carbs?

Why the Atkins Diet Works

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About the Author

Mark Sisson is the founder of Mark’s Daily Apple, godfather to the Primal food and lifestyle movement, and the New York Times bestselling author of The Keto Reset Diet. His latest book is Keto for Life, where he discusses how he combines the keto diet with a Primal lifestyle for optimal health and longevity. Mark is the author of numerous other books as well, including The Primal Blueprint, which was credited with turbocharging the growth of the primal/paleo movement back in 2009. After spending three decades researching and educating folks on why food is the key component to achieving and maintaining optimal wellness, Mark launched Primal Kitchen, a real-food company that creates Primal/paleo, keto, and Whole30-friendly kitchen staples.

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