Dear Mark: Fat Triggers Marijuana-Like Chemicals, Another Anti-Meat Report, and Teff

How was the weekend for you? Mine was kinda tough. Great weather beckoned all weekend, and my paddleboard and I shared mournful glances full of longing, but I was stuck inside working on my talk for the upcoming Ancestral Health Symposium at UCLA. I think it’s going to be a good one, though, so hopefully the work pays off. Okay, enough complaining. It’s Monday, which means another round of questions and answers. This week, we’ve got a pair of scary studies that seem to condemn fat and red meat as the nutritional factors ultimately responsible for all that ails us as a society (what else is new?). I also field a question on teff, a grain used in traditional Ethiopian cooking, from a reader who plans on moving there.

Dear Mark,

Could you comment on this study? Family members have been smugly forwarding articles about it, and I can’t take it anymore.

Body’s Own Marijuana Chemicals Trigger Love of Fat



Sure. It’s a pretty interesting one. Rats were “sham fed,” which means they were fitted with a tube that kept swallowed food out of the gut. Since the rats could swallow and taste food normally, this allowed the researchers to test whether the food was acting on the gut or on the taste buds. They either got a vanilla Ensure shake, a high sugar drink, a high protein drink, or a high fat drink. Only sham feeding the high fat drink caused a response by the endocannabinoid system. The tongue tasted fat and relayed a message to the brain, which then sent word to the gut to begin producing anandamide, a potent endocannabinoid that attaches to the same receptor sites as the exogenous cannabinoids found in marijuana and, like marijuana, gives us the munchies. Since the endocannabinoids make us feel good, a food that prompts their release is a food that we are driven to eat. That’s why they’re there: to promote certain beneficial behaviors.

Okay, but can this be extrapolated to humans eating a diet of real food? I remain unconvinced. The real kicker lies in the fat that they used – it was corn oil, which is an industrially-produced food high in omega-6 linoleic acid that simply doesn’t appear in nature. If you want to extrapolate the results of this study to humans eating a diet of fried corn chips, Hostess cupcakes, and other seed oil-enriched fare, be my guest. I’d even agree with the possibility that high omega-6 junk food is inducing mindless, endocannabinoid-induced bingeing. But I’m not worried about your butter, your olive oil, or your coconut oil. Each are wildly different foods composed of various fatty acids in varying amounts. Each has a different effect on the animal that consumes it. “Fat” is not a monolith.

For some opposing takes on the study, see Emily Deans’ post and then read Don Matesz’s interesting take.

Dear Mark,

I’ve been getting this article emailed to me by multiple people.

Eating Meat Linked to Disease, Report Says

What are your thoughts on it?



I’ve seen this floating around, too. It’s nothing new, and I mean that quite literally: this “report” consists of old epidemiological data drawn from pre-existing studies that I’ve probably dissected before. The main thrust of the “Meat Eaters Guide” is the environmental impact of various animal foods – it was put together by the Environmental Working Group, after all – with the “health effects” tacked on.

I have a real problem with the studies that condemn meat, especially red meat, for several reasons:

1. The studies almost invariably conflate red meat, processed meat, and any food that contains meat. The headlines scream “red meat,” but the prose slips in “red and processed meat,” as if the two are interchangeable. So, red meat includes such fare as hot dogs (with white flour buns), hamburgers (with white flour buns), and Oscar Mayer bologna sandwiches. I’ve even seen studies where they include any food that employs meat as “meat,” like pizza (it’s the wafer-thin pepperoni, I guess). When they do make a distinction between fresh red meat (steaks, roasts, stews) and processed “red” meat, things look a whole lot different. Now, why didn’t the EWG include that last study in their report? For an example of what they mean by “meat,” see the photo used in today’s article up above. Is that your idea of eating meat?

2. Since red meat is a reviled, evil food, the people most likely to indulge are also doing loads of other unhealthy things, like smoking, not exercising, eating sugary junk food, eating fast food, and drinking more heavily. Primal folks are an aberration, what with their red meat-eating, heavy thinglifting, junk food-avoiding ways.

3. They rarely take cooking methods into account. The way you prepare meat can affect its potential for carcinogenicity. Overcooking at high heat is very different from braising at low heat. A burnt sausage is entirely different than a pork shoulder dressed in anti-oxidative herbs and marinated in wine.

4. They ignore the protective, anti-carcinogenic compounds inherent in meat. We know that CLA protects against cancer and we know that carnosine, an amino acid found in red meat, protects against DNA damage. Why are these never mentioned?

5. They conflate CAFO meat with grass-fed meat. The two are not the same. Grass-fed has more minerals, more CLA, and more omega-3 fats… and those are just the differences we know about! That said, I’m not even convinced conventional meat is a big health risk, especially compared to processed meat.

And that’s why I’m not alarmed, and, in my opinion, nor should you be.

Hi Mark,

My husband and I are planning to move to Ethiopia in a few months. Ethiopian food is served almost ubiquitously with injera, a spongy, sour bread-like substance made from the grain Teff. Where does Teff fall on the “grain continuum”? Just how non-Primal is it? Given how popular Ethiopian food is becoming in the U.S., I would think a post on Teff would be of interest to your readers!



Teff appears to be one of the “better” grains. It contains no gluten (which is the most problematic anti-nutrient), is lower than most grains in phytic acid (which binds to minerals, making them essentially useless when eaten), and its most common incarnation – injera – is always fermented (which breaks down any residual phytic acid load). A quick look around the celiac community finds that teff is pretty popular there. If full-blown celiacs are using it, you can probably get away with some every now and again.

Whenever I eat Ethiopian, I’m the guy who asks if they use real teff flour and if the injera is fermented traditionally. Be aware: many, if not most Ethiopian restaurants now use wheat flour in their injera, since it’s cheaper than pure teff. If you ask, they’ll sometimes have traditional injera made with all teff, so be sure to ask. As teff is more readily available (and cheaper) in Ethiopia, I don’t think you have to worry about sneaky wheat when you’re living there.

So, good for an infrequent cheat, and absolutely essential when eating Ethiopian food (not necessarily because of the taste, although that too, but because the injera is used in place of silverware – to actually pick up and eat the food).

Keep the questions coming, folks. I love to answer them.

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.

If you'd like to add an avatar to all of your comments click here!

63 thoughts on “Dear Mark: Fat Triggers Marijuana-Like Chemicals, Another Anti-Meat Report, and Teff”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

  1. I would rebut the “Eating Meat Linked to Disease, Report Says” with the fact that not eating meat (a low cholesteral, low saturated fat diet) is conclusively linked to prostrate and breast cancer. The cynics will eat their over processed cancer-on-a-plate while I enjoy my steak.

  2. Studies showing that eating meat is bad just crack me up. Step outside America for a moment, open up a history book and the answer is obvious. Nope.

    Unless they are suggesting that what brought us as a species this far is a bad thing… but that’s a philosophical question not a physiological one.

    1. Agreed – it makes me mad (even in The China Study) where they look at epidemiological data and generalize a portion. Does anyone think to separate out meat from grass fed and pasture raised animals from that of processed meats, meats from factory farms, those containing antibiotics and growth hormone, meat from animals fed fed feed laced with ethanol?

      I swear they just want the no meat message to be conveyed. Maybe then we will eat more of their subsidized corn and wheat.

      1. Millions do want the no meat message to be conveyed. It’s sad. Who knows when it will stop. When people live x lifestyle they want everyone else to live x lifestyle.

        Same is true for us primals. BUT, I mean, we are eating whole food. We do think about sleep. Play. Sunlight. Cheating once in a while if we want – 80/20 rule. We are fit. We are alive and doing well.

        I am not going to tell anyone they have to dismiss grains. I’ll just tell them why I feel incredible just about every second of my life.

        It’s because I am primal.

      2. Turns out the China study was a massive example and study in manipulating data to fit with your hypothesis (carrying on the great tradition of the Lipid hypothesis). Check out “”.

    1. La Tortilla Factory makes their gluten-free tortillas from teff.

  3. Great points on the EWG study. I thought it was excellent from a “crash-course on Grassfed” perspective and they went much further to assess many of the lesser considered contributors. However the overall thesis of “red meat is inherently bad” was really off the mark (no pun intended) on their part.

    The lack of clarity on the accounts of many who make these types of claims is so frustrating. I would hope that they might have the integrity or intelligence to make a differentiation between Grassfed meat and say, an OM wiener.

    Oh well, Rome wasn’t built in a day…

  4. Thanks Mark. I will continue to eat my grass-fed red meat without fear of disease, and that’s good since I eat A LOT of it(I even get funny looks from the other people in the buying club when it’s delivered. What, you’ve never seen a guy get 50 lbs. of meat at a time before?)

  5. Question on the processed meats… I eat bacon cause I love it. I cure it & smoke it myself from the one pig/year we pick up at an organic, pastured farm in Maine. So I know that we eat almost exactly 25# of bacon in a year between two of us. I also usually cure one or two hams… Adding another 10 or so #. Should I stop curing? or is this one of the things that I should consider part of my 20% cheat?

    Also, almost spit out my lunch on the screen at “If full-blown celiacs are using it, you can probably get away with some every now and again.” You should see the crap available to celiacs these days – gluten free oreos anyone?

  6. No wonder last night when I had to stop my bike ride home at a picnic table and bust out the big bag of munchies I brought.. because for some reason I felt famished.. I confused myself because I chose to finish off the jar of peanut butter with a spoon before starting on the bunless burger and vegetables.

  7. Thanks for the breakdown on that meat article! My husband and I spend a lot of time with extended family in social settings (with LOTS of food usually), and they have all been very supportive of my dietary choices…but they also don’t seem to understand the difference between good meat and processed junk. Their intentions are great, but I can’t seem to get them to realize that grass-fed, higher fat cuts of meat are a better choice for me (and them, if I could get them to eat Primal!) than something like processed, packaged, “extra lean” deli meat. This has given me some great ideas on how to explain it to them! Thanks!

  8. I have decided over the years that you can drive yourself crazy with all the food “studies” out there. I was having this discussion with my moms husband the other day. He has a doctorate in food science and is very interested in health and nutrition. He was telling me that every single person has different reactions to various foods. These reactions are linked to your ancestors, what was there diet? Environmental, issues, and a whole myriad of things. If you have the time and interest, you can test your body with all different foods, and see what your body likes. Food allergy’s are a perfect example of what your body can’t process. People with European ancestry love potatoes, but some one from Africa, probably can’t eat them. A perfect example is the Native Americans in this country. When the white mans diet was introduced, the incidence of diabetes and obesity soared. They were certainly eating a primal diet before that. My view is, eat healthy, listen to your body and how it reacts to food. All natural is always best. And stay active.

  9. Good stuff! I’d mostly like to say though, how I stoked I am about seeing you speak at AHS next week, Mark! Woohoo!

  10. Fat triggers the release of endogenous chemicals which encourage us to eat it? Now why would we have evolved that mechanism I wonder? Because it’s bad for us? lol

    1. Exactly! lol…
      Also, saturated fat is what triggers bile from the gallbladder to be dumped into the intestine to aid digestion and nutrient uptake.
      Not eating enough animal fats leads to gall stones.

      My mother has been eating a high fiber and sugary/insulingetic diet her entire life. She just had 3 different surgeries at the age of 67 to take 6 gallstones out of her body, the size of cherries! She’s been avoiding animal fat and red meat her entire life.

  11. lol @ K; what a contradicting statement! You mean to tell me, the fat that our ancestors ate, to evolve us into what we are now is bad for us? Hmm. I guess that makes sense.

    I literally did a face palm. People are so quick and eagar to accept the information put out for them, that they aren’t willing to question or confirm alleged statements….

    or just lack common sense. Usually both.

  12. Fat doesn’t trigger “marijuana chemicals”, marijuana triggers “fat chemicals”.

    1. Yes, it’s odd to think our brain would have evolved a pathway for marijuana. Like fruit piggybacking on our sweetness receptors, marijuana is piggybacking on our fat pathways.

  13. i feel so self-sufficient today, knowing I can make my own endocannabinoids!

    1. Careful, if word gets out, the USDA might team up with the DEA to make eating fat illegal because it leads to drug use. LOL!

  14. Oh, here we go again: “Fatty foods like chips and fries…” Notice it’s never “carby foods like chips and fries” with these people. I realize this is only personal experience, but when my friends and I smoked pot in college (yes, I smoked pot in college in the mid-80s — go figure), I do actually remember what we craved: white bread and breakfast cereal. I remember (yes, I really do remember) standing in the kitchen of my frat house at 2am, going through about four bowls of Lucky Charms. In other words, carbs and more carbs. It wasn’t the stick of butter that was just as handy, and it sure as hell wasn’t the bottle of Wesson corn oil.

    1. I saw a research talk in grad school that gave some evidence that females react differently to pot than males in terms of the “munchies.” Specifically, females dont get it as strongly. Caveat is that the study discussed was primarily done on actual guinea pigs, but in my own experience I can definitely agree that pot…whether I did or did not do it >.>…did not give me the munchies.

      HOWEVER, I get the “alcohol munchies” something terrible, and I ALWAYS crave the carbiest carbs that ever carbed. Pita chips and hummus was my favorite in college. If you presented me with a plate of pita chips and hummus and a plate of bacon, i would go for the chips every time.

  15. The theory of saturated fat and cholesterol from animal fats that leads to high levels of cholesterol in blood, leading to fatty deposits in the arteries and thereby resulting in a fatal condition like arteriosclerosis was popularized by a Russian named Kritchevsky, who conducted ALL these tests on RABBITS.

    So wait a minute, aren’t rabbits herbivores?

    1. Thank you for remembering this idiots name for me.He’s the one who created the “sat fat hypothesis”.When you introduce a foreign substance into the body,it gets sick.It’s the same thing as feeding us grains (cows also,their feed is drugged,so they can tolerate it)we now have type 2 diabetes,cancer and heart disease.It really upsets me,to see how stupid people are.

  16. Yay injera! One of the saddest parts of primal/paleo eating for me has been changing the way I eat at ethnic restaurants, and changing which restaurants I eat at. Despite living in The Mission in SF, I rarely get Mexican or papusas anymore, and I find myself sticking to just curries at thai resturants instead of noodle-based dishes.

    But I have been most worried about Ethiopian, since the injera is fully half of meal. While I certainly wont feast on it every week, or even once a month, I now feel like I can have the occasional special ethiopian treat without stressing out.

  17. My friend who makes her own Enjera uses a combination of teff, barley and wheat flour. She does naturally ferment the batter though. It takes 3 days to make it this way so I assume some people use shortcuts such as adding leavening agents.

    I have a goat shoulder I’m planning on turning into a delicious Ehtiopian stew. I will be buying my Enjera at the store though.

  18. It’s really a shame that the reports fail to differentiate between processed and grass fed meat. What I’m curious about is what everyone’s take is on vegetarianism being touted as more environmentally friendly? I am a meat eater myself, although I don’t generally eat it more than once a week.

    1. “Vegetarian” is largely a meaningless term, beyond “doesn’t eat meat.” Are we talking about a vegetarian diet like Mark’s wife (who if I recall correctly eats some seafood and avoids all the foods Mark suggests we avoid) or a vegetarian eating a bunch of processed soy and other grain products?

      A good number of vegetarians eat food that comes from large industrialized farms. These are wreaking havok on our enviornment, destroying the natural habitats of many animal species and destroying our topsoil faster than it can be replaced–topsoil that is typically replaced by worms (which are destroyed in commercial farms) and the very grass-fed runinants (cattle) that vegetarians eschew in their diets. Meanwhile, I obtain most of my food, including my meat, from small, local farms. Who’s leaving a larger carbon footprint?

      And it is not a matter, as many vegetarians and vegans claim, that all that grain that is going to feed animals
      could feed people instead and therefore a vegetarian diet is doing less damage. It’s a matter of total paradigm change–all grain consumption production is non-sustainable–it is destroying our enviornment regardless of whether it’s being used to feed people or livestock. Omnivorism is not the problem–modern commercial farming is.

      There are many good books on the topic–Michael Pollan has written several. Do a little research. There’s a lot out there.

      1. Those are all very interesting points. I was referring more to a sensible, whole foods based diet, as processed anything (containing animal products or otherwise) would obviously be detrimental. Thanks for the Michael Pollan tip. Just looked over his website. I think I may delve into this further. I’m getting a bit tired of all my vegetarian friends nagging me about my occasional steak;)

  19. HEY Brother…here is a dose of GROK and the best wishes for a super time at the symposium on ancestral health..GROK EM-YOU GROK- AND GROKS RULE- dont forget your Jerkysnacks in that pocket for quick brain satisfaction Treat…>>>

  20. I just don’t understand how anyone can believe that regular saturated fat that comes from an animal is at all represented in this study. If it were true, wouldn’t lions be wandering around the savanna going, “Dude, I could really go for some Zebra right now! Even though I just ate one.”? Does not happen.

    1. The body has to make sure it doesn’t get over-stuffed so it must have some feedback mechanism that kicks in. For example when you start scratching a mosquito bite it feels good and you want to keep scratching but eventually it either feels less itchy or it starts to hurt and you stop. If you didn’t stop, you’d scratch yourself raw.
      With the munchies you might eat or drink past your normal satiety point or even until your stomach feels bloated and uncomfortable but eventually you’re going to stretch it to its limit and be too full to want to eat anymore and then probably also feel lazy as your body will want to be inactive as it digests the huge meal you’ve given it.

  21. Thats great for Ethiopian food (YUM!), but what about the other great food traditions of the world that employ the ol’ bread-as-delicious-utensil trick? Whats an aspiring Grokette to say to her Moroccan mother-in-law-to-be when presented with a steaming platter of Moroccan deliciousness and the only thing around to get it to her mouth is equally beloved homemade bread? People hold traditional food cultures very dearly…

    1. Indian food addict here–for now have just stopped eating it rather than deal w/ the (beautiful, beautiful) basmati rice (already gave up the bread d/t known wheat allergy). Guess I need to learn how to make the sauces and use them on meat, fish and veggies.

  22. I have never been known to eat a brick of butter (unless it was to make a point) but you had better get some dark meat at the start of Thanksgiving dinner or else there will be little left. Linoleic acid appears to be the binge-tastic fat. That might be a problem, since too much linoleic acid is certainly a bad thing, but nobody should be making these sorts of ridiculous extrapolations.

    1. RE: Thanksgiving dinner: A long time ago, I learned not to make a whole turkey unless I really needed it at a large gathering to make a point — as in a “presentation.” After lots of arguing over who gets the dark or white meat, I started roasting parts and pieces – lots of thighs/legs (but mostly thighs) to offset the white meat. I found that most folks WANTED the dark meat, but were afraid to ask for it (or eat it) because they knew/thought that they were supposed to be eating only white, dry, tasteless white meat. Too bad for them cuz that left all the good stuff for the rest of us. Instead of listening to their bodies, they listened to who?? the FDA?

  23. we’re all one here, to help one another get home…back to where we come from. we’ll learn that one way or another. until we do, we’ll keep trying. As I see it, when I eat an animal I’m helping it evolve to the next incarnation the same way i’m helping the plant soul…it’s its way of helping me. I just don’t agree with the way we create food to feed us.

  24. We make injera at least once/wk. I make the traditional teff injera. Our youngest daughter is from Ethiopia so I’ve become an ‘expert’ injera maker. It’s a long and somewhat difficult process, but it’s very good with the spicy Ethiopian dishes that we make with it.

  25. Got an email from EWG saying that Mario Batali (of all people) wants us to sign a petition saying that we’ll eat meat-free for at least one day per week. He says that not only will we help the environment, we’ll lose weight too! Wow, Mario Batali, thanks for giving me your uninformed input…and if this is what he’s doing to lose weight, I’ll take my meat any day. Haven’t seen Batali lately, but I’m pretty sure he’s still pretty huge.

  26. I saw a commercial on TV last night with Mario Batali in it and I was repulsed by how fat, red-faced and greasy he looked. Why on earth would I want to look like that? Yuk! Give me my grass-fed beef, my bison and my free-range eggs any day!

  27. I cannot get enough of your blog Mark! Every post is packed full of useful information! no matter if your primal or not, i would recommend it to anyone trying to survive in this sugar packed world! 🙂
    Thanks alot & please keep up the great work!

  28. Just a note, if you are interested in trying Ethiopian food or teff for the first time, it can give you some really, really powerful indigestion until you get used to it.

    I have the gut of a goat, and I went to have Ethiopian after not having it for a year or so, and it caused me some serious pain/discomfort.

    If this happens to you, don’t write it off entirely, but give yourself a few chances to get used to it in small doses.

    1. ?? teff allergy?? After being blindsided by a millet allergy I’ve learned to be very careful w/ ANY new food.

  29. Why didn’t they try telling us about the wonder drug called sugar.

    Also, why do they waste resources and our time with studies that make no sense. They have no idea of what they are looking at, as you can see from what they fed the rats.

    They have no tangible proof that grass fed beef causes anything but good health.

    Please keep up the good work Mark and perhaps we can dethrone these experts. The research into what American’s consume will never be honest.

    The devil is in the details, and we can’t expect to really know what is being tested or reported.

  30. The mouse study has another fatal flaw – by draining the stomachs, the researchers made the design especially unrealistic. Who does that?? I’ve heard of one case of a bulimic woman who had a tube implanted for a similar purpose, but gee. Do we know if we’d see these effects if the mice actually had digested the food? Maybe the mice would have stopped eating if the food hadn’t been drained out of their stomachs. They might have (gasp) stopped eating. Or, since 95% of serotonin is located in the small intestine, maybe we would have seen some other mediational processes in brain biochemistry… just sayin’…

    I agree with Mark that corn oil is a problem, but really, the draining of the stomachs is the gaping hole (in my eyes).

  31. Thanks for dispersing these arguments. I talked to a MD friend and he admonished me to stay away from red meats and also mentioned that the Paleo way of eating has not been proven via any long term studies but he says it seems like a healthy way to eat provided you eat organic grass fed meat and avoid processed meats as you mention in your post.

  32. Can someone answer these questions?:

    1) Who was the one that said cholesterol causes heart disease, stroke, heart failure, and high cholesterol?

    2) Who was the one that said saturated fat caused heart trouble?

    3) Who was the one that said animal protein caused cancer, depletion of bone mass, and “acid” body?

  33. Hello Marc,
    Is millet a grain or a seed?
    is it ok to have from time to time if I am following paleo?