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Let me introduce myself. My name is Mark Sisson. I’m 63 years young. I live and work in Malibu, California. In a past life I was a professional marathoner and triathlete. Now my life goal is to help 100 million people get healthy. I started this blog in 2006 to empower people to take full responsibility for their own health and enjoyment of life by investigating, discussing, and critically rethinking everything we’ve assumed to be true about health and wellness...

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January 15, 2008

Why Lean Meat?

By Mark Sisson

There’s been a lively discussion going on in the comment board of yesterday’s “Dear Mark: Pondering Protein” post. I want to make myself clear about what I mean when I say “lean meats”. Here is a markus’s great comment and my reply:

can’t see why you seem to think that Paleolithic man ate lean meats (certainly not on purpose anyway)

many anthropologists and ethnobiologists since the turn of the century noted traditional societies actively sought out the fat – Aborigines come to mind. Never mind the Samburu and Masai herdsmen or the North American Indians or Eskimo (the latter did not all eat fish).

Are you influenced by Cordain?

His views on animal fats and hunter gatherers is less about evidence and more about keeping his reputation amongst modern nutritionists – who are ignorant of the health benefits of animal fat.

The cholesterol hypothesis has in fact been falsified, but Cordain lost his argument about animal fats in this debate:

Here is a quote from Colo on Cordain:
“Cordain claims in his writings that the wild game available to our ancestors was leaner than the domesticated animals we eat today, and on the allegedly rare occasion when our ancestors did get naughty and eat high fat animals, the saturated fatty acid content of these wild animals was proportionately lower than it is today.
Cordain obviously knows little of rhinos, hippos, mammoths, etc, all hunted enthusiastically by many Paleo populations and all carrying a hefty load of body fat (an adult hippo, for eg, carries 90kg of adipose tissue). Cordain must also be unfamiliar with east African nomad populations such as the Masai and Samburu tribespeople, that have been observed to eat very large amounts of animal fat year round and yet exhibit outstanding cardiovascular health.

As for the claim that the fat from wild game is proportionately lower in saturated fat than domesticated meats, a quick check on the USDA database shows otherwise. The fat from wild bison, for example, has a similar percentage of saturated fatty acid content to beef fat. Animals like antelope, buffalo, caribou, wild boar, elk, and so on contain 30-38% saturated fat–the fat from domesticated pork, by comparison, contains 37% saturated fat.
Cordain also harps on about how the individual saturated fatty acid profile differs in modern-day meat, which I think is really getting pedantic. If it bothers you, just eat grass-fed meat for crying out loud, which will have the fatty acid profile nature intended!”

Keep it coming


My reply:


I am definitely a “high-fat” guy and I am starting to think we may have to alter the bias we show on this site towards “lean meats.”

Because 99% of the meat consumed in this country is grain-fed, most of the fat content in our meats is very high in Omega6 fats. Since I also harp on the fact that inflammation is a serious factor in disease (and a high 6:3 ratio increases inflammation), I have a bit of a dilemma in giving diet advice. My recommendations of “lean” presupposes that most of my readers do not have access to grassfed grass-finished meats (which are lower in Omega6 and higher in Omega3 and whose fat reserves do not act as repositories for all the chemical shortcuts factory farmers take – as migraineur points out). Therefore, getting protein from those readily available lean cuts of meat and then “supplementing” fat from fish, fish oils and vegetable sources has been my standard recommendation for people interested maxing protein and limiting Omega6.

I do agree that Primal man probably ate mostly high-fat organ meats. Thus, I am not really a follower of Cordain (who, I agree probably also had to “temper” his advice to hold onto his nutritionist buddies.) Furthermore, I personally never met a saturated fat I didn’t like.

As a result of all this I’ll contemplate backing off the “lean meats” recommendations now, since most of my readers “get it”.

Thanks for the input Markus – and all of you. This blog/newsletter is always a work-in-progress and I reserve the right to change my mind now and again. Your comments here help me further refine what I believe to be an already well-designed theory of diet, exercise and living. Keep writing to us.

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14 Comments on "Why Lean Meat?"


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10 years 3 months ago

great posts… and replies. I just read Cordain’s “Paleo Diet for Athletes” so this post couldn’t have come at a better time! Keep ’em coming!

Kim in MT
10 years 3 months ago

I’m never sure why people seem to think that grassfed beef is so hard to get a hold of. Perhaps it is at the grocery, but a quarter of beef from your local rancher in a normal freezer (but not much else). And almost everyone has a local grassfed rancher:

Kevin Burnett
Kevin Burnett
10 years 3 months ago

Now that was a great discussion. Just don’t tell anyone on the Cross Fit board or you’ll be run out of town 🙂

Regina Wilshire
10 years 3 months ago

In addition to the resource, there is also for anyone looking for sources of grass-fed meats (along with local produce).

10 years 3 months ago

@ Kim:
I don’t know, I seem to have a hard time getting a hold of grass fed beef myself. There are no local grassfed ranchers here (south orange county, CA – land is just too expensive for many farms anymore. Closest one on the eatwild page is north of LA). The only place I know of that has it is a Henry’s about 15 mins. from me and they have a very limited supply only occasionally. I’m just not too keen on ordering any meats online, so unless someone knows a reliable source here I’m SOL.

Kim in MT
10 years 3 months ago

Natalie- A quarter of beef lasts my husband and I about 4-5 months and we could even fit a half of beef in our 3/4 size chest freezer. So, I dunno, maybe it’s worth the drive, plus you could then get to know your rancher and see their operation. Also, I thought that Southern California had anything and everything one could possibly want readily available. Could it actually be that we have a product in Montana (other than snow) that you can’t get in SoCal?!?! LOL!

Matt Metzgar
10 years 3 months ago

I’ve been thinking about this issue a good deal myself. It would have been very difficult for hunter-gatherers to get enough total calories through lean protein alone. I just wrote about this the other week (sorry, not trying to be self-promotional):

10 years 3 months ago

Thanks for making this post, Mark. I was kind of shocked to read your previous post recommending “lean meats,” as I didn’t have you pegged as someone who’d succumbed to that nonsense. (I almost made a comment similar to markus’s, but didn’t have the time.)

Also, for those who don’t want to buy a whole side or quarter of grass-fed meat at a time, you can get much smaller cuts at

10 years 3 months ago

@ Kim:
The closest farm that sells beef is 5 hours away, so I really don’t think that’s too practical. Yes, I know I can order off the internet – my point is simply that for some people it really *is* hard or expensive to get grass-fed beef!

Richard Nikoley
10 years 2 months ago
Mark: Catching up on a huge backlog of posts, but man am I glad to see this. When I fist found Cordian’s website several weeks ago and read the FAQ, I was startled by the negativity about fat. Yea, like hunter-gatherers trimmed their steaks of fat… My own experience is that as I have incorporated intermittent fasting into my whole routine over the past couple of months my appetite has been changing dramatically. At first it was a hunger for nice big steaks to the exclusion of everything else, however, over time it has moved squarely to one thing: animal… Read more »
Bruce K
9 years 7 months ago
Something that people seem to be ignoring is that the amount of PUFAs in meat varies from about 2% in beef to 21-23% in chicken/turkey skin. Chicken has 10 times more PUFAs than beef, so if you eat skinless chicken you get the same amount of PUFAs as you do in 30% fat ground beef. Chicken, broilers or fryers, meat and skin, raw Beef, ground, 70% lean meat / 30% fat, raw Duck, goose, and pork fat have about half as much PUFAs as conventional chicken and turkey fat. And let’s not forget where most Americans get most… Read more »
Bruce K
9 years 7 months ago

Sorry, the link above was for whole chicken with the skin – 3.2% PUFAs by weight. Here’s the data for whole chicken, without the skin – 0.7% PUFAs by weight, the same as 70/30 ground beef. I have not ever seen 70/30 hamburger. The fattiest kind I’ve seen is 73/27, which has 10% less fat. So a person eating the fattiest beef is better off in omega-6 intake than someone eating chicken minus the skin. Keep things in perspective.

Chicken, broilers or fryers, meat only, raw

4 years 7 months ago

It’s either/or… either get the fattiest meat/poultry/fish you can from pastured or wildcaught sources OR get the leanest meats from crappy CAFO sources and cook/eat it with gobs of coconut oil and butter.

2 years 10 months ago

Excellent blog post. I absolutely appreciate
this site. Keep it up!