Why Lean Meat?

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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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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26 thoughts on “Why Lean Meat?”

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  1. 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!

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

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

  4. @ 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.

  5. 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!

  6. 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 http://www.grasslandbeef.com.

  7. @ 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!

  8. 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 fat. I do pretty intense fasts, 30 hours, with a intense workout at the end, before eating. I can definitely see me coming around to 70-80% from, fat, 15-20% protein, and just a bit of carbs, infrequently.

  9. 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 of the omega-6 fats from – processed vegetable oils. Not chicken, not turkey, not duck, not goose, not pork, not eggs, not lamb, not butter, not beef…

    Nuts and seeds are also extremely high in omega-6 PUFAs usually. All except coconut (1%), macadamia (2%), and hazelnut (9-10%) have more than pork or duck or goose fat. So, shouldn’t people be warned not to eat lots of nuts and seeds, and not to eat ANY PUFA oils, before they worry about eating the grain-fed meat or taking very unstable fish oils?

    Cordain’s emphasis on lean meat does not make any sense when you consider that chicken fat has 10 x more PUFAs than beef fat and 8-10 times more than butter fat. Plus, nuts and seed oils are far more dangerous than even chicken fat, IMO.

  10. 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

  11. 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.