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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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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