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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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March 31, 2008

Dear Mark: Saturated Fat

By Mark Sisson

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. GoFlickr Photos (CC)

Further Reading:

I’m Not Afraid of Fat

Are There Any Good Carbs?

Why the Atkins Diet Works

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18 Comments on "Dear Mark: Saturated Fat"


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Mike OD - IF Life
10 years 23 days ago
Mark nailed it. Sat fat is not the cause of heart disease…that’s just something passed down that if you asked someone why…they say something like “Well they say it is bad for you and clogs your arteries”….Ummm, who is “they” and how exactly does it “clog” your arteries. The bigger damage is PUFAs (polyunsaturated fats) and Trans Fatty acids that promote inflammation and damage in our artery lining that CAUSE the buildup of plaque. Also sat fat is KEY to cell membrane wall health…the outer gates of the city if you want to look at it that way. Cancer cells… Read more »
10 years 23 days ago

I’ve been trying to find data on dioxin levels in soil in various parts of this country, and haven’t had much luck. There’s more data on Europe, though, and there are some pretty seriously dioxin-contaminated areas in Europe.

Dioxin gets transfered to the soil not just by acid rain, but also through air, through water systems, through past industrial activity, and through past non-organic farming practices. I’m worried about dioxin in meat and dairy fats and, like you, I’m just eating the best quality I can find and hoping for the best.

Food Is Love

Marc (with a C)
10 years 23 days ago

So what about fried(and deep fried) foods, what about those saturated fats from the oils, is a deep-fried brocolli just as healthy than as a boiled broccoli?

10 years 23 days ago

Marc (with a C),

Depends, but in general, no. Most deep-fried foods are fried in canola oil or hydrogenated vegetable oil, so the saturated fatty acids are a small percentage, and, as Mike noted as bad, most will also have high polyunsaturated ratios. Also, high heat degrades most oils that aren’t saturated, which is also undesirable. Now if you were frying your broccoli in rendered, grass-fed organic beef fat, the answer might be yes.

Mike OD - IF Life
10 years 23 days ago

Like Scott said, fried foods are all usually vegetable oils which are PUFA and highly unstable…free radicals gone wild in your body is not good….much like having lots spring breakers in your hotel. Lots of damage. I would say boiling is also not ideal as you may lose alot of the water soluble vitamins (B vitamins mainly) from the veggies in the water, so unless you are using the water/broth as well, I would recommend steaming.

10 years 23 days ago
Good post Barry Groves recently pointed to an interesting study: Cutting down on omega-6 is better than increasing omega-3: “For the last quarter of a century we have been advised to choose veteable oils and margarines in place of traditional fats such as butter. As a consequence, the omega-6 fatty acids which predominate in these vegetable fats have overwhelmed their cousins, the omega-3 fatty acids. So, more recently, we have been exhorted to increase our intakes of omega-3s to make up for the imbalance between the two. This has led to a much higher intake of these polyunsaturated fatty… Read more »
10 years 23 days ago
I am a proponent of consuming saturated fats. I do not think that saturated fats cause atherosclerosis or heart disease. Hindus living in and from the Indian subcontinent have an alarming rate of dropping dead from heart attacks. No. My question is: what WAS responsible for the high heart disease rate during the 1940s, 50s and 60s? And why is the death rate lower now? Is it just drugs? Is it that smoking is less prevalent? If you look at photographs of people back in the 50s they looked really really sick and mostly skinny. They were bigtime smokers. It… Read more »
10 years 22 days ago

Hi Mark;

Great site, visit on a daily basis.
Question, would it be possible for you to add a button that would print the daily post. While I know it’s a hassle, I’ve seen some sites that have the ability to print a copy of the post w/o having to print the whole blog.

I post many of your articles on our company bulletin board.

Thanks again for doing such a great job.


10 years 22 days ago

are there any good sites for grass fed beef recipes? i know they have to be cooked diffrently than grain fed so that’s why i’m asking.

10 years 22 days ago

Bubba29, I’ve never cooked grass-fed beef any differently than grain-fed beef, unless you count “more often” or “with exuberance” as differently.

This week, I cooked some ground, grass-fed beef with browned onions, garlic, tomato puree, nutritional yeast, and broccoli-kale (Italian kale that’s sprouting into flowers). It was delicious.

Food Is Love

Miguel Carrera
Miguel Carrera
10 years 21 days ago
Hi Mark. I really enjoy your blog. Regarding fats and Coronary heart Disease and fats and paleolithic nutrition, there are a few points to be made: First, on the molecular level, some saturated fatty acids (lauric, myristic, and palmitic acids) decrease LDL receptor activity and increase LDL production. I think that this evidence can’t be ignored, as the evidence that most mammals and hunter-gatherer populations have low total cholesterol. Nevertheless, when it comes to estimating the intake of saturated fatty acids in the paleolithic era, one has to rely on the animals that still exist, and the data shows that… Read more »
8 years 9 months ago
This… “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.” Just turned on a light bulb, simple as it is. Animals are fed grain, saturated fat content goes up… We eat grain…why the hell would anything else happen? Seems this is another way to look at how conventional wisdom has missed the point (stop eating foods that don’t belong in… Read more »
8 years 6 months ago

The Treasury Department determined that the government did not have the legal authority to block the current payments by the company. ,

8 years 5 months ago

I’ve been on the Rosedale diet for 4 days and am having severe leg cramps. Do you think it is related to the diet that I have carefully followed?

8 years 8 days ago

Dear Mark

My husband and I have been following your blog for some time now and have seen the benefits, in particular my PCOS and insulin resistance have improved significantly, just wanted to ask you which oil you recommend for shallow frying, coconut oil, grapeseed oil or rice bran oil? Also, what is your view of the impact of drinking a cup of tea and coffee a day on insulin resistance? Thank you

6 years 7 months ago

@jan. Lag cramps are just lack of potassium and magnesium.. when you start the Rosedale diet, you will diresse more in the first 2 weeks thus all you needs is just to take some magnesium and potassium and you will be right as rain in no time! For me, within just 3 weeks I felt amazing, and it is now almost 4 years later!

6 years 3 months ago
Hi! thanks for this very useful and often misunderstood info. I am unclear on the last paragraph when you say that whether eating higher or lower fat cuts of meat doesn’t matter, but morese go for ‘clean’ meats over grass-fed meats.. what do you mean by ‘clean’? ..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… Read more »
Comment Tomber Enceinte
2 years 3 months ago

How do you get people to visit your blog and good blogging sites?