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The Big Fat Debate

Posted by cavewomanrunner on November 17, 2008

Obviously, there has been much debate about how much fat we should consume in our diets. Cordain, the co-author of The Paleo Diet for Runners, has done research and promotes a lean meat, veggies, fruits and nut diet – with percentages around 20-30% protein, 50% carbs, 20-30% fat. Many people say his research is not correct, that cavemen and women actually ate more fatty meats and threw the lean meat away.

The International Network of Cholesterol Skeptics (THINCS)has a great discussion on the cavemen’s diet. Here are some points I found interesting:

“The general message…is that a variety of diets kept people in primitive cultures free of degenerative diseases and at least 16 cultures had very high saturated fat diets. Of course, all the food was fresh, with whole grains, full levels of minerals, high levels of antioxidants plus B vitamins to prevent homocysteine problems, and adequate folate levels to prevent neural tube defects and fragile X syndrome (both linked to low folate levels). Missing were refined carbohydrates, oils containing trans fats (before margarine}, refined sugar, canned and frozen foods, in fact, no foods in containers at all.”

Eskimos are said to have diets of almost 70% fat – and little to no problems with degenerative diseases. I’m sure that they also didn’t have refined carbs, trans fat, refined sugar, and food in cans.

One researcher even states that fat consumption should be closer to 80%:

” In my opinion, the 30% fat allowed in the Zone is much too low. It should be over 80%. In my opinion, The Zone is trying to be all things to all people – to be politically correct. It is heading in the low-carb direction, but playing safe by not going too high on fats. This is not healthy for anyone. The amount of protein we need is approximately one gram per kilogram of lean body weight – whatever our evolutionary background. The only other macronurient necessary is to provide energy. You should use carbs as an energy source as do the Japanese – if you have their evolutionary background, or you use fats as an energy source as should the northern Eurasians with an evolution through 2.5 million years of Ice Ages and a carnivorous background. Under no circumstances should the two protocols be mixed. For those of us whose ancestry is northern Eurasian, the best source of energy is fat – the more saturated the better as energy density is dependent on hydrogen saturation. This leaves carbohydrates in the position of being merely condiments – something to make the meal more tasty. Carbs should not be thought of as a major energy source for anyone whose evolutionary ancestry is northern Eurasian. It is the carb/fat combination that is at the root of the current health problems in these areas.”

Note: The best source of energy is fat – carbs should not be thought of as a major energy source.

Still others say that although our ancestors ate fresh foods, and probably more fatty meats than Cordain allows, the secret to their health lies elsewhere:

“One very important point that is typically overlooked is that the Paleo era was also free of many other negative health influences–chronic stress (Stone Age man did not rush off every morning to catch the bus, did not have to work at a boring unrewarding job for decades on end, did not stress over meeting mortgage/car/college/alimony/widget-and-gadget repayments, etc, etc), drug use, and alcohol abuse. His kids were not stuck in the stupefying institutions we call schools, where they were pressured to confirm to a bizarre array of mind-numbing and often downright harmful trends adhered to by their peers.

He rose with the light and fell asleep soon after dark, rather than pounding down his melatonin levels by flicking on the lights and watching the replays until 3am. He exposed his skin to plenty of vitamin D-producing sunshine or, if he lived in colder climates, sought out fatty vitamin D-rich foods. Importantly, Paleolithic man had no choice but to be physically active.

As Uffe has rightly pointed out, there is no “one” true Paleo diet, as exact dietary composition would have varied widely from one geographic location to another. There were however, a number of common characteristics of Paleo nutrition, the major ones, IMHO, being;

–complete lack of refined, processed, nutrient depleted pseudo foods, which now comprise over two-thirds of our diet;

–lack of refined vegetable seed oils;

–a lower dietary ratio of omega-6:omega-3 EFAs;

–far higher concentration of beneficial micronutrients per ingested calorie of food;

–minimal to nil consumption of refined carbohydrates (honey was seasonally available in some areas);

–lack of calorie-containing beverages;

–absence of dairy products;

–absence of cereal grains and legumes;

While macronutrient composition would have ranged from hi-carb, low-fat to hi-fat, lo-carb, I firmly believe from reviewing the evidence that a far higher proportion of Paleo peoples would have eaten higher protein and lower carb diets than those typically consumed today. Cordain and his team have even conceded this point. Unfortunately, they propagate the low-fat Paleo myth by pretending that all Stone Agers lived off gazelles, caribou and kangaroos, ignoring the evidence showing that humans were also prolific hunters of Bison, Mammoths, Hippos, Rhinos, and other fat-rich game. They also ignore the mountain of evidence showing that saturates are not responsible for the evils they are frequently accused of–nor do they consider the evidence linking saturates to decreased free radical stress and thrombosis.”

I personally would have to agree that meticulously counting and restricting good fat is not a good idea. The modern “Hollywood” fads that promote low-fat diets are looking at the typical American diet  that is full of all of the non-Paleo things listed above. For those folks, going low-fat might be a good idea.

If you’re eating fresh foods though, having good fats in your diet is great! And going beyond the 20-30% intake limit might not be a bad thing either. I think the important thing is to limit carbs (except for the intances of endurance running, of course) and all of the other really bad things people ingest nowadays. Now if we can only cut out all the modern stress. 🙂


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