The Need for Animal Fat

If you read Good Calories Bad Calories you may remember that the Arctic anthropologist Vilhjamur Steffanson spent a year on an all-meat diet, with no ill effects. (In an earlier post about Steffanson, I stressed the fermented food that the Eskimos ate.) You may not know that animal fat was crucial for his health during that year, which began with a brief attempt to eat lean meat (meaning meat without fat):

On February 26, 1968, [Stefansson] was admitted to the ward and on February 28, started on the meat diet. At our request he began eating lean meat only, although he had previously noted, in the North, that very lean meat sometimes produced digestive disturbances. On the 3rd day nausea and diarrhea developed. When fat meat was added to the diet, a full recovery was made in 2 days.

During the year, he got about 80% of his calories from fat.

Via Inhuman Experiment.

6 Replies to “The Need for Animal Fat”

  1. What I take away from that is that if you eat meat, you should also eat a certain amount of fat with it. I don’t know about a vegan diet, but switching to vegetarian has helped my digestion.

    When your SLD stuff first appeared on the freakonomics blog (was it ~4 years ago already?) I did the SLD based on your original paper and was suddenly eating a lot fewer calories each day. I decided if I was eating fewer calories, I should make sure I get the most value from those that I did eat, so I started eating a lot more veggies and quickly stumbled into being a vegetarian. When stopped eating meat, my digestion improved greatly. Around the same time I added yogurt (which I suddenly craved), and then (after you blogged about it) Kombucha. They have improved things even more (in particular, reducing sensitivity to dairy I used to have).

    The only animal fat I get is from eggs (which I do eat frequently) and diary (which I only get from yogurt and some cheese).


  2. Big fan of fat over here. I’ve tried low carb eating, but I kept gaining weight. Could not figure it out. Suddenly realized I was focusing on protein, and lean protein at that. Once I switched my focus to fats, I lost the weight I had gained, and I can’t tell you how much better I feel after adding more animal fats into my diet. My dry skin totally disappeared. Bring on the butter, cream, and whole eggs!

  3. Two factors changed coincident to the digestive problem clearing up:

    1) meat fat was introduced to the diet
    2) more time had passed

    How can we find out which factor cured the digestive problem?

  4. Tristan, Steffanson’s earlier experience — a very low fat diet caused digestive problems — suggests that the first factor (meat fat) is what caused digestion to improve.

  5. Perhaps I misunderstood the post “On the 3rd day nausea and diarrhea developed. When fat meat was added to the diet, a full recovery was made in 2 days”

    It sounds like this was just 3 days into a new diet that he got a common upset which then cleared up 5 days into the diet. Quite normal even without a new diet.

    Is this another case of far too little original data being published?

  6. Tristan, nausea and diarrhea are not common effects of a new diet that doesn’t involve unfamiliar foods. I agree, if the nausea and diarrhea had been numerically measured, we might have been able to see if they were starting to clear up before fat was added.

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