Ancestral Health Symposium: Meat versus Fat

Yesterday I was telling a relative about the Ancestral Health Symposium and I mentioned the emphasis on meat eating — for example, two vendors gave out samples of beef jerky. To most people, I think paleo means eating lots of meat. I told my relative I disagreed with this. I find nothing wonderful about meat protein; I would happily get my protein from plants.  I eat meat almost only for the associated fat. Which I can get from butter. A lot of meat I am served, such as in fancy restaurants, strikes me as too low in fat. Yesterday I requested butter at a sushi restaurant. The waitress was unsure if they had some.

Today I see Melissa McEwen said the same thing much better:

It was interesting to observe that [at the Ancestral Health Symposium] among the low-carbers, there seemed to be an epidemic of puffy red skin, particularly in older men. I’m sure the pictures, when they are posted, will make obvious who these people are.  The ones who had healthy complexions like the Eades and Nora are those espousing a high-fat diet. It goes very well with some of the anthropological stuff I’ve been working on showing that almost all cultures that eat meaty diets are doing so because they have access to high-fat game.


13 Replies to “Ancestral Health Symposium: Meat versus Fat”

  1. That’s why they called it the Ancestral Health Symposium, not (only) about the paleo diet which seems to be mostly ‘Atkins for hippies’ (the high protein, low carb part).

    There are notable exceptions, even at the AHS :
    – Dr. Lynda A. Frassetto from UCSF
    – Don Matesz from

    Who advocate low protein (to maintain proper PH balance)

  2. Hello Seth,

    I apologize for not being familiar with you before this, I stumbled in through some AHS links. I’m curious what you personally consider good sources of plant protein? I’ve tried to do a cursory scan of your blog to find out but I’m coming up empty – I’m sure it’s there, I’m just not doing a very good job of tracking it down.

    1. Jay, I have never blogged about good sources of plant protein. I don’t know anything you don’t know: that we need several different amino acids to make muscle and other proteins and therefore you need protein from several different plant sources if you want it to be well matched to the needs of your body. For example, I’ve heard that the combination of rice and beans are well-matched, i.e., rice and beans are good complements. Whereas animal protein is already well-matched.

  3. Seth, you’re awesome! First you told me I could lose weight by drinking sugar water, now you tell me I can be smarter by eating sticks of butter.


  4. Seth, this is a good point you make and it also ties in to the somewhat misguided anti-vegetarian stance of a lot of the paleo superstars. You don’t need to eat meat to get good quality protein and in fact meat is by no means the best source:

    (Although plant protein comes out looking extremely problematic on that level as well, unless you are willing to consume soy as a bulk food source, which has very well documented problems of its own…)

    Paleo theory can go on about how milk isn’t “paleo” (I’m not entirely sure where they stand with the Maasai these days), but if you can escape that paradigm, dairy (and egg) protein has some excellent qualities to consider: they are higher quality than muscle tissue, generally cheaper, more convenient to prepare and eat when you are busy, may have a less inflammatory amino acid balance than muscle and are much lower in oxidative iron. Egg yolk can, to an extent, function in place of organ meats as a good source of retinol, B-vitamins and cholesterol.

    In truth though, I am not vegetarian and do enjoy eating all manner of steaks, lamb, offal, game birds, seafood, etc., but I do it with the mindset that it is a sensory treat and not the credo that it is the ideal food for everyone at all times. Though, one thing you can say pretty accurately is that red meat is one of the best sources of dietary zinc.

  5. “The ones who had healthy complexions like the Eades and Nora are those espousing a high-fat diet.”

    uh, the Eades’ web sites are called eatprotein and proteinpower – and they don’t get their protein from plants!

  6. Some of the meat enthusiasts don’t focus enough on organ meat, as this would have comprised a much larger part of the diet of ancestral meat eaters than it does for modern meat eaters. Eating endless bovine muscle meat might be a good way to put on muscle (although whey protein and egg protein would be cheaper), but I doubt it is as healthy as giving good space in the diet to organ and bone based dishes, which tend to be much more nutritious.

  7. @ Vic I think the reason the Eades have that titular focus on protein is due to pressure from their publishers, and because of the public’s irrational fear of fat. If you actually look at the content of the diet they recommend, they are by no means suggesting low fat, and actively suggest eating saturated fat. A “high-protein” diet is code for high-fat.

    Compare that with, for example, Cordain, who has been claiming that hunter-gatherers ate a low-fat diet because wild muscle meat tends to be lean. (He seemed to ignore observations of HGs noting that the fat, brains, marrow, and organ meat are prized, and often eaten first).

    @ Owen I think a lot of the AHS “big names” have moved away from paleo as historical reenactment and more using it as a guiding principle, a la Kurt Harris or Peter “Hyperlipid” or the Jaminets.

    Personally, one of the reasons I am so late to the paleo party is that, as someone who studied archaeology, the idea that we can reconstruct details of diet during the paleolithic struck me as extremely silly. If we use it more as a way to generate testable hypotheses about what may or may not be good for us, it becomes a much more interesting idea. For me, anyway.

  8. Adria, definitely agree, especially regarding Peter. His views on protein are very compelling to me: he limits it to around 65g/d (this was in 2008, so I’m not sure if it’s still accurate) and so he mentioned that he enjoys “spending” his “allowance” on meat, rather than egg white or milk protein (this is why he uses only yolks and cream for fat, rather than whole egg and milk…) His reasoning…

    “This comes from Dr Kwasniewski’s ideas. The basic plan is to minimise insulinaemia and also metabolic work by the liver. Using the highest quality protein minimises the total amount and also the requirements for amino acid transformation. No point in using more than needed.”


  9. The problem with the “Paleo” diet is that its very name implies that we KNOW what Paleo man ate AND we SHOULD eat that way. It’s a nice name for a fad, because it is simple to grasp and has a “jingle” quality to it like a radio ad. As such, it becomes somewhat difficult for people to get unglued from Paleo dogma.

    Do we really know what our ancestors ate? Have we stopped evolving? Was what Paleolithic people ate really what is the healthiest for us? Don’t we live in a different time and environment (pollution, stress, etc) in which maybe we need to eat differently? I think “Paleo” isn’t useful or helpful anymore. It could even be a construct that limits our ability to see better possibilities.

  10. @Thomas

    For me, the term “paleo”, with regards to what we eat, simply means cutting grains and legumes out of my diet.

    I think there’s very little room for argument as to how that can be a bad move.

    Beyond that, however, there exists many different opinions. High fat, low fat, dairy or not… That’s all evolving. But I think there’s merit to that foundation.

  11. I also wonder if it’s even possible to eat the way paleolithic man ate unless you live in the country and can get a lot of calories from game animals. But even those game animals will have eaten a lot of crops planted by man and so might not offer the same nutrition to the cave man wannabe.

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