Kurt Harris MD

An Archevore is someone who eats based on essential principles, and also someone who hungers for essential principles. Take your pick.

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Jousting with the Atlantic

If you're bored and want some entertainment, there is a thread following this article on Atlantic Online.

The article, by Atlantic editor Megan McArdle, concerns whether grain consumption is responsible for Obesity. 

I was alerted to this by following a trackback, and found someone had referenced my post with the eviscerated bison as a rebuttal to these assertions by McArdle in the article:

A ribeye and an arugula salad with oilive oil and vinegar is almost as far from what our paleolithic ancestors ate as pasta primavera and an angel-food cake.  The meat our ancestors ate in the wild was not mostly fat-rich steak--game animals don't have that much body fat, and their muscles are a lot less tender. 

Yet it's only now that we're getting fat.  Which suggests to me that the cause is something other than the variation from our "natural", meat-rich diet.


A poster says:


I think you're working on old-paleo news (Cordain), not the newer stuff. Check out Kurt Harris's Archvore and his discussion of fats in wild animals.

Her response:

He acknowledges that even tucking the fat trimmings into his deerburger makes it only 25% fat by weight--or about standard for fatty chuck. The other cuts would be much leaner. Cows are bred to be basically huge sacks of fat and muscle; they would never survive in the wild because they require too much pasture, and they're super slow. I'm not making silly arguments about how game has no fat, but everyone I know who has butchered both western game (where there are no unnatural suburban gardens to live off), and even grass fed steers, has told me the same thing: the steers are clearly designed for eating, not survival.

My response:

You are perhaps missing some of the information. The point is that aboriginal peoples didn't eat supermarket cuts preferentially, so comparing the fat content of the center of a 20th or 21st century lean steak tells us nothing about how much fat aboriginal people, who could and did exploit the whole animal, ate. 

In fact, they exploited the fattiest parts of the animal preferentially, and the point of my posts is not that the steaks were fat in the center of the cut, but that that the center of a steak is not the relevant metric of what we evolved eating, any more than the fat in a skinless chicken breast would represent what hunter-gathers would get from a wild fowl.

And of course 25% fat by weight is about 60% fat by calories, due to the high energy density of long chain fatty acids. And that is wild deerburger with none of the omental or mesenteric or bone marrow or brain fat thrown in, which would elevate the fat calories in a whitetail to well over 60%.

My other examples, the hamburger made from grass fed lamb and steers, were over 30% fat by weight and therefore over 70% by calories, and this was artificially low as in the case of one steer, there was over 50lbs of suet left over, and none of the brains, marrow or mesenteric fat was counted. I know it was over 50lbs of extra fat because I had the container and I weighed it. This was a 100% grass finished organically raised steer.

The images of the bison on my website ( hardly "bred to be fat" given the recent history of domestication) and the anthropological data in "Imagining Head Smashed in" as well as other extensive data on hunting behavior before the modern fear of saturated fat, make it clear that animal fat was the most available and most exploited nutrient in game for most of hominin history.

The current preference for lean meats is a misguided cultural artifact of bad science and dietary superstition that is only about 50 years old.


Sort of. Without refrigeration (or in the case of plains tribes, much of any means of storage), aboriginals did not only slaughter meat when it was fattest and most succulent (and preservation techniques, for obvious reasons, frequently cut down on the fat content). We tend to confuse buying half-a-steer with what our ancestors did, but it's not true AFAIK. They ate fresh, deliciously fatty meat mostly in the fall on the farm and prairie, not all year round. 

Again, I am not arguing that our ancestors ate no fat! But that you cannot reason from what your deliciously fatty grass fed bison looks like in September, to what the Sioux ate the other 11 months out of the year. I've seen what the animals look like after a Wyoming winter, and they're pretty damn skinny unless someone's been bringing them fodder. Furry, yes, but they've used up a lot of their fat stores. In other places, it's the dry season instead of the cold season, but the effects are similar.


Sorry, wrong again. Animals were butchered preferentially when fattest, and pemmican eaten in the depths of winter.

Pemmican is mostly fat. Here is a nutritional breakdown from US Wellness Meats, where they make it the old-fashioned way:

Est. Percent of Calories from:
Fat 78.8% Carbs 0.0%
Protein 20.0%

I know folks who make their own according to traditional recipes and the fat percentage is similar. Berries can be added for carbohydrate, but all pemmican was high in fat traditionally.

So native americans of the plains were definitely not on low fat diets for "11 months out of the year". They knew how to preserve game meat and they loaded it with fat. They were smart. You can stay alive indefinitely on 80/20 fat/protein (% by calories) but will die quickly on the reverse ratio due to protein toxicity

And even a western animal that looks skinny has plenty of fatty bits that are not steak. Like the tongue for instance. The lean meat meme is a modern cultural prejudice derived from the flawed diet/heart hypothesis. Aboriginals around the world ate as much fat as they could, and if the animals were always fat they always ate it. Think zebras in Africa.




Yes, of course animals were butchered preferentially when fattest, as they are in every society. And I know what's in pemmican. But they did not put up a year's supply of pemmican every September.




They ate a lot of fat whenever they could - they certainly preserved fatty meat to eat for many months into the winter, which you initially denied. It is impossible to eat enough protein to live on without fat or carbohydrate and they certainly were not maintaining greenhouses or shopping at whole foods for carbohydrate in the winter. So they would not have survived at all without plenty of fat, unless you disagree with the metabolic fact that one cannot live on nothing but protein for months on end. Google "rabbit starvation".


You're refuting claims I haven't made--that people weren't eating fat. I'm saying that the idea that they had these hugely high fat diets year round isn't true. There were periods of high fat good eating, and periods of lean. But the year round, super awesome high fat meat diet is not how anyone ever lived outside of the Amazon. If you're refrigerating meat to eat later, you're already eating very different from your paleo ancestors.



"The meat our ancestors ate in the wild was not mostly fat-rich steak--game animals don't have that much body fat, and their muscles are a lot less tender. We've selectively bred our domesticated animals for considerably more succulence than our ancestors enjoyed."

You made this claim implying that modern diets are richer in animal fats than what our ancestors ate when they ate animals. I am refuting it with what I have presented. You are claiming that our ancestors ate less fat when they ate animals. That is not true, no matter what you prefer to believe. 

I have no idea what a "year round super-awesome high fat diet is". I've eaten about 60% of calories as animal fats (about 25% saturated fat) and 20% as carbohydrate for the last 4 years and my BMI is 21.5 and waist is 30". Maybe that is what you mean.

I have claimed that ancestral peoples that hunted animals had access to plenty of fat and exploited it as much as they could. You've presented nothing but assertions that they could not have eaten much fat, and I have refuted them.

"game animals don't have much body fat" is factually completely incorrect, as I have shown, unless you think skeletal muscles are the only constituents of the animal's body. I think more than 60% fat by calories cannot reasonably said to be "not much fat" - 

An entire animal eaten head to tail would be at least 50% calories as fat no matter how "lean" the muscles are once you count mesentery, omentum, brains, marrow, subcutaneous fat and solid viscera. Every single cell in an animals body has fats in the cell membrane. 

Whether eating an animal killed at the end of winter, the fattest, the leanest, or the pemmican which is 80% fat, there was plenty of fat available and eaten year round. I know that is not what you want to believe because you have been taught to fear animal fats, but that is the truth.

The amazon? Not sure what that would have to do with anything.

And FWIW, I don't blame the obesity epidemic on carbohydrates in general. I blame it on wheat, sugar (including HFCS) and linoleic acid. Not potatoes..

But definitely not fat - consumption figures and the arguments I have just used all refute that animal fat or fatty steaks has anything to do with the obesity epidemic.



Sigh. No, I am not arguing that our ancestors were on the Dean Ornish diet. I claimed that people who think that they are eating a paleolithic diet by giving up bread and ordering half a steer are fooling themselves. A steer is not an animal that our ancestors would have had access to. It has been bred by us to be more tender, and to provide relatively more of desireable cuts from large muscle groups, and it is not just preferentially slaughtered when it is fattest, but only slaughtered when it is fattest. Our paleolithic ancestors did not eat as if every day were high summer. And they ate a lot more organ meat. You are "refuting" me by arguing that the hamburger in your fridge sure is high fat. I was arguing that what the "paleo" folks seem to argue is closer to nature is no more natural than a pound cake.


I happen to agree that the low-fat obsession seems, in retrospect, to have been fairly silly, and that sweeteners seem to be objectively worse for you. But a modern paleo, unless he's spending several months a year living entirely on beef jerky, rendered tallow, and dried berries, is not eating anything remotely close to a paleo diet. You *couldn't*--it's only legal to hunt when the animals are fattest.



You're still perseverating on how much fat could or could not have been eaten. I think I've addressed that adequately and shown that you are wrong. The only reason it matters is that you claim animal fat content as being different from the ancestral on a "paleo" diet. The point is that saturated and animal fat are harmless and you can eat a lot of it or not very much and be healthy, and you cannot claim as evidence that ancestral populations could not have eaten the amount of animal fat in a modern fatty steak because it was not available to them. That I have refuted, you cannot make that argument because it is not true as indicated by all the actual evidence. 

You said:

"I was arguing that what the "paleo" folks seem to argue is closer to nature is no more natural than a pound cake."

Now that you've chosen to re-emphasize it, I will address this claim, which is even sillier than the one about fat.

A typical "paleo" meal, consisting of either a fat or lean steak, a green salad and a sweet potato, is not only healthy but is indeed closer to ancestral diets than pound cake. No because of what it contains, but because of what it does not contain. 

Processed white flour, a concentrated source of gluten and wheat germ agglutinin, sugar in the form of sucrose or high fructose corn syrup, and especially, industrial vegetable oils heavy in n-6 linoleic acid - such as corn, soy, canola, peanut, etc...

This last, linoleic acid, is required in the diet in tiny amounts, but in the modern diet is up to 15% of caloric intake, versus 3% in aboriginal diets and most human diets more than 100 years ago. And none of these agents was present in large amounts in diets 15,000 years ago. 

The paleolithic diet was not a single diet and was not constant, but it did have things that were consistently MISSING from it. 

Animal fat, whatever vegans may fantasize, is not one of the missing elements. Animal and saturated fats are not neolithic agents of disease.

And by the way, I am only bothering with this because I highly respect the Atlantic - I'm a subscriber - and I've enjoyed your own market liberal oriented writings therein. But this is a topic Iv'e been interested in as a Doctor for 4 years and I've more than a passing acquaintance with these issues.


read more here: 


And it's too late, but you might enjoy this one in particular:


There are some other good comments there by others.

But my favorites are the ones that say things like:  "A cursory review of the abstracts in Google Scholar indicates that this is an open question that is still being sorted out by the experts." How's that for an irrefutable argument? : ) 


Media and Glossary links

At the top of the page you will see two new links. The first is labelled "media" and so far includes my podcast interviews with Jimmy Moore and Chris Kresser. The second is a glossary which I may update as time permits with new words, both extant and newly made-up, and the various acronyms that I sometimes forget to spell out.

Thanks to Allen Pierce and pfw for getting the glossary started.


"Lean" grass fed bison images

Once on Richard Nikoley’s blog, he had a link to some piece of vegan propaganda that contained a video clip of pigs being slaughtered and hung up. I knew I could never be a vegan when the video, intended to disgust me, instead made me salivate involuntarily.

This picture is like that. It will only look “pretty” to those who are comfortable, if not intimate, with where food comes from.

This photo is courtesy of reader Tara, and illustrates the copious mesenteric (inside the belly) fat in a “lean” grass-fed buffalo. She has more such beautiful images at her website linked below.

Tribe of Five



More on Grass Fed Bison

Reader Tara writes in with some fascinating comments on grass fed bison.

Her comments are in italics, mine in roman.

I was a nutritionist, now evolved into an apprenticing farmer and butcher. I spent last fall on a 3000 acre native grassland prairie farm where we farmed and butchered meat. The farm had a small abattoir right on the premises so I was privy to some mini observational experiments. I was able to see the differences between neighbouring farmers grain fed beef animals with the wild meat of our farm (free roaming bison herds that never see humans except when we would pull up the truck from a few hundred metres away to 'harvest' an animal). We also did some custom cutting for local hunters.

One objection to my observations on lamb and steer carcasses is that domestic animals have been bred to gain weight (fat) for our consumption. Actually the opposite is true for factory pork, but I digress. Unlike cattle that are products of thousands of years of intense artificial selection, ranched bison are genetically little changed from the ones that thundered the northern plains just 150 years ago. Bison should be pretty representative of the fat content of wild ruminants that were consumed in archaic diets

It was not unusual for us to snack on the raw, grass-fed meat of the farm while we were cutting it. Anyone who thinks grass fed meat is unusually lean has simply not seen a properly finished animal. The custom meat cutting we did for outside farms was a different story. The meat was pale and sour smelling. The fat, while abundant intramuscularly was a different texture. We complained that it felt 'greasy' and 'slimy'. Anecdotal, I know, but I have often said that if I could just have people smell the difference between grass or grain fed beef carcasses, I wouldn't have to say another word.

I’ve not eaten much CAFO lamb. The grass finished lambs I eat have an intense flavor that is literally the best tasting food I have ever eaten. By far my favorite meat. It literally tastes like grass – a subtle, slightly astringent flavor. We lick the grease from our fingers.

 Unfortunately, here in Ontario, I have been unable to find a finished grass-fed animal, instead the meat is often pale pink, too low in fat, tough and weak in taste, a sure sign of an improperly finished animal.

You can see some of the pictures of what fat looks like from a grass fed, wild bison.


This is about as close as you can get to the bison that used to roam these plains. Even in the winter, they are foraging. Check out the fat on that animal. If you wanted lean, you would be trimming all of that outside fat off. Thankfully, our customers were educated enough to ask for that fat to be rendered or mixed in with the ground. The grass fed bison, properly finished, were also bountifully endowed with deep, yellow fat.

I'm also a hunter. In fact, I have some venison bones in the stockpot right now.

I agree with you Kurt, our wild meat has plenty of fat in it. Although, we're finding it tougher to find wild game that doesn't have access to grain fields in our area. Next year, hubby and I are planning on going further up north where the animals aren't gorging on GMO soy like they are in our neck of the woods.

Thank you for adding these fascinating observations to our anecdotal but for me completely convincing evidence on the fat content of wild ruminants.


Wild vs Grass vs Grain Fed ruminants

Above is an image of 5 grass fed beef burgers frying in a pan. The yellow liquid collecting is fat (almost green as it is grass fed - the n-3s are from chloroplasts in the green grass -neat, huh?) , and there is plenty of fat within the corpus of each burger as well. Picture this when people talk about how "lean" grass fed and wild animals are when you purposefully exclude the fat.
Someone called mirrorball writes in to say.
What Cordain actually claims is that fat from bone marrow and brain is mostly monounsaturated and (brain specially) high in omega 3. It's not the same as eating fat from obese, grain-fed animals, which is high in palmitate.

Yes, that is an interesting claim I will be dealing with in upcoming posts. Below are some preliminary observations, after the following bits, which from here on are what mirrorball has clipped from Cordain's Paleo Diet book.
I will give you a hint, though. Guess what the predominant fatty acid is in human bone marrow?  It begins with a "p"....

The Paleo Diet, 2010:

I realize that many, perhaps most, readers are not hunters and have never seen carcasses of wild animals, such as deer, elk, or antelope.

I am a hunter and I partially butcher my own meat. My last deer was killed in december. It had copious fat around the organs as well as fascial and subcutaneous fat. I told the processor to add any fat trimmings to the meat we made into hamburger, and the hamburger ended up at about 25% fat by weight.

Nor have you had the opportunity to visually contrast the carcasses of feedlot-produced animals to wild animals. I can tell you that there is no comparison. [...] Wild animal carcasses are lean, have little external fat, and exhibit virtually no fat between the muscles (marbling). In contrast, feedlot-produced cattle maintain a four- to six-inch layer of white fat covering the animal's entire body.

I have a half-steer in my chest freezer, grass fed. A few of the cuts are leaner than typical grain fed, but overall the animal is quite fat- laden. I did the same trick as I did with the deer carcass ( I've done it two years in a row, actually), and the fat content of the hamburger was off the charts. There was so much fat from this totally grass-fed steer that we had to drain some of it off. The new york strips and porterhouses were pretty well marbled, by the way. I do the same thing with grass fed lambs and they are so fat I have to tell the butcher to keep the "lamburger" at 30% by weight.
I have no doubt that the grain-fed beef had an even bigger rind of fat than my grass-fed, and some cuts may have been more marbled, but the idea that grass fed or wild ruminants are very lean, in any sense other than the leanest muscle cuts and tossing all the fat, is nonsense.
These artificial products of modern agriculture are overweight, obese, and sick. Their muscles are infiltrated with that fat that we call marbling, a trait that improves flavor but makes the cattle insulin resistant and in poor health, just like us. Wild animals rarely or never exhibit marbling.

Again, this assumes you are only eating the center of each muscle and purposefully avoiding where the fat is.. No hungry aboriginal would do that, ever.
It would be difficult for our hunter-gatherer ancestors to eat anywhere near the amount of saturated fat that we get on a yearly basis in the typical Western diet.

The Kitavans eat more saturated fat than most westerners, to say nothing of our aboriginal Blackfeet, Crow or Sioux.
So, does dietary saturated fat promote heart disease? Should Paleo Dieters try to limit the fatty domesticated meats in their diet in order to reduce saturated fat? This question is not as clear-cut as it seemed twenty-five years ago...

It is clear cut to me. There never was any reason to indict saturated fat.

So, do dietary saturated fats from fatty meats cause the artery-clogging process known as atherosclerosis? If we look at the evolutionary evidence, the answer is a resounding yes.

This is, quite simply, laughable. It deserves its own post and will get it.

So, now we have the facts we need to come to closure with the saturated fat-heart disease issue. Dietary saturated fats from excessive consumption of processed fatty meats and feedlot-produced meats increase our blood cholesterol concentrations, but unless our immune systems are chronically inflamed, atherosclerosis likely will not kill us from either heart attacks or strokes.

So Cordian endorses v. 1, the crudest version of the diet/heart hypothesis. The idea that you get heart disease by eating saturated fat because it raises your "cholesterol". Bollocks. And the processed part is funny too. Like the grinder adds some kind of toxin to the meat.

The new advice I can give you is this: If you are faithful to the basic principles of the Paleo Diet, consumption of fatty meats will probably have a minimal outcome on your health and wellbeing—as it did for our hunter-gatherer ancestors. Consumption of fatty meats and organs had survival value in an earlier time when humans didn’t eat grains, legumes, dairy products, refined sugars, and salty processed foods, the foods that produce chronic low-level inflammation in our bodies through a variety of physiological mechanisms. I will explain this in more depth in my next book, Living the Paleo Diet.


When I read in his 2010 version of the book that palmitate will cause atherosclerosis because it raises your "cholesterol", but you might not die as long as you do everything else right, I could not believe it. Every time Dr. Cordain has been identified as a lipophobe in the nutrition blogosphere, someone comes to his defense and says, "Oh, haven't you heard? He has reversed himself on the saturated fat issue."

Now it's not all saturated fats, just the palmitic acid that will kill you. You know, the palmitic acid your blood is coursing with during fasting or while you sleep. The storage fat.

That is not a reversal, just another ad hoc refinement of an ad-hoc hypothesis. The Bismarck will not sink, no matter how many torpedoes she takes. She must be foundered on a reef and just looks to be floating.

As far as I can tell, Dr. Cordain is still as saturophobic as any ACC member. Too bad.