Losing Weight is Pretty Much Like Eating Lard

I'm going to revisit a post from a few months ago; but first, I'm going to highlight a post by Tom Naughton, creator of the documentary film Fat Head, which I mini-reviewed here. Let me just mention that this is probably the best tool available for introducing friends and family to the notion of an evolutionary basis for diet. I have screened it with a number of both and the enthusiasm has been uniformly resounding. It's a Big Fat Deal.

Alright, so here's Tom's clever post on his blog (notice that this blog is featured on his short blogroll amongst very good company; thanks, Tom).

Can Your Own Bologna Kill You?

See, Tom figured something out, and I'll give you a clue:

It’s easy to find the breakdown of lard on the internet. It’s mostly oleic acid, palmitic acid and stearic acid, with several others making up the balance. Add them up, and it turns out that lard is about 38 percent saturated, 11 percent polyunsaturated, and 45 percent monosaturated. (The numbers don’t add up to 100 because some of the trace fats were unclassified.)

[...]

...I finally found a paper in which the researchers stated that they extracted human body fat from the subjects’ buttocks. Since research subjects are often college sophomores, I’m guessing this took place at a fraternity initiation. In any case, I saw pretty much the same list of fatty acids. Add them up, and it turns out that human body fat is about 35 percent saturated, 51 percent monosaturated, and the rest polyunsaturated. In other words, it’s similar to lard.

This reminded me of the post of mine I'll now revisit.

All Diets Are High-Fat Diets

Just as Tom did, I showed how if losing fat is part of your weight loss goal, which unless you're crazy it is, then you're going to be burning through your own fat, making your diet, if successful, a high fat diet.

Let's say you have 50 pounds of excess fat you'd like to lose in order to get down to around 15% body fat or thereabouts. Assuming you'll be successful, what does that imply? It means, necessarily, that you're going to metabolize 50 pounds of your own fat in order to accomplish your objective. So, even if you do this by means of a "low-fat" diet, it's still high-fat, as you've got 50 pounds or 175,000 calories worth of fat to burn through. If you do it in six months, that's almost 1,000 calories of fat per day. Presuming a basal metabolism of 2,500 calories, and what you do eat is 20% fat (a "low-fat diet"), then you'd be eating 300 calories of fat and 1,200 calories of protein and carbs combined, for a total consumption of 1,500 calories. The remaining 1,000 would be coming from your own fat, released into your bloodstream and metabolized. Out of the total 2,500, 1,300, or about 50%, are calories from fat.

But Tom actually went a step further and got the breakdown of fat composition, as shown above. It makes the irony of the whole thing only that much sweeter, or ought I to say: fattier.

So let's tie it together: if one is attempting to lose weight, presumably mostly from fat and not lean tissue, then they will of necessity be on a high fat diet, 35% of which, minimum, will be saturated fat from their own body (plus whatever saturated fat they eat). At 1 pound of weight loss per week, that's 3,500 fat calories, 1,225 from saturated fat, which is 135 grams of "artery clogging saturated fat" (so called).

As I concluded in the former post: "When finally you've explained, and they've understood, you can then ask them how come they're not afraid of clogging their own arteries with all the fat they intend to be releasing into their own bloodstream."

Comments

  1. Great posts by both Richard and Tom.

  2. Speaking of lard… where do you buy your lard, Richard? All the stuff I can find commercially is hydrogenated.

  3. Great stuff. It is obvious when you think about it…..but we rarely think about it!

  4. This is yet another great weapon to add to our evo/paleo/primal arsenals!

    My dad and I enjoy debating the benefits/negatives of eating Paleo. He acts as though he's against it, but I think it's mostly devil's advocacy, because he is making changes to his diet, and benefiting from them! Our discussions are a great way to keep my debate skills sharp!

    I can't wait to hit him with this one. Thanks to Richard and Tom!

  5. Jim, if you live in the US with a substantial Hispanic population, you can buy containers of freshly rendered lard from "carnicerias" very cheaply (I pay about $.50-1/lb).

    It's left over from making pork rinds and is usually somewhat caramelized, so it's not necessarily best for baking. That shouldn't be a problem on a paleodiet, however…

  6. I suggest looking on eatwild.com for a local, grass-fed, source of lard in your area.

  7. New insight into the term "lard-ass", huh?

    I render lard from pork fat purchased from a couple who raise a few "backyard" animals. Lovely stuff, especially the "leaf lard", the fat that protects the kidneys. I've heard it's the best for pastry baking, but I don't do that anymore, so I haven't been able to test it. But I love browning meat in a bit of lard. Olive oil is reserved for my salads and uncooked foods now.

  8. Fructose is also essentially 100 % dietary palmitic acid, a saturated fat, since that's what your liver makes it into.

    I should run down calculations on the grapefruit diet and see what proportion of calories comes from fat on it, for example. I'd guess it's probably around 80 %.

  9. I get mine at Prather Ranch at the Farmer's Market in SF. See here:

    http://www.freetheanimal.com/root/2009/01/a-morning-in-san-francisco.html

    You might check Mexican markets for rendered lard, but in my experience taste is not good. You can also get online. Search for leaf lard.

  10. @Robert M.

    Astute observation.

    I am still at a loss whether fructose, relative to other sugars, is healthy or unhealthy.

    I think Taubes' view was that is very unhealthy.

  11. Hi Richard,

    Excellent post, nice math. My personal preference is to see arterycloggingsaturatedfat as a single word. A stroke of genius from Mary Eades for that one…

    Peter

  12. Hortense says:

    I have a question about this. How much do we know about the human subject(s) from whom the fat was drawn? Do we know that said person(s) were healthy? The reason I ask has to do with the dietary effects on fat composition. We know that grain fed meat contains an unhealthy omega 6:3 ratio relative to grass fed meat. Wouldn’t the same be true for humans? If the fat samples were taken from humans who ate crap (and in this day and age that has to be expected), then they don’t necessarily represent something to aspire to. Just because it is similar in composition to lard doesn’t mean that that’s how healthy human fat should be composed.

    • I think there will be variations in composition from different diets, but I’m not sure how much it would be. A few % either way probably isn’t going to be a big deal.

    • Fat’s from food are NOT stored as fat. A rat study feeding a high fat diet, when dissected found their fat did not contain any of the fats they were feed. Fat stores are made from glucose NOT fat. Fats move thru the blood stream until they are used. It usually takes up to three days for the body to use up its fat sources. I have to replenish my omega 3′s every 2 to 3 days or my skin drys up and gets itchy.

      • You are correct. Insulin is the fat storage hormone and it is sugar/glucose that is stored as fat in our bodies. Our bodies only need so much glucose to feed the body cells, the excess is stored as fat. Processed foods contain an enormous amount of hidden sugars. A better approach to healthy eating is to decrease foods that spike your blood sugar.

  13. What a great piece of information! But being new to the whole concept, and this site, should I infer from your article that we shouldn’t worry about saturated fat, provided it is natural and from a good source?

  14. There is a missing piece to this concept- are fats ingested versus fats retrieved from storage processed in the same manner in your body? I can easily imagine the mechanisms being quite different, including intermediate forms of conversion and transport.

    Howver, I’m no expert and have no clue. Does anyone have any insight into this?

    Love this blog. Excellent title.

    Thanks!

    • I suppose it’s possible, but both are still metabolized so I don’t imagine any differences would be material and especially so in terms of the fat composition, i.e., released saturated animal fat (you being the animal) and ingested saturated animal fat from other animals.

  15. It’s fascinating- all diets are high fat diets. I’d love for conclusive evidence of that.

    It might also suggest that 2 lbs a week weight loss may be too high for heart health. Variations on blood chemistry markers from Paleo followers seem to make this a murkey area.

    However, a lot of low carb / high protein dieters seem to do better on triglycerides and other markers of blood chemistry health, so maybe it’s not relevant. Or maybe the key is to test and work from that personal knowledge.

    Personally, I’ve recently upped the proteins and fat in my diet and cut calories by an extra 400 /day (to a 1000 per day deficit) and still feel less hunger then before. Four strips of bacon and an egg in the morning are working way better then the results I got with just an egg.

    I landed here following links on fat content in diets trying to refine my diet plan.

    It’s working for me, but my wife had high triglycerides in the spring (normal now) and is concerned about fat content. I’m trying to get bacon on the shopping list, but it’s currently a struggle. This may help, but I need to learn a bit more.

    Thanks!

    • “It’s fascinating- all diets are high fat diets. I’d love for conclusive evidence of that.”

      Nick. That was the title. The body of the post makes clear i mean that all diets successful in losing fat are high fat diets. No evidence is needed. It’s tautological. If you lose fat, you only lose it by metabolizing it, and thus, it’s a high fat diet no matter what.

  16. The implication I read is that the fat has the same physiological impact whether injested from food or retrieved from fat stores. Is that true? That’s what I want to understand better, and to me is the key consideration.

    For me, it’s not quite tautological since the definition of “high fat diet” can vary and may differ based on whether it’s ingested fat or fat retrieved from fat stores.

    How does one define a high fat diet? High fat in the food? High fat in the blood? Does it imply certain types of fat?

    The connotations of the statement are important to the meaning and value of it.

    My question is if the result is essentially the same physiological impact as eating the fat. If that’s not the case, it’s not equivalent, and the statement “all diets are high fat diets” only holds true based on certain definitions of high fat diets- i.e. that the energy comes from fat. But most people would mean to include the physiological and health impact of the fat. If fat was magically turned to energy with no side effects compared to ingest fat, then nobody would really care, and the statement is just word play, succeeding only by ignoring the connotations of the words and concepts at play.

    To me understanding this is the key to whether the statement has any bearing on how we look at dieting. And it does, then we can just refer to “high animal fat” diets, and the distinction and discussion go away.

    Maybe the focus of the post was the tautology. But I was left wondering if the concept has any meaning to consider for dieting practice.

    Sorry for the long winded response.

    Thanks,
    Nick

    • Nick:

      Tell you what, man. I’m satisfied that fat metabolized from body stores is virtually identical to fat ingested. First, it only makes sense. Second, I have heard plenty of things from reliable sources that it’s the same and have never heard anything from anyone to suggest it would be materially different.

      You’re welcome to disagree, but I don’t have time to go digging around to try and prove myself wrong. But if you can come up with something solid through your own Googling that contradicts my assertions, I would be in your debt.

  17. Thanks for the reply.

    I’m not disagreeing- just trying to understand, though I’ll admit my intuition points me in a different direction.

    If I find anything of interest, I will post back here.

    Thanks for the great blog.

  18. Catherine says:

    I went and did some reading and yes, Richard, I think you’re right, with one proviso – losing weight is like eating lard as long as the lard isn’t consumed with any major quantity of carbs – ‘cos the carbs stimulate insulin, which turns on glycogen synthesis and storage and turns off the liberation of fatty acids from adipose tissue. Glucagon is the handmaiden hormone to insulin, and when insulin decreases, glucagon increases along with adrenaline, signalling the liver to start processing fatty acids and some amino acids to be released into the bloodstream for energy. As far as I can tell the liver doesn’t care where those fatty acids come from – they all go into the mix. I did find one site saying that as fats can’t be transported in the blood on their own, they all get wrapped in a protein, and the fatty acids released from storage are wrapped in a different protein than the ones ingested in diet – but I don’t think that makes any difference. All of this only holds in the absence of many carbs – if you were high carb and high fat (say 40-ish% of each) well the carb-inspired insulin signals to the body that it’s in fat/energy storage mode and glycogen synthesis begins – utilising available fatty acids as well as glucose. We can only be in glucose synthesis (fat storage) mode or glucose breakdown (fat liberation) mode at any one point, and they are mutually opposing processes. The idea that our carb consumption was originally for the purposes of fat buildup during spring and summer, when fruits would be plentiful – preparing for the winter time when the food supply would lessen – seems to gel with this. If carbs filled us up easily, we wouldn’t gorge on them enough to build up fat supply – so it’s kind of built in to the situation that carbs aren’t satisfying. It’s easy to over-eat by 6 or 7 thousand calories of carbs in a day, but almost impossible to overeat by that much on only protein and fat. Similarly a diet of mainly fat and protein may mimic conditions when food is less abundant – during winter – and it would make no sense in those conditions that we be ravenous, or want to take more than our share. Imagine a tribe on limited cured meat resources for the winter having to deal with a Guts – he may not live very long! But to the liver I think it’s all the same. Obviously if you really gorge on fats, you won’t lose it as fast from your own resources – it won’t be called up as quickly – but there’s no metabolic discordance or conflict there. And because the body’s primed for metabolising fats, the fat we do ingest in that mode is dealt with efficiently – no lag in satiety signals. That’s my understanding at this point anyway.

  19. Stephen B says:

    Interesting that my previous best blood lipids were when I was losing the most weight (175 to 145 pounds for a BMI of 22). The take away revelation is that I need to put that same amount and type fat on my plate once I’ve reached my long term weight goals.