Saturated Fat and Coronary Heart Disease, Part II: The Paleo Principle

In Part I of this series I introduced you to Professor Rod Jackson, who has quite a strong view of the dangers of saturated fat from animal sources in the human diet. This series of posts is intended to examine his claims and, yes, ultimately call them into serious question if not discredit.

In this installment it is my intention to establish a foundation from which we can build. I find it particularly odd that so many of the studies I look at appear to have been done in a vacuum, with no reference to guiding principles; like, human evolution. When epidemiological associations suggest that some variable may be at the root of causing some problem, we ought to be highly suspicious of such associations when they contradict what we would infer from our evolutionary past. While that past is certainly not fully known and we’ll probably be gaining knowledge about it for many decades, even centuries or millennia to come, what has been established is sufficient to constitute solid, established knowledge about how we evolved and what we ate that drove our evolution forward.

Against All Odds

Before we proceed, let’s keep something in mind, which is this: we are talking about a species of hominid — Homo sapiens — that is the last and sole survivor of a long line of bi-pedal hominids going back six million years. As early as 50,000 years ago, there were still three species of humans (erectus, neanderthalensis, sapiens), living concurrently on Earth. Yet, we alone survived, and we did so without a shred of our modern medicine and conveniences. It was the logic of natural selection, chance, environmental upheavals such as floods, droughts, fires, ice ages and perhaps even predation that drove us forward — that from three angles of varying degrees of niche exploitation (and many before that; evolutionary dead ends) to more generalist, one species came out on top in spite of huge odds against it.

Genetic analysis has now established that at one point the entire world population of our species was only 600 individuals. That is to say, the entire human genome comes from no more than 600 individuals, and this was after the great migration out of Africa, so at one point there must have been many thousands of H. sapiens. And yet, against all those odds, here we are, numbering in the billions.

And given all that, saturated fat — the fat that makes up a large percentage of our own body fat and that of the animals — the sort of fat your body will manufacture from excess carbohydrate in your body — is, in the words of Dr. Jackson, "pure, natural poison?" Does that make any sense? Would that not be about the most surprising thing ever if it were even questionably true?

Imagining The Ridiculous

Suppose some zoologist were to claim that the natural, wild diet of some species of animal is killing them off early. Imagine an omnivorous animal like a bear, for instance. What if some researcher claimed that the super high-fat diet of salmon bellies and fatty skin was detrimental to their health?

What would you think about that? If you have any sense, you’d have to think it absurd. Catching those salmon that run upstream annually in the fall is how bears survive & thrive, packing on the mass they need for winter hibernation. They evolved as the prime animal to exploit that food resource.

But let’s stop and think about animals in zoos, where they may be fed some combination of natural food and specially designed chow or other concoction. If you Google for "zoo diets," "animal nutrition," or similar terms, you quickly come to the realization that it’s highly varied; lots goes into it and, guess what?

Every Species is Different

And just how do they know this? Well, obviously they have some knowledge about what these animals eat in the wild — what they evolved to eat — from observing them. It’s not hard. Moreover, they observe their animals in captivity for signs that they’re not thriving. And when they don’t thrive, what’s the first thing you think they’d consider? Would the zookeeper wonder if that saturated fat in the rump steak he’s feeding the lions is the culprit, or, would he more likely think something essential was missing from the diet or in the captive environment? As we know, predators typically go for the rich, nutritionally dense organs first, then the meat — probably the fattiest meat.

Is this difficult? Do you read about zoo animal epidemiology? How about long-term intervention studies employing diets of differing lion chow macro-nutrient composition to compare differences in thriving, disease, mortality? Would you expect to find zoos seeking grants and attempting to study the implications of the meat and fat consumption of a bengal tiger’s sustenance and to affirm that the tiger’s dry chow is heart healthy over his natural diet in his natural environment? No?

Lifespan! Lifespan!

But wait: zoo animals typically live far longer than their wild counterparts. A male lion in the wild only lives to about 10, but can exceed 20 years of age in a zoo. Perhaps wild ones aren’t living long enough to die from all that meat & fat? Does that sound familiar? Well, it should, because that’s one of the chief counter-arguments I see against an evolutionary or paleo human diet, even where there is agreement on dietary composition. What they’re claiming is that paleolithic hunter-gatherers didn’t live long enough to encounter those collection of diseases we tend to call "diseases of civilization."

It’s a difficult argument to deal with because there is at least some surface logic to it; and, because it’s true that H-Gs and animals in the wild live average shorter lives than those in the zoo of civilization or the zoos we erect for non-human animals. But in the end, we understand that when you remove most of the risks of living in the wild — like newborn mortality, injury accidents, pathogens, predation, and so on — that you increase greatly the chances of survival to ripe old ages. Zoos — for both human and non-human animals — have been very successful in that. They have been successful in increasing average lifespans. This is not the same as increasing absolute lifespans, and there exists plenty of documentation that hunter-gatherers lucky enough to escape all that brutal nature throws at them, when able to obtain adequate nutrition from a natural diet, are able to rival the advanced ages we find in the human and animal zoos.

Meat & Fat in the Diet

When you run the numbers, there’s no other way we could have evolved our huge brains and small guts without a significant quantity of meat & fat in the evolutionary diet. Kleiber’s Law dictates that virtually all animals possess a metabolic rate that scales to the ¾ power of the animal’s mass. What this means is that animals of different species that weigh the same have the same overall metabolic rate.

You have the same metabolic rate as a chimpanzee that weighs the same as you. Moreover, your heart, lungs, liver, kidneys and so on (major energy expensive tissue) will have comparable metabolic rates. But, your brain will have 4-5 times the metabolic rate of the chimp, and his gut will have 4-5 times the metabolic rate as yours. There’s the difference. Why?


There are really only two necessary.

  1. We evolved from primates.
  2. Accomplishing (1) required at first the scavenging of animal-derived protein and fat, which in-turn allowed the shrinking of guts and expanding of brains over six million years.

And, so, the battlefield lines have been drawn. Dr. Jackson asserts that saturated fat is a poison and the chief culprit that underlies heart disease, "the single biggest killer in the western world."

I’m saying that a food so critical and essential to our very unlikely evolution — against all odds and against all other hominids — is logically most likely to be extremely healthful. And even if it were not particularly healthful in relation to other nutrition — no more and no less — it would be quite illogically odd if it were actually bad for us a priori, which is to say on its face, in any context, even a natural diet of real whole foods.

In Part III I want to attempt to look at what Dr. Jackson and people like him might regard as the best evidence and science out there implicating saturated fat in the diet. If anyone can steer me to some studies they believe are thusly touted by the authorities, I would greatly appreciate it.

11/20/09 Addendum: Prior to publishing this post I was able to have a draft copy reviewed by Dr. Monica Hughes and Dr. Stephan Guyenet, both PhD biologists. Monica helped correct a few errors in my descriptions of our ancestors and Stephan signaled a quibble with the shrinking gut hypothesis, described as follows.

It doesn’t specifically imply that we ate more animal foods, but simply that we ate more easily digestible, calorie-dense foods. That could also include cooked starchy tubers. In my opinion, increased animal foods, cooking and starchy tubers probably all contributed to the gut shrinkage. The degree to which each contributed is debatable.

Yes, I’d agree with that, though we would have had to be cooking first, as meat, marrow, brain and other fat can be consumed raw while starchy tubers cannot. And, as it turns out there is some controversy just now over when the advent of cooking actually happened. At any rate, even if you use the advent of H. erectus 1.8 million years ago, you’d still have to conclude that we got near that point through raw animal food for several million years, and which was sufficient to get us large enough brains to invent cooking.


  1. Natalie on November 19, 2009 at 14:56

    Look, this is going to be a bit rambly and wholly unscientific, but this kind of thing really rips my nighty so I have to add my two cents.

    As you said in your previous post, average minds (like mine) are not swayed by intellectualism and science. I only know what I feel when I eat a diet that’s easily 80% fatty meat and what I felt like on my high-starch, high-soy, high dairy, low protein, low fat vegetarian diet. There isn’t a single scientist or authority that can convince me with any study you can name that’s going to sway me back to those vegetarian days.

    I have binocular vision, canines, a short gut, big brain and bloodlust for a reason – and any arguments against saturated fat when considered against the backdrop of our evolution just do not stand up. Because I’m not scientifically minded in any way shape or form, all I have is how I feel. I remember several years back I was watching a documentary about a Western woman who was dropped into the middle of an African tribe and told to cope. She was the typical 40-ish British woman, a bit overweight, stressed beyond all reason through a busy job, ungrateful kids, lazy husband, crap diet, etc etc and for the first two weeks she cried her eyes out. She, however, filmed the tribe she was with and two women came into her hut where she was crying in isolation and asked her why she was sad – why aren’t you happy like us? And the two women starting doing this crazy dance, designed to make the Western woman laugh.

    After YEARS of food and anxiety issues I actually did that crazy dance today in my kitchen. I owe that energy and exhuberance to meat and saturated fat. Every. Single. Argument. against this way of eating can go hang.

    Although good on you for sorting through the wilful ignorance so we don’t have to!

    • Grok on November 20, 2009 at 01:11

      “Every. Single. Argument. against this way of eating can go hang.”

      I LOVE IT!

    • Richard Nikoley on November 20, 2009 at 09:56

      Thanks for the ramble, Natalie and indeed I agree with you wholeheartedly. I have said many times that HOW YOU FELL if far and away the most important element here. From high carb to high fat, there’s a natural diet in there somewhere for everyone, one that optimizes their INDIVIDUAL well being.

  2. Shmaltzy on November 19, 2009 at 18:59

    The quicker we come to realise that we are also animals in this big, wide cosmos along side every other living thing, the quicker we should realise that what we put into our mouths should be in line with what mother nature intended for us.

    We are not “better” than any other living thing on this planet. We seem to have this air of arrogance that we should thrive on mass-produced franken-food. Each time we try to make nature “better” (i.e. hydrogenated fats, liquid vegetable oils etc), nature beats us (i.e. degenerative diseases, premature death etc).

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  5. gallier2 on November 19, 2009 at 23:10

    Richard, AFAIK the fact that with descend only from 600 person doesn’t imply that only 600 persons lived at that time. There could have been 10000 other persons at that time but who failed to engender lineages that reach until now. If I remember correctly, when this hypothese came out it was ment in this way.

    • Richard Nikoley on November 20, 2009 at 09:59

      Yes, good clarification and I didn’t mean to imply otherwise. If you saw the Nova show on evolution this was covered in part 3, and they call it the bottleneck. So, yea, there were many thousands but through some evolutionary bottleneck that could have been environment, geography or whatever, only 600 distinct individuals got through it to become our collective ancestors.

  6. pieter d on November 20, 2009 at 01:25


    A very good post! I really like the comparison with the zoo animals. It made me think of that wonderful (but now on some points a bit outdated and probably sometimes even wrong) book of Desmond Morris ‘Human Zoo’. It was already published in 1969, can you imagine…

  7. Jim Purdy on November 20, 2009 at 01:34

    You said:
    “When you run the numbers, there’s no other way we could have evolved our huge brains and small guts without a significant quantity of meat & fat in the evolutionary diet.”

    Theories, including theories as well-supported as evolution, should fit the facts, not the other way around.

    In the case of diet, any diet which leads to a growing population must work. And considering that vegetarianism has been around for hundreds of generations, it seems to have passed the test of time. Therefore vegetarianism would seem to be quite acceptable from an evolutionary perspective.

    And by the way, I suspect that vegetarians on average have higher intelligence than meat-eaters on average.

    Where am I wrong?

    • Skyler Tanner on November 20, 2009 at 09:28

      “Vegetarianism has been around for hundreds of generations…”

      Any evidence of pure vegetarianism in primitive (or even still existent) traditional cultures? Specifically, beyond the suggestions of Hinduism and Buddhism (or any religion of Indian origin)?They certainly had the concept of vegetarianism as a part of Ahimsa, but that doesn’t refer to diet alone. In point of fact, the Dalai Lama eats meat (grapes don’t grow in Tibet but Yaks are tasty), but that’s getting off track. Any direction here?


      • Anand Srivastava on November 20, 2009 at 23:56

        I think Vegetarianism is not an instinct of human beings. It has to be guided by Religion and misguided leadership ;-).

        This doesn’t mean that it can’t be done for a very long time indeed. If you are living in a region of plenty, like the plains of the River Ganga, you could thrive on Ghee/Butter/Milk alone.

    • Richard Nikoley on November 20, 2009 at 10:02


      See my update to the post. While I seriously doubt that vegetarianism had any part in this (for reasons explained in the post on cooking I linked to), I do agree that once we began to cook (perhaps as early as 1.8 million years ago, our diets likely began to include starchy tubers, also nutritionally dense.

      • Anand Srivastava on November 23, 2009 at 23:27

        I am not sure about that. Don was saying that we started to get AMY1 genes only around 200, 000years ago. I would think that that was the time frame around which we got control of fire, ie learnt how to start them.

        The Pelvis reduction would have come up because we were getting very good at hunting large animals, and were getting a lot of fat quite easily. We probably did not need the canines because we were softening up the meat by beating it up with tools. We must have become predominately carnivores, and had been getting very little calories from plant matter, this would have resulted in less need for the large gut. Notice that carnivorous animals have very small pelvises. So it need not have anything to do with cooking.

        This does not mean that our brains became as large as they are now at that time. This must have happened when we incorporated starch, which allowed substantially higher glucose, and must have helped the brain to grow.

        We might have stopped fearing the fire by 1.8million years, and may have started using it and keeping it alive, whenever we found it, but it would not be a reliable source.

      • Richard Nikoley on November 24, 2009 at 11:24

        Yea, I truly don’t know, Anand. I just put that up there because it’s an argument to be considered (if you checked that link to the cooking controversy).

  8. Grok on November 20, 2009 at 02:54

    “I suspect that vegetarians on average have higher intelligence than meat-eaters on average”

    You might be right, only because most vegetarians were smart enough to recognize that they should be putting decent foods in their bodies to thrive. They are just misguided souls. It’s definitely up for debate… All it takes is a trip to the vegetarian section of a store to see the frankenfoods they’re consuming.

    Where this whole thing goes awry is, you’re not comparing apples to apples. You would need to compare vegetarians to whole food eaters or paleo eaters to get good data. Probably a losing contest for the veggies when stacked that way. As a meat eater, I’m offended by being grouped with booger-eating western eaters. Besides, I’d bet the booger-eaters diets are mostly veg ;)

    This is similar to the studies bagging on high fat diets, yet the mouse chow being fed in the study is high-carbohydrate and the fat sources are rancid refined soybean oils. We don’t eat that shit here.

  9. Alex Thorn on November 20, 2009 at 03:00

    “I find it particularly odd that so many of the studies I look at appear to have been done in a vacuum, with no reference to guiding principles; like, human evolution.”

    There is a quote from Theodosius Grygorovych Dobzhansky that goes:
    “Nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution.”
    Which I think sums your point up admirably.

    @Jim Purdy: “And by the way, I suspect that vegetarians on average have higher intelligence than meat-eaters on average. Where am I wrong?”

    As someone who does not eat from the plant kingdom, I find that insulting: I happen to have a MENSA accredited IQ of 152 (top two percentile)! There is a lot of intelligence required to be a hunter – from tool and weapon making to learning about the habits and migratory patterns of potential prey animals to coordinating a stealthy hunt and kill. How much thought does it take to dig a hole in the ground with a stick and plant a seed then pull the grown plant out?

  10. pieter d on November 20, 2009 at 03:16

    @ Jim Purdy

    I think there’s a important difference between increase in population and increase in health. The agricultural ‘revolution’ definitely gave rise to greater populations. But it seems that the health of the agriculturalists got worse.

    See e.g. Jared Diamond (pdf)

    About vegetarianism being around for ‘hundreds of generations’. First, is that really so? And second: why were the vegetarian in the first place? Was it there choice? Or were there not enough animals around to feed everybody? Just some questions

    • Anand Srivastava on November 20, 2009 at 06:16

      I am not sure of hundreds of generations, but 100 generations is quite likely. The oldest Vegetarian societies are in India. We have sections of people who have been vegetarians since 6th Century BC.

      Vegetarianism came out as a religious practise favoured by Buddhists and Jainis.

      We have developed eating systems to thrive as best as we can on foods without meat. You have to eat what was eaten traditionally. Any divergence will cause problems. Yes we are not eating that anymore, and are suffering for that reason.

      • pieter d on November 20, 2009 at 07:43

        Did the buddhists and jainis choose to be vegeterian? Or did they make a virtue of necessaty? Because this is often the case in religious context. Again, just a question…

      • Anand Srivastava on November 21, 2009 at 00:08

        I am pretty sure it evolved from the concept of Ahimsa. If you want to not kill anything, then it follows that you don’t such animals. But they restricted it to meat. Buddhism was not very strict about meat eating initially and people adopted it a lot. This made Hindus change to vegetarian diets also. I guess we became a lot stricter vegetarians as a reaction to Muslims, when they came to India. It happens that people start to do opposite things when you are ruled by people from another place.

        Milk/Butter/Ghee/Honey is considered part of the diet. We prepare a drink during some religious occasions called Punchamrit, meaning 5 necters, made with Milk, Curd, Ghee, Honey and Tulsi (Holy Basil).

        So in India traditionally Milk/Curd/Ghee have a very high place. And I understand now why it was so. It is important indeed for a vegetarian lifestyle. That is what is missing from people in the western world when they take up vegetarianism.

  11. Jim Purdy on November 20, 2009 at 04:39

    Alex Thorn, why would anyone feel personally insulted by a statement comparing the averages of two groups. My statement applied to large groups, not to individuals. All that Mensa status indicates is (1) someone probably spent time on a Saturday morning filling in ovals on a test answer sheet, and (2) she filled in more ovals correctly than the average oval-filler, and (3) she sought a redundant validation for her oval-filling by sending her test results to Mensa. I have two vegetarian sons, one of whom scored a perfect 1600 on the SAT, and both of whom were National Merit Scholars. Big deal.

    • Alex Thorn on November 20, 2009 at 06:04

      There was an exclamation mark after my remark – so it was somewhat tongue-in-cheek. Nevertheless you were inferring that something about meat-eating is brain-dulling while vegetarianism is intelligence enhancing – which is just plain wrong on so many levels! So what you were actually trying to say is that people with greater intelligence tend to gravitate toward a vegetarian diet? Considering the palpable illogic of the arguments put forward by vegetarians and vegans for their lifestyle I would also call that theory into serious question!

  12. Glenn on November 20, 2009 at 05:25

    Where are you right?

    I am not really inclined to get into a pointless argument about whether vegetarians or paleo devotees are right. We are sampling diets that cover ALL of our nutritional requirements, the dangers and ravages of mainstream diets disappear. We find our correct weight with ease and without hunger. There is ample study to verify our beliefs, numerous indigenous cultures thrive and virtually without disease on our diet. We can live to a ripe old age with virtually no fear of heart disease, stroke, diabetes… etc, etc.

    Sure a vegetarian diet will help the population explosion… i believe however that your diet will help you survive, but my diet allows me to thrive.

    In my book that makes me smart.

  13. Sylvie O. on November 20, 2009 at 07:06

    At the risk of repeating myself: breastmilk is 80% saturated fat.

  14. Jim Purdy on November 20, 2009 at 07:21

    Glenn, you said:
    “i believe however that your diet will help you survive, but my diet allows me to thrive.”

    Glenn, I said that both my sons are vegetarians. I said nothing about what my diet is. In fact, I am on a very high fat, low carb diet. I eat lots of animal fat, especially from unsalted butter, omega-3 whole eggs, and cream cheese. My blog has numerous links to blogs about high-fat diets, primal diets, Atkins diets, etc.

    But since all you you genius meat-eaters can’t even read my comments correctly, I may have to rethink my diet.

  15. Tim Rangitsch on November 20, 2009 at 08:27

    At face value, I would accept that vegetarians as a group, tend to be “smarter” than those who eat meat. The thing to keep in mind is that those who eat meat, is a LARGE group that includes Standard American Diet eaters. I don’t think we can really lump whole, natural, pasture or organic sourced Paleo eaters who consume meat with the SAD group.

    I’ve moderated my tendency to want to convert others. Now a days, I simply keep my knowledge base wide and deep, look into opposing views, and re assess as new (to me) information comes to light. I have thus become far less “food obsessed” and see dietary choices as building blocks, nutrients and fuel. I avoid processed things and chemically altered foodstuffs. Through trial and error, coupled with this knowledge base, I’ve really gotten to the point of eating as a carnivore.

    • Grok on November 20, 2009 at 23:40

      Pretty much what I was getting at too Tim.

      I went from an 80-90% veggie paleo eater to more like a 90% meat eater. I believe in veggies for solid nutrition, but my body is saying meat. I’ll listen until it says otherwise.

  16. Lucy on November 20, 2009 at 08:47

    @Jim Purdy: indeed vegetarian diets work extremely well to promote population growth. So much so, that today many voices complain about the success of the growth of the earths’ population.

    Funny thing is, many of those same voices that complain about the (over)population of the earth also vigorously promote vegetarian/grain/vegetable based diets.

    So tell me, how is this intelligent?

    Interesting article on measuring intelligence.

  17. Jim Purdy on November 20, 2009 at 10:09

    Lucy, I am definitely not an advocate of exploding populations. If you will re-read my comment in the context of the discussion about evolution, in which the number of successful offspring is a measure of evolutionary fitness, you will understood that I was applying that standard.

    Overpopulation is a huge problem. I would guess that a sustainable global population would be perhaps 70 million, or about 1 percent of the current global population of about 7 billion.

    And, no, I don’t want to venture off into silly discussions about eugenics, or the current FoxNews wing-nut favorite lie, their allegations of a “Kill Granny” health care plan.

    The success of Faux News is very powerful evidence that homo sapiens is not really very smart.

  18. Alex Thorn on November 20, 2009 at 10:43

    Richard – if you would like to look at the best studies used by lipohobes to justify their anti-fat position you should check out Anthony Colpo’s book “The Great Cholesterol Con”. He devotes a chapter to a clutch of what is considered ‘the very best data’ used to malign saturated fat and shows that, contrary to the study authors’ conclusions, the data most often shows the exact opposite!

    • Richard Nikoley on November 20, 2009 at 11:41

      Thanks for the confirmation. In a couple email exchanges with Stephan as I was mapping out this series he recommended that book and so I got it (along with Kendrick’s). Have only thumbed through and hit bits & pieces but that was exactly where I was going to look.

  19. Kurt G Harris on November 20, 2009 at 11:56

    @JIm Purdy

    What is your definition of vegetarian? Do your sons consume any supplements derived from animals, such as B12 or other vitamins? Any eggs or dairy or fish? Were they weaned at delivery to avoid cannibalizing their mother?

    If vegetarian means consuming no animal products ever, I maintain there is no such thing.

    If it means not eating vertebrates, or red meat it is so trivial as to be meaningless.

    Almost every self identified vegetarian I ever met either ate or supplemented with some animal products, especially the teenage girls who think meat is “gross”.

    Yes I know Vegan means no animal food and no leather belts, etc., but I already know that is a biologically impossible fantasy.

    So what is the definition of vegetarian, exactly?


    Nice work.

  20. Kurt G Harris on November 20, 2009 at 12:01


    Colpo’s and Kendrick’s books are both highly recommended. Kendrick’s idea that CAD is caused solely by stress I don’t agree with though. Also check out some papers written by Uffe Ravnskov and the THINCs website for alternative thinking about atherosclerosis.

  21. Jim Purdy on November 20, 2009 at 12:18

    My definition of vegetarian re my sons?

    They are not vegans. They have been lacto-vegetarians since they were two an five years old. They are now 29 and 32. Both are tall and healthy, with advanced degrees from leading universities.

  22. […] Saturated Fat and Coronary Heart Disease, Part II: The Paleo Principle […]

  23. Kurt G Harris on November 20, 2009 at 13:05

    Thanks Jim

    So what exactly is the is the point of being vegetarian if you consume dairy ? Is it out of concern for animal welfare? I honestly don’t understand it. Do your sons think red meat is more dangerous to eat than milk? The fatty acid composition is not different enough to even hypothesize that, I would think.

    The Vegan position is somewhat internally consistent, if biologically impossible.

    The vegetarian position – if it means not directly eating vertebrate flesh but we keep vertebrates in concentration camps for the purpose of taking their milk and then slaughter them when they can’t produce milk anymore – is survivable as a diet but seems ethically totally inconsistent from any angle.

    Perhaps your college-educated sons have never told you what their reasoning is. If they started at ages 2 and 5, that kind of implies it was not their choice anyway. Diet can be like religion that way.

    As far as your intelligence and vegetarianism link, I think I would change the variable to educational level. Formal education and intelligence are sometimes rather weakly correlated in my view.

    • Alex Thorn on November 20, 2009 at 15:28

      “As far as your intelligence and vegetarianism link, I think I would change the variable to educational level. Formal education and intelligence are sometimes rather weakly correlated in my view.”

      I tend to agree. Formal education is mostly a case of memorisation and recitation rather than original, creative and logical thinking or deductive reasoning. This is why I originally mentioned IQ. While there may be controversy as to whether it is practically meaningful, at least it does attempt to measure raw intelligence as opposed to whether you are merely good at memorising ‘facts’ and then regurgitating them at exam time. I’ve had people tell me that they have got more intelligent conversation out of me than many of the university graduates to whom they have spoken. A recruitment agency gave me an information technology aptitude test because I did not have any formal IT qualifications and informed me I had scored better than many of the university graduates who had taken the same test. In any case I chose my ‘way of eating’ having researched and studied diet and nutrition for years – it wasn’t imposed upon me as an infant – and I have tried both vegetarianism and veganism in the past.

    • Grok on November 20, 2009 at 23:46

      “Formal education and intelligence are sometimes rather weakly correlated in my view.”

      Best line I’ve read all day Kurt!

  24. svendsen on November 20, 2009 at 13:10

    Watch the trailer for The Zookeeper at

  25. Jim Purdy on November 20, 2009 at 15:41

    Alex Thorn said:
    “I chose my ‘way of eating’ having researched and studied diet and nutrition for years – it wasn’t imposed upon me as an infant”

    Dang, Alex, I am constantly amazed at how you keep taking my words out of context and then responding to things I didn’t say.

    When my sons were 2 and 5, I went on a vegetarian diet for several months, for my own health reasons. I didn’t say anything to them, but they eventually noticed the difference. They discussed it, and they decided to become lacto-vegetarians, without any pressure. In fact, they immediately came under intense pressure to eat meat, and they refused.

    Since you say you’re smarter than 98 percent of humans, why can’t you understand that people, even very young people, can make informed intelligent that differ from yours?

  26. Kurt G Harris on November 20, 2009 at 15:51


    Let me first stipulate that what you feed your children is up to you and your partner and none of our business.

    But are you seriously claiming that a two year old can make an informed decision about what to eat? That seems as likely as a 2 year old making an informed decision of whether to be baptist or muslim.

    The pressure to emulate a parent you depend upon utterly for your very survival makes the force of any government pale in comparison.

  27. Jim Purdy on November 20, 2009 at 17:11

    If you knew my sons, you might understand.

    Granted, the younger one at age 2 was undoubtedly influenced, but only by his then-5-year-old brother. As they explained it then and now, they made their decision because they didn’t want to kill animals.

    If they had been influenced by adults, they would have given in to the intense pressure from my angry wife and her equally angry mother, who tried to sneak eggs into their cheesecakes and birthday cakes. That came to an abrupt halt when my sons found out.

    On one occasion, the younger one was left with some friends, who later reported with amazement that he refused to eat a hamburger. And today, at 29 and 32, they both are still just as fiercely independent.

    In high school, the older one refused to take biology because he refused to dissect frogs. In college, CalTech refused his request to be excused from their meal plan as an ethical vegetarian, although they did excuse a Hindu friend on religious grounds. Both he and his Hindu friend transferred to Harvard.

    I give up trying to explain strong-willed vegetarian kids to you guys, my fellow meat-eaters.. This will be my last comment on this thread.

  28. Zepto on November 20, 2009 at 17:17

    “But they eventually noticed the difference. They discussed it, and they decided to become lacto-vegetarians, without any pressure. In fact, they immediately came under intense pressure to eat meat, and they refused.”

    I hope you realize how wrong this statement is.

    “Dang, Alex, I am constantly amazed at how you keep taking my words out of context and then responding to things I didn’t say.”

    Maybe your’e doing a very poor job of explainning yourself.

    • Alex Thorn on November 21, 2009 at 03:11

      Nail on the head! Thanks!

      @Jim: “Granted, the younger one at age 2 was undoubtedly influenced, but only by his then-5-year-old brother. As they explained it then and now, they made their decision because they didn’t want to kill animals.”

      See, this is my point exactly vegetarians use irrational emotionalism not intellect to make their choices and push their agenda. Do you really think growing plants doesn’t involve animal death?

  29. Jim Purdy on November 21, 2009 at 03:24

    Alex, I didn’t want to continue this by commenting again, but your comments are ridiculously incoherent. I am not a vegetarian, I am not advocating vegetarianism, and I did not attempt to influence my sons when they were young. I have been trying to explain to you what THEY did and the reasons THEY give for their choices. Why is that so hard for you to understand?

    • Alex Thorn on November 21, 2009 at 04:07

      It’s not – my comments are general based on what you have said (you provided an example of the kind of vegetarian proselytising that goes on) not directed at you personally or your family.

      You illustrated that vegetarianism is often adopted because of concern for animals (irrational emotionalism) yet is inconsistent with the facts that a great deal of wildlife dies in the process of arable crop farming.

      Lacto-vegetarians drink milk while ignoring the inconvenient truth that cows – like other mammals – produce milk to feed their offspring. If we are syphoning off that milk for human consumption what happens to the calf? Most times it is slaughtered for veal.

      All life – including that of vegetarians – is predicated on death. Plants draw their sustenance from nutrients in the soil, nutrients that were laid down from the death and decay of other living things – plant and animal alike. Wildlife habitats are ploughed up to clear acres of arable land. Wildlife is shredded under the blades of the harvester when those crops are gathered.

      Whichever way you look at it vegetarianism is not a choice often made as a result of intellectual appraisal but irrational emotionalism. What’s so hard to understand about that without assuming it is a personal attack on you?!

  30. Glenn on November 21, 2009 at 03:50

    Based on what Jim has said so far, the most provocative point he has said “And by the way, I suspect that vegetarians on average have higher intelligence than meat-eaters on average.”
    With what he has said so far, I agree with Zepto… he has defended his sons .. are we to concluded they are the average? In my case i have researched , absorbed and listened to each group who advocates the best diet for quite a while now. Through no influence of anyone in particular I have settled on the diet that has been articulated succinctly by a number of qualified and seemingly objective people. I have proved to MYSELF that i am on the right track through my own measurements of good health and wellbeing.
    What i am still struggling to understand is where Jim gets his reasoning about vegetarians being more intelligent than meat eaters? it’s like one of those flying, pink pigs were plucked out of the sky and in its mouth.. instead of the traditional apple, was a piece of paper saying vegetarians are smarter.
    From an observational viewpoint, Lierre Keith is a very intelligent former vegetarian, now a meat eater… this shows intelligence to me.. to be able to recognise that her beliefs were killing her.. (perhaps it was survive or die. ) Who knows? I would say this though.. I don’t think its intelligent that a person would choose to live their life with a greater risk of arthritic pain, diabetes, dental issues, digestive complaints, body image issues, emotional problems, heart issues, stroke… the list goes on. All for the sake of moral dilemma. Please, where is the intelligence in that?
    Hmm.. i have just noticed our friend Jim over at the Heart Scan Blog, based on his comment there he perhaps has his hand a teeny bit close to the sherry glass. Lets just move on and disregard…

    BTW. I think you have a great blog Richard.. its your party and i like it that you reserve the right to give people a spray when they need it. A bit like Gibbs giving Denozo a slap to the back of the head.
    I like that about your blog too Kurt.. more power to you both.

    • damaged justice on November 21, 2009 at 04:15

      Jim just popped up at Mark’s Daily Apple, stating that “…males evolved to have lots of testosterone-driven aggression, while females stayed together in groups and developed more useful skills like language.”

      Does Jim believe that his vegetarian sons are smarter than he is?

      I’m usually the last to cry “troll”, but this sure quacks like one.

    • Richard Nikoley on November 21, 2009 at 08:15

      I’ve stayed out of this because I don’t like putting someone in the position of having to defend loved ones. True, Jim brought it on himself but I just don’t want to put myself in that position.

      That said, regarding the intelligence issue in the generic, inferring nothing about Jim or his sons as individuals (there are morons and geniuses eating every conceivable diet on Earth).

      My issue is simply this:

      1) We evolved as meat eaters. This is not in serious dispute and has, for me at least, come to the point of not being debatable.

      2) Given (1), then a diet that includes animals is the most proper diet intellectually and practically for humans qua animals. This is not to say that an individual can’t do fine without animal products. But it would be the exception compared to those who do.

      Accordingly, while vegetarians as a group might possess more average raw intelligence than meat eaters, as a group, for the simple reason that most-to-all vegetarians are uniquely concerned about health, which is an important feature of intelligence, I think.

      However, it strikes me as quite odd to use the fact of their error to in some way imply their heightened intelligence. Geniuses make errors to. These errors ought to be seen as exceptions to their otherwise intellectual prowess, not the other way around.

  31. Jim Purdy on November 21, 2009 at 08:52

    I’m sorry that we meat-eaters can’t … oh, wait …

    Oh, excuse me, but isn’t it obvious from my comments here and from my blog that I am a low-carber who eats meat? I am not a vegetarian, although I respect the views of the many vegetarian doctors like Dean Ornish. However, largely because of my Type 2 diabetes and heart issues, I find a low-carb diet to be best for me, especially since I refuse to take any prescription medications. And as I said repeatedly here, I was trying to explain the views of my now-adult sons. As a parent, I would prefer that they would consume more, not less, proteins and fat.

    Now, back to what I started to say: I’m sorry that we meat-eaters couldn’t have a discussion without me being called an alcoholic and a troll. Am I drinking sherry? Really? I don’t drink at all, sorry.

    Am I a troll? If I were a troll, why would I be using my real name? Some of you sound very much like the tea party protesters in the Republican Party who demonize their fellow conservatives, or like religious zealots who go ballistic over tiny doctrinal differences.

    I have no disputes with any of you over the diet we share. In fact, in these low-carb discussions, I have learned a lot about healthy fats, and I switched from canola oil to butter. I’m still learning from you and other low-carbers.

    However, one lesson some of you could learn is that well-informed people with good intentions can have honest differences of opinion.

    And, by the way, do you realize the absurdity of the claims that a child who decides on a vegetarian diet is influenced or pressured, while a child who chooses a carnivorous diet is making an informed decision? Some off you seem strangely closed-minded.

    To get back to my opinion about the average intelligence of vegetarians: I draw that conclusion from my observation that college campuses (campi?) seem to have a higher percentage of vegetarians than among the general population. Furthermore, since our society generally follows the S.A.D., or Standard American Diet, an omnivorous diet is the default diet. It requires at least a little bit of thinking and research for someone to resist the social pressures and become a vegetarian. The rabidity of some of your comments shows how vegetarians are treated by people like you because of what you perceive as dietary heresy.

    Now, while you root out those evil vegetarian heretics and apostates, excuse me while I finish off my breakfast of scrambled eggs, cream cheese, and ham, cooked in butter.

    • damaged justice on November 21, 2009 at 09:16

      “If I were a troll, why would I be using my real name?”

      Those two things have nothing whatsoever to do with each other.

      “I draw that conclusion from my observation that college campuses (campi?) seem to have a higher percentage of vegetarians than among the general population.”

      Ah, yes. Because everyone knows college students are so intelligent, wise and mature, and not a bunch of overgrown babies barely out of their parents’ cribs, anxiously searching for Causes and Meanings To It All, and on top of that, desperate to get laid.

      “…an omnivorous diet is the default diet. It requires at least a little bit of thinking and research for someone to resist the social pressures and become a vegetarian.”

      If that’s the only criteria, the same could be said about someone who “resists the social pressures” and chooses to eat a carnivorous diet. Different isn’t better just because it’s different (than what?).

      One of my best and lifelong friends is vegan. You may, if you choose, interpret that as me being a racist who has black friends. No skin off my back.

      I don’t care what you or anyone else eats, nor do I care why. But it’s annoying to see shoddy reasoning and emotionalism trotted out in place of rational thought. Perhaps you’ve put a great deal of rational thought into your decisions, but it doesn’t show in your comments here.

  32. Tim Rangitsch on November 23, 2009 at 06:40

    I’m just now spending time on a road trip through the high steppes, prairies, foothill forests and mountains from Rapid City, SD to Laramie and Cheyenne, Wyoming. This is historically deer, elk, antelope and buffalo grazing lands (now more cattle and sheep), for eons. Humans have been living here from Paleo times, and living well. Seems the large ungulate populations were once abundant and groups of Indigenous had pretty easy pickings prior to European contact.

    It is pretty clear that these paleo-times humans would have spent a good portion of each year living on high saturated fat animal sourced foods. There is just not much else to eat! Even in the height of summer/fall fruit seasons, there are precious few chokecherries, elderberries, tart little crab apples and such. A few starchy roots and some edible bulbs.

    I just intuitively think that humankind in these northern climes, had a good life eating from the animal world, and that would mean lots of sat fat, humans were never dumb, they exploited the riches available. Think about the world around you, where you live now. What would you be eating on a cold November day in the sage brush covered steppes at 7,500 feet in wind swept Laramie, Wyoming? Probably some meat.

  33. CPen29 on November 23, 2009 at 16:23

    It is amazing to me how there isn’t more talk about the state of health in India. That country is 70% vegetarian with the rest of the population eating very little meat and virtually no beef. Their trends in cardio vascular disease and diabetes are staggering. If there are more books, blogs, or articles that study this correlation I would love to hear about it.

  34. Peter on November 24, 2009 at 06:34

    While I agree generally with the article I am surprised that the issue has not been raised of the ratio of saturated to unsaturated fat in the diet. This is covered well by Loren Cordain in The Paleo Diet. Our ancestors ate not just the meat but the whole animal – and organ meats and bone marrow are much higher in unsaturated fat than the muscle meat we all eat now. This is exacerbated by the fact that feed-lot raised animals have a much higher % of saturated fat in the their muscle meat as well as much more fat overall than the lean and mean pasture fed animals our ancestors ate. All of the above also apparently applies to the balance of omega-3 to omega-6 fatty acids. The answer therefore ,according to Cordain, is to eat lean, pasture-fed meat and organ meats, as well as a lot of fish. Most of us need to also take fish oil and some vegetable-based fats such as olive oil or flax oil to make the food available in our world match the fat profile that our ancestors ate. This all means that an argument against too much saturated fat can be sustained; not in terms of it being a ‘poison’ (which is ridiculous) but in terms of getting the balance right.

  35. Kurt G Harris MD on November 24, 2009 at 09:40


    Flax oil??

    Are you serious? Flax oil is linseed oil – mechanically extracted from flaxseed and used in paints and varnishes. Even if you do eat it, the efficiency of conversion of the ALA to the n-3 s we need in our cell membranes is so low you’d have to drink a pint of it.

    Just avoid eating processed vegetable oils and little if any supplementation should be required.

    What the hell is paleolithic about eating linseed oil better suited to furniture refininishing?

    “The paleo diet” is a book of confirmation bias. If you read GCBC first like I did, you will see what I mean. It was decided a priori that saturated fat and salt are bad, end then these premises were used to filter a “paleolithic principle” to get a politicially correct diet book that would not irritate cardiologists.

    How does Cordain know that paleolithic men were careful to eat equal parts of the carcass by volume to purposefully “avoid” excess sat fats from the tastier parts that had more fat? That is pure speculation and defies both logic and evidence from modern age HGs.

  36. Zepto on November 25, 2009 at 17:31


    I would think that the health of people in India, (if they indeed are vegetarians) have more to do with the things they aren’t consuming, rather then the things they are consuming.

  37. […] Part II of this series I wrote that this installment would be about the "best research" those […]

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