Is Eating Crow Paleo?

Back last September I got all riled up over "All The Stupid Stuff in My Face from the Grant Whores." The main impetus for the post at the time was the many ridiculous articles in the media claiming that saturated fat is making us fat by stimulating appetite in the brain.

While the new articles were indeed ridiculous, they were all sourcing this study that I also cited (full text):

Palmitic acid mediates hypothalamic insulin resistance by altering PKC-θ subcellular localization in rodents

…This finding was specific for palmitic acid, as the monounsaturated fatty acid, oleic acid, neither increased membrane localization of PKC-θ nor induced insulin resistance. Finally, arcuate-specific knockdown of PKC-θ attenuated diet-induced obesity and improved insulin signaling. These results suggest that many of the deleterious effects of high-fat diets, specifically those enriched with palmitic acid, are CNS mediated via PKC-θ activation, resulting in reduced insulin activity.

Hmm. Well, of course, I’m by no means an expert on any of this at all. I’m just a guy who has racked up 60 pounds of weight loss primarily by means of a very high fat diet, particularly saturated fat. It just strikes me as odd that a natural, whole, real food — animal fat, coconut fat — gets singled out for suspicion when I’d guess that for average americans, a good 70% of their caloric intake comes from various "foods" that didn’t exist for 99.99% of our evolution. Hell, I think millions of Americans are getting 25% of their energy and more just from sugar drinks.

And yet the focus is always on the meat, not the bread it’s wrapped in, or the frankenfat mayo it’s slathered in, or the plastic "cheese" lying atop it. But was that the real aim of this research, or is that just how the media played it?

…As I was saying, my focus was on the stupidity of the news articles but I directed the real ire towards the researchers. Well, one of them came across that post and wasn’t amused. But before I deal with that specifically, it tuned out that Dr. Stephan Guyenet, whom we know so well over here, did a fairly comprehensive review of that study just two days after I published my driveby piece. Now, having corresponded in email with Stephan dozens of times since shortly after he began blogging, not to mention his blogging itself, it’s safe to say, at least from my perspective, that he was rather impressed with the study that gave rise to all those stupid news articles.

We’ve been having an interesting discussion in the comments about a recently published paper by Dr. Stephen C. Benoit and colleagues (free full text). They showed that a butter-rich diet causes weight gain and insulin resistance in rats, compared to a low-fat diet or a diet based on olive oil. They published a thorough description of the diets’ compositions, which is very much appreciated!

They went on to show that infusing palmitic acid (a 16-carbon saturated fat) directly into the brain of rats also caused insulin resistance relative to oleic acid (an 18-carbon monounsaturated fat, like in olive oil).

He then goes on to explain in some detail the interesting connection between insulin and palmitic acid (saturated fat), concluding that, in essence, what these researchers showed actually made perfect sense in an evolutionary context. Here’s what I think might be the bottom line so far as this rodent study is concerned.

One of the most interesting things about this study is the butter group that the investigators fed the same number of calories as the low-fat group (this is called pair-feeding). This group did not become overweight, and did not experience elevated fasting insulin and blood glucose relative to the low-fat group*. This shows clearly that the adverse effects of the butter diet were primarily due to the fact that rodents overeat when fed a high-fat diet.

That asterisk points to a footnote.

* The pair-fed butter group did show a lowered sensitivity to insulin, but given its normal weight, normal fasting insulin, and normal blood sugar, it really cannot be said to exhibit metabolic dysfunction in my opinion. Human "metabolic syndrome" involves overweight and elevated fasting insulin, which these rats did not have. Furthermore, the investigators did not show that the insulin sensitivity of the pair-fed butter group was different than a pair-fed olive oil group (they didn’t make that comparison), so the finding doesn’t implicate saturated fat specifically. Insulin sensitivity is determined in part by carbohydrate intake. This is normal. The more carbohydrate the body has to dispose of, the better it gets at handling it. On a high-fat diet, you don’t need much insulin sensitivity to keep blood glucose in the normal range, because you aren’t ingesting much glucose. On the other hand, in high-fat (low carbohydrate) diet trials on insulin-resistant people, insulin sensitivity often improves, however this is not the case in healthy insulin-sensitive people.

But you really should go read Stephan’s whole post to get a fair grasp of what has been shown.

…If I’m not mistaken, it’s pretty well known anecdotally amongst many of us fatties and former fatties that high-fat, low-carb diets promote insulin resistance and the effect many find (including myself) when losing lots of fat is elevated blood glucose, especially in the morning (Dawn Phenomenon). UK Veterinarian Peter Dobromylskyj at Hyperlipid generally refers to all of this as Physiological Insulin Resistance and has been blogging about it for at least two years by my count. You can click here for about three pages worth of posts. I particularly like this quote from this post:

I like palmitic acid. It causes insulin resistance. Thank goodness.

So, to sum it up, it appears to me now that:

  1. The researchers in that study did decent science, and
  2. It was hijacked by the media in order to write the typical sensational crap.

So once Dr. Benoit posted those comments I linked to above, he also sent me an email essentially reiterating the same points. I replied and promised to look into it and he was kind enough to provide me with the following.

Let me make a few points about the blog.

1. The links you posted were to news stories, not to the actual paper. If you review and reconsider, I would encourage you to take a look at the article. It’s free (because of NIH support) here.

2. The paper was not about ice cream, burgers or even whether saturated fats are “bad.” Debbie knew that the molecular mechanism is well-understood. Fats cause peripheral insulin resistance by activating an enzyme called PKC. Active PKC serine phosphorylates insulin receptor substrates. When this happens, the insulin receptor cannot phosphorylate their tyrosine residues and they remain inactive. In muscle, this means that GLUT4 is not translocated to cell membranes and blood glucose goes up. (The effect in the periphery is well documented and if you are ever in Cincinnati and want to stop by the lab and actually see it work for yourself in the lab, let me know and I will be happy to arrange a demo. If you like, you can even be the “subject” and see how your own insulin sensitivity changes. Labs here do this work all the time in people.). Because we study insulin signaling in brain, she wanted to know if a similar process happened there. It does. The end result is a blunted hypothalamic output of insulin’s effects on appetite and also on the vagus-mediated CNS control of liver glucose production.

3. The work in that paper took 4 years and a lot of sweat and tears from many people. We didn’t set out to prove that fats were “bad” – we set out to see if a well-known process in muscle also occurs in the brain. This is important for obesity and also cognitive disorders. Those papers are also on PubMed.

4. JCI is a top-tier journal. When papers are published there, universities like to send out press releases. Both UC and UTSW did so. Our internal people interviewed us first and did their level best to “dumb down” the science to something digestible and “cute” for a press release… like “ice cream goes to your brain”. You’ll see that almost all the reports are based on the press release, NOT the actual paper. This is almost always the case for these studies. We didn’t feed mice ice cream and we didn’t claim that people shouldn’t eat fats or animal products. We found how certain molecules affect the activity of an enzyme in the brain. It was the process of translating that information for the press…. And then what the PRESS/MEDIA did with it that is the problem. I have all but stopped these things. I rarely talk to them. But Debbie is new to UTSW and they pressured her to talk to as many media outlets as possible, I know that she was not comfortable with the outcome of several reports/interviews because the media/film crew edited 30-60 minutes of discussion into a 1-3 min “cute” clip.

5. Both Debbie and I are aware that the real culprit is simple/processed carbohydrate (e.g., high fructose corn syrup, etc). Good luck on EVER getting that out of the American diet. We are not attempting to say that fat or meat is bad. In fact, the obesity research group at UC was one of the first to publish a clinical trial on the Atkins diet (here and here) and I am part of a new study (in review) showing that Atkins is actually better than the AHA diet for insulin sensitivity and increasing adiponectin levels, a hormone that improves insulin signaling. I can tell you that when they first tried to publish this work they were denied by major journals because the editors didn’t believe it. Eventually it was and is now established fact. I can only remain hopeful that the “process” of science will continue and will continue to correct itself as it has for over 100 years. We both believe that the combination of fat and carbs is what is causing the obesity epidemic eliminating one or the other will improve the situation, but like I said for many reasons it is not possible to eliminate the carbs, especially simple sugars.

6. I rarely respond to these because there simply isn’t time. It’s not that I don’t care or think that I am better than anyone, I just don’t have time to write on blogs… one could easily spend the whole day and of course enjoy the lively debate, but at the end of the day it doesn’t help my lab move forward so my practice is to avoid if possible.

There was more, but much of it was of a personal nature about one of the other researchers that I don’t think is appropriate to publish.

In the end it’s pretty clear to me that I was wrong to target them. I do have two disagreements with Dr. Benoit.

  1. In all of his communications he has emphasized the level, intensity and length of the work. I’m not an adherent to the Labor Theory of Value. I’m now satisfied that their work is sound, and so it has value. But it matters not to me whether it took 5 minutes or 10 years to produce.
  2. I firmly believe that there is room and justification for the sorts of vitriol I spew, human beings or not. But I recognize that I spewed at the wrong folks this time and I regret that. Thankfully, there are plenty who actually deserve it. I will probably do better in the future to primarily direct public hangings to news media unless I’m particularly familiar with a piece of research.

I am grateful for Dr. Benoit for taking the time to contact me. Now that I’m aware of the greater context, the last thing I’d want is for that post hanging out there unchecked. I will be updating it with a link to this post.

Since Covid killed my Cabo San Lucas vacation-rental business in 2021, this is my day job. I can't do it without you. Memberships are $10 monthly, $20 quarterly, or $65 annually. Two premium coffees per month. Every membership helps finance this work I do, and if you like what I do, please chip in. No grandiose pitches.


  1. Michael on May 10, 2010 at 22:00

    In all of his communications he has emphasized the level, intensity and length of the work. I’m not an adherent to the Labor Theory of Value. I’m now satisfied that their work is sound, and so it has value. But it matters not to me whether it took 5 minutes or 10 years to produce.

    LOL! Only a voluntaryist would have caught that. Nice pick up.

    In this case, eating crow must feel pretty good. I have always been leery of press releases about studies, when I have not read the study myself. Same for abstracts or anything an author of a study might say about the study until I have read it. Those (journalistic) cats get it wrong time and time again and abstracts (and authors) have been demonstrated to be misleading many times over.

    It seems in this case Dr. Benoit and his colleagues are pretty much on the level.

  2. Jamie on May 10, 2010 at 22:00

    That is an absolutely fascinating response from Dr Benoit. Thank you for publishing it Richard. I lesser person might have been tempted to keep that sort of thing quiet.

    I find myself disagreeing with Dr Benoit on the sugar front though. Perhaps I have read him wrong, but he appears to wave the white flag at sugar/carbs and seems content on focusing on fat? Again, perhaps I read him wrong, so happy to stand corrected.

  3. Sean on May 11, 2010 at 00:38

    “We both believe that the combination of fat and carbs is what is causing the obesity epidemic eliminating one or the other will improve the situation” Hold on there, cowboy…eliminate carbs OR fats to stop obesity? Dr Benoit seems pretty reasonable but this is still giving credence to the low fat diet that we all know (around these parts at least) is BAD BAD BAD. And if someone brings up the goddamn Kitavans I will beat them to death with my copy of GCBC.

    • Jamie on May 11, 2010 at 02:07

      “Both Debbie and I are aware that the real culprit is simple/processed carbohydrate (e.g., high fructose corn syrup, etc). Good luck on EVER getting that out of the American diet.”

      “We both believe that the combination of fat and carbs is what is causing the obesity epidemic eliminating one or the other will improve the situation, but like I said for many reasons it is not possible to eliminate the carbs, especially simple sugars.”

      It is these two sentences that I see as Dr Benoit waving the white flag at the battle against carbs. So what he seems to be saying is that we know carbs are the real culprit, but seeing as we will never change that, we’ll go after the wrong guy – fat. Isn’t that like saying “Well, the murderer has skipped the country, so lets just prosecute this guy instead.” Seems awfully odd to me.

      • Sean on May 11, 2010 at 08:05

        I tend to think that Dr Benoit holds some conflicting views. He is an eminent researcher, and I’m just some dude who hangs out in the paleosphere, but he might be a bit too involved in examining (and getting funding for examining) the trees to see the whole forest. And he might not be ready to completely give up the carbs are healthy/nutritional pyramid dogma. Plus this was originally correspondence between Dr Benoit and Richard, I’ve certainly been known to be rather inconsistent in my email correspondence.

  4. Michael on May 11, 2010 at 02:07

    “We both believe that the combination of fat and carbs is what is causing the obesity epidemic eliminating one or the other will improve the situation” Hold on there, cowboy…eliminate carbs OR fats to stop obesity? Dr Benoit seems pretty reasonable but this is still giving credence to the low fat diet that we all know (around these parts at least) is BAD BAD BAD. And if someone brings up the goddamn Kitavans I will beat them to death with my copy of GCBC.

    Okay, hit me but I bet the book gives out before I do. :-)

    In all seriousness I don’t think either food group is going to be eliminated anytime soon, and judging from the rest of the context, I doubt Dr. Benoit is making such a categorically exclusive statement. But if he is I stand open for correction.

    As for the Kitavans (and several other healthy groups I can think of) they were indeed low fat overall relatively speaking, but as I’ve noted before the proportion of their diet which is made up of saturated fat is higher than the overall saturated fat content in the west. If you have a diet that is 21% fat overall but 85% or more of that fat is saturated, then to think of such a diet in typical low fat terms will lead to some erroneous conclusions. To think of the Kitavans simply as “low fat” is misleading and not very well nuanced given the data we have on them.

    • Sean on May 11, 2010 at 03:31

      I don’t know much about the Kitavans, honestly, and my copy of GCBC is already in poor shape from overuse so you are safe ;)

      These culture comparisons are inherently flawed because there are so many uncontrolled variables (culture A eats less SFAs and is healthier than culture B, oh and they also eat a lot more omega 3s, no sugar, get more exercise, don’t smoke, have a highly supportive social network, blah blah blah, but we’ll ignore all that). They are trotted out by people with an agenda (the China Study, not Michael ;)

      My impression of Dr Benoit is that there is some dissonance there, he readily talks about studies on Atkins type diets and the difficulty getting them published, the evils of sugar, but he’s not quite ready to drink the kool-aid and throw out bread and neolithic carbs in general. If he is reading this, I’d just like to say,”‘Dr Benoit, I AM your father, the SFAs are strong in you! Join us! Join the dark side, you cannot resist!”

      • Skyler Tanner on May 11, 2010 at 18:39

        What about the Kuna and their cocoa drink and carbs? ;)

  5. Naomi on May 11, 2010 at 05:36

    Got a lot of respect for you Richard, this post reminds me why :)

  6. Ned Kock on May 11, 2010 at 06:31

    Physiological insulin resistance is akin to the physiological hypertension induced by resistance training. One’s blood pressure skyrockets with some exercises.

    No one in their right mind will argue that resistance training causes hypertension based on that transitory effect.

    Saturated fat is a more desirable target, I guess. Those posts by Stephan and Peter and indeed excellent. It seems that the fasting glucose elevation effects of niacin may have the same basis:

  7. Glenn on May 11, 2010 at 06:54

    Thanks for this post, Richard. It’s not only informative, but it shows that you really are interested in the facts, and in being right, rather than seeming right.

    “Esse quam videri”

  8. Paul C on May 11, 2010 at 07:59

    Dr Benoit’s insights on media interaction with researchers is a great look into how misinformation is born and spread.

    To me it seemed Dr Benoit could have been saying SAD carbs are the culprit, creating the blood sugar and insulin environment that aids in the higher density calories in fat to be stored as fat, and in that way fat is implicated. I think what he said can square with the Paleo view.

  9. John on May 11, 2010 at 10:51

    So I’ve had a lot of issues of science by press release as well. I’m a researcher right now and am getting out of the business because of this type of hijacking of the message of science.
    The thing is that although the researcher in question is on the up and up there is a lot of grantsmanship going on. Studies in the news are good for many things, both helping the University and for renewing the grant. Reputation and publicity help renew grants plain and simple so the research gets played up in those press releases is getting some gain. That being said often they have very little control of those releases. We were involved in the isolation of the genes responsible for the synthesis of an anticancer compound in bacteria. The intention is to understand the biochemistry involved in the bacteria and synthesis. Suddenly in the news though we had cured cancer and had cancer patients emailing to try and get a hold of what we had discovered. It’s a real shame, it hurt cause there were people on their last legs being given false hope by the people in public relations but it reflected on us. I talked to a lady the other day who wondered why scientists hadn’t cured muscular dystrophy even though the scientists had told her that they had the” needle in the haystack” 20 years ago. It’s a real problem, I was told by a prof when I was learning to write NIH grants that you always promise the super computer, you may deliver an abacus, but make sure to promise that super computer. I guess when your career depends on getting grants it’s easy to become a “grant whore” as Richard calls it, I’m not excusing it maybe just explaining how easy it is to get caught up by that machinery even when you are really doing good science and want to be a good scientist.

  10. John on May 11, 2010 at 11:40

    One more thing, regarding the amount of work done on the project, this can be a big thing to a scientist.
    Again I’m in a different field from Dr. Benoit, I was raised as a chemist you might say, and at least for us the amount of work one does is a source of pride. It’s not necessarily about how good the work is or how great the result, in most cases if you can’t blind them with your brilliance you bury them in B.S. and hope they don’t notice. I know a lot of chemists who spend a lot of time telling me how much time they spend working, I work 65 hours a week and I’m on the low end, and looked down on as a result. So while you Richard (and I guess myself as well) don’t subscribe to the labor theory of value a lot of scientist do. It’s entertaining to listen to the pissing matches sometimes, “I worked 16 hours yesterday”, “ya well I was here 90 hours last week” etc.

  11. Dave C. on May 11, 2010 at 11:49

    Good for you Richard, for being classy and posting this response. +1

  12. Anna on May 11, 2010 at 12:27

    Nice to see this post, Richard. I remember the earlier post well.

    The headlines that prompted your earlier post are why I don’t bother reading nutrition or health articles in the mainstream media anymore. Health news in the mass media is simply unreliable for all sorts of reasons (motived by money or glory, written by scientifically illiterate reporters/editors, misleading spin is prmotied to increase readership, etc.). If the headlines interest me at all, I chase the paper down and if I can’t understand it, I find someone knowledgeable who can go over it with me (usually I call on my “NIH grant whore” husband or one of his fellow NIH whores, I mean research colleagues). In biotech-driven San Diego, one can find an NIH grant whore on just about any corner. Our pet name for folks who work in the part of town where my husband works is “fools on the hill”, a la the Beatles (but I don’t think you like the Beatles either).

    Lately my husband doesn’t have very much time to explain to explain biochemistry and research studies to me because he is constantly whoring, I mean writing grant proposals to keep the “basic” research activities in his lab funded, despite his extremely solid track record in science and the leadership position in his field (his area of basic research isn’t narrowly focussed on specific diseases, but rather is research into how specific proteins in cells function (fundamentals), which might later be translated by others into results that can used in clinical research). I’ll spare you the details about how underfunded basic research is, but suffice it to say that even scientists whose work lays the foundation upon which all new health knowledge rests , are in essence, grant whores.

    • stephen c benoit on May 11, 2010 at 14:56

      Anna – I am also in basic research, focused on how specific molecules interact with each other. And, you are right… even the basic scientist has to obtain grants to continue to lay that foundation.

      I applaud Richard for his revision to this post. I think he did an excellent job.


  13. stephen c benoit on May 11, 2010 at 13:00

    Many Thanks to Richard for this very thoughtful post. After I read other articles on his blog, I realized we are more aligned in thought than he suspected. While I am very glad that he posted portions of my email to him (thanks, Richard) please do note that it was written as an email response, not a post. As such, I wrote it in a more casual way than I would have otherwise.

    Let me respond to just a couple of the comments about me/our work and two of Richard’s points.

    First, I agree with Richard that the duration or intensity of a study does not speak to the truth of the result. Some of the greatest discoveries have been made in a day. I only made that personal appeal several times in response to some of the language (and what appeared to be personal attacks) in the post last year. I was just making a case that we are decent hard-working people. Had it not been for the title of that post, I most likely wouldn’t have read or responded to it. (Richard, feel free to take down my previous responses if you’d like. Those responses were written in the middle of my emotional reaction to some words in that post. It’s not every day I find a blog like that (insert smiley face).)

    I also agree with Richard and others’ comments that it probably makes evolutionary sense that fatty acids would cause insulin resistance (a discussion for another time). It is only in the context of today’s processed energy-dense palatable foods that a previously beneficial effect has become deadly. But, that’s my opinion, not what I study in the lab. I hope by the end of this post no one will be surprised to learn that I don’t eat a lot of carbs and have given serious thought to going “paleo” as you call it.

    Second, there is no flag-waving or dissonance, though I can see how one might read that from my email. In fact, I’m a basic scientist. It’s not my job to decide which nutrients or diets are “good” or “bad” for health. I was offering my personal opinion that the real culprit is processed foods – especially processed carbs. And, it’s also my opinion that these are in the American diet for the long haul, because they are very cheap calories. I’ll also tell you that my opinion is that neither fats nor carbs are “bad” on their own. Rather, it is the combination that is really ‘bad,’ particularly in processed palatable foods now available everywhere and consumed by most people in the US. That is my personal opinion and quite likely what I would tell you if you met me on the street – I’d probably even tell you to try a low carb diet. Frankly, I might also tell you that we could cure the obesity epidemic tomorrow if we made most processed food illegal and sent people to prison for selling it. However, that’s not my job. I’m not a clinician and I am certainly not a lawmaker. I don’t make professional recommendations or rules about what people should eat. My job is just to figure out how nutrients and other molecules affect the brain.

    Our study was just designed to test whether a well-known peripheral process operates in the central nervous system. The conclusion from that work was that brain PKC is part of the reason that fat/sugar combinations have their metabolic effects. The conclusion was not that fats are ‘bad’ or ‘good.’ Again, one has to keep the professional line of investigation separate from the personal value judgments about food that I might make, even if based on the science. In fact, the only mention of “public health” in my professional papers comes at the beginning and end – and that’s just because papers have to be written in some sort of context.

    Third, even though we know that low-carb diets reduce weight and improve insulin signaling, the fact is that most Americans consume a lot of fat and carbs. Therefore, understanding the mechanism by which that combination causes insulin resistance is still a valid and important research endeavor (in my opinion). This is especially true at the division between clinical and basic science. Take smoking for example. Of course you shouldn’t smoke – everyone knows that by now. Yet, the NIH spends billions of dollars trying to figure out how nicotine works, how smoking causes disease, etc. in order to hopefully find new ideas to either help people quit or treat them once they are sick. The public significance here is not all that different. I can’t make people stop eating McDonald’s but maybe I can find a molecule that is a good drug target to help improve their diabetes whilst they are eating it.

    Finally, the problem here was the media. It’s impossible to talk long about molecules and enzymes before they ask you if your work means “burgers are bad.” They want a human interest story that’s easy to tell. They don’t want to hear about ‘how stuff works.’ They want to hear about ‘what it means.’ And, in one sense, our study does show part of why hamburgers are “bad” – but that’s not something we would want to say in a professional context. I’d rather just say “fatty acids activate PKC and attenuate IRS tyrosine phosphorylation” – but the media isn’t interested in hearing about that and needs something tangible and understandable. So, we just do our best when we have to talk to them. The science news does a much better job, but that’s not accessible to many people due to subscription costs. Note: I should be clear that I don’t place all the blame on the media and I am not perfect in this respect. It’s partly our fault for not demanding that they assume the audience could understand more and is always our fault when we let egos get the better of us and join in the telling of “cute” stories for the cameras.

    One might reasonably ask why we even talk to them? Well, I avoid it when I can (especially television) but public dissemination is part of our job. And for good or ill, Universities need the attention. Media stories generate community interest which fosters public support and charitable donations. I am not making any value judgments about that – just expressing what I understand about the situation.

    I’m sorry that this response is so long. That wasn’t my intent. But, many of you have raised such good points and questions that I wanted to explain my points/work a little more fully. And, I did feel compelled to respond (in a much more thoughtful way than to the previous blog entry) to the various comments about me, my positions and interactions with the media. Thank you for indulging me.

    Thanks again Richard for a very thoughtful post and also for the other comments here. I am glad to have found your blog and I will look forward to reading more.

    My Best Regards,

    Stephen C. Benoit

    p.s., some years ago I was studying a molecule called melanotan, a synthetic hormone that darkens
    the skin. In the brain, it also caused weight-loss and erections (in rats). Of course the media picked up on these and related studies and claimed “New drug makes you thin, tan and ready for sex.” Such is the media.

    • Dave C. on May 11, 2010 at 13:12

      Thank you for chiming back in Dr. Benoit. This kind of back and forth discussion is what helps raise awareness and understanding for laypersons. It’s incredibly beneficial to understand the process and how science is “done”.

      • stephen c benoit on May 11, 2010 at 14:41

        I appreciate your response very much, Dave. Thanks.

    • Richard Nikoley on May 11, 2010 at 13:38


      I think there’s logical sense to the idea that both high carb and high fat in the diet could be a bad thing, even on a real foods diet.

      Somethings gotta give, of course, so if you’re high carb AND high fat (twice as calorically dense by weight) this is going to be at the expense of protein. And of course, that’s typically what we see in modern processed foods: high carbs and high fat, and a pittance of quality protein. Then add to that that for modern foods the carbs and the fat are both going to be crap (refined sugars & franken oils).

      By my recollection of the various primitive populations I’ve looked at, you find high carb, moderate fat and pretty low protein healthful (Kitavans). High fat, moderate protein and near zero carb healthful (Inuit), and you find high protein, moderate carb and fat healthful (Massai wariors).

      • stephen c benoit on May 11, 2010 at 14:54

        Dear Richard

        Many thanks for your response. I am not an expert on those diets so I can not offer an informed reponse. Frankylt, I’ve not heard of them so I can’t even offer an opion. It just goes to show that scientists might need as much education as everyone else.

        My Best

      • Richard Nikoley on May 11, 2010 at 16:09

        Here’s some great links about these people, all from Dr. Stephan Guyenet. Note that these are search links and so all the posts are in reverse chronological order. And also, they are all more than one page of posts. Access successive pages by clicking the “Older Posts” link at the bottom of each page. I should also mention that if you skip right to the end in each case you’ll find his earliest posts that were exclusive reviews of the diet and health of these populations. His posts over the last year or two typically reference those populations in relation to other things he’s posting about.




        I’ll throw in another one, the Tokalauans who are distinguished in that they are the highest saturated fat eating population in the world. Since coconut is a main staple and is about 90% saturated fat, they get 40-50% of total energy from saturated fat. Wanna guess how healthy they were on their natural diet and what happened when they emigrated to New Zealand? (this is his summary post for the series but includes links to all posts in the series)

      • Richard Nikoley on May 11, 2010 at 16:13

        And by the way, this isn’t to convince you that natural fat is fine since you’ve already said that but more just to enhance your awareness from the standpoint of non-industrial diets and if opportunities arise, to inform your colleagues and other you may have occasion to rub elbows with. I think you’ll find Stephan’s post very thorough and objective and worthy of attention from anyone studying the effects of diet on metabolism and health.

      • stephen c benoit on May 11, 2010 at 17:44


        Thank you for your response. I am familiar with Stephan’s work. He’s a good scholar and now working with a colleague of mine. Like I said in my longer post, we are much more aligned in thought than either of us would have thought.


      • stephen c benoit on May 11, 2010 at 15:06

        Dear Richard,

        With respect to what’s “gotta give” please look up A. Drewnoski. I would aruge that processed carbs are part of our diet and here to stay. Processed carbs are cheap. I foget the actual figure, but the cost per kcal of meat/fresh vegetables vs. processed carbs (e.g, corn syrup) is astonishing…. on the order of 5 to 1, maybe 10 to 1. That means that many disadvantaged parents are “stuck” buying “crap” for their kids just to fed them. I would LOVE to see an entry on your blog about the financial feasibility of low-carb/pale0 diets. I suspect that many Americans can’t do it.

      • Richard Nikoley on May 11, 2010 at 15:59

        Don’t worry about the typos. People get it.

        While I’m sure that highly processed carbs (like cigarettes) are here to stay, it just goes to show that things like education & cultural experience are very important. For instance when I went paleo I knew I was going to have to predominantly source and prepare my own food and while I had always been handy in the kitchen it was usually something I reserved for special times. Getting processed food either from the store and reheating, or from some local chain or take out was just too easy.

        But, I also had the experience of growing up and seeing my mom, grandmothers and others preparing their own food all the time, and my grandfather as a skilled fisherman & hunter and having gone on those trips, etc, etc.

        As to the question of budget, it most certainly can be done. In many way, for instance, I prefer the cheaper cuts of meat like roasts, short ribs and so on as you can do all sorts of things from crock pot to braises and on and on. At any rate, several people have actually demonstrated that one can quite easily do low-carb / paleo and even obtain all recommended USDA allowances for less than a food stamp budget.

        (this one has a blank spot so keep scrolling)

      • stephen c benoit on May 11, 2010 at 15:11

        Sorry for all my typos…. I can’t see that well, so without Word or an editor to help me, I’m a bit lost….

      • Jamie on May 11, 2010 at 16:45

        My food bill has dropped significantly since going Paleo (~$40-60 NZD per week).

        As a nutritionist who has heard the ‘healthy food is too expensive’ argument more times than I care to imagine, I can tell you that many of the people who rattle this off are using it as a surrogate for ‘I can’t be bothered learning how to and cooking real food’. When I look at how much people are paying at the checkout & see what they are paying for, they can most certainly afford it. Many just need to prioritise their spending. Paleo eating might well be expensive when you still want to buy coke, cigarettes, & beer.

        While I agree that there are some people who genuinely struggle to buy find of any kind (but then one would argue that these people should especially choose foods that are more likely to protect their health given their financial inability to access health care), the vast majority just don’t want to give up their carb jones & transfer that money to something more nutritional. It certainly is a very frustrating argument to have with people in the clinical setting.

      • Dan M. on May 11, 2010 at 19:20

        Anyone that ever goes out to eat can afford to eat primally, but if you’re wanting plenty of variety, organic foods, and grass-fed meat, it’s going to be substantially more expensive than most of what the average person buys at the grocery store.

      • Jamie on May 11, 2010 at 20:55

        From a nutritional standpoint, variety is generally/primarily applicable to plant food intake and even then, you could make an argument that it isn’t that important. There would have been plenty of island-based H&G peoples with access to what we would consider limited variety. And perhaps seasonal variety is more important than meal to meal variety. Variety can also be another herring thrown out there by people resistant to change – they will claim that Paleo eating has little variety, when in actual fact, when you look at their SAD diet (or our New Zealand equivalent), there is very little variety anyway… everything is a variation on the same foods, typically wheat based in NZ.

        If budgets are a concern, I wouldn’t even worry about organics and just stick with thorough washing of food (or grow your own). I spend a good portion of my income on food and still am very selective about organics due to price (although increasingly here in NZ, the price differential for some products is reducing and even non-existent in a few cases… I can get organic Greek yoghurt for cheaper than the normal stuff). And being in New Zealand, the vast majority of our red meat is grass-fed (we have to pay a premium for free range chicken and bacon however).

        As I am in private practice, the people I typically see are middle-class, middle-income… and an average family of four in this bracket would probably spend $300 plus per week on food. When I am standing in the checkouts and looking at what they are buying for this money, I know that they could get a lot more bang for their buck by eating Paleo and learning a few tricks along the way.

        It is your average Mum that gets blinded by the low fat message that is spending big dollars on small boxes of low fat cereals that taste nice & are fortified… she pays a premium to get her extra lean meat & chicken, etc.

        There is a lot of false economies built into this too… e.g. health & dental costs etc.

        And there are plenty of people out there who offer support for teaching people to shop on a budget (whether that be by conventional wisdom or otherwise). But the bottom line is that many (most?) don’t want to hear this as it means giving up their addictions and possibly spending more than 10 minutes in the kitchen (and even that last point is debatable).

      • stephen c benoit on May 14, 2010 at 15:44

        Jamie, thank you for your comments. yes, I think that you are correct on many points and that some numbers of people are either uneducated or simply unwilling to give up their addictions to certain “junk foods.” I was referring however to the lowest socioeconomic strata where we often find the most cases of severe morbid obesity. If one’s food budget consists of $2-3/day/person, one is face with a serious choice about calories vs. health. But, I do appreciate your perspective and think that with middle-income families you are very much correct.


    • Jamie on May 11, 2010 at 17:15

      Dr Benoit,

      I have just had a thorough read of your post and I wish to thank you for taking the time to expand & explain your thoughts. I have seen some of the things you have discussed first hand so do appreciate the position you are in.

      Thank you again.


      • Richard Nikoley on May 11, 2010 at 18:55

        Thank you Jamie. You really bring home the point of this post. Beyond me fucking up, Dr Benoit, even though dissagreementst still perhaps exist, has clearly shown himself — and it’s my fault he even had to — to be in the good guy camp. It is totally unnecessary that we be in full agreement, only that people are willing to listen and learn.

        I think Dr Benoit learned a long time ago that the media was going to screw him every chance they got and I unfortunately, as a result, honed in on te wrong target.

        I’ll still be a public executioner because that’s my gig and I like it. I’ll just be more careful next time.

      • stephen c benoit on May 12, 2010 at 15:59

        Thank you Jamie (and Richard) for your reply. I’m glad to have found this blog and glad to be given the opportunity to explain my thoughts more clearly. I intend to continue reading.

        Me best

      • stephen c benoit on May 12, 2010 at 15:59

        that should read My best of course…

  14. stephen c benoit on May 11, 2010 at 13:03

    John, You are a genius. You hit the nail on the head before I did. Yes, the Universities want this kind of press and some of us do fall prey to telling cute stories on TV. I will aruge that it doesn’t help me get grants, though. When my peers see those reports, they usually know they details and would not appreciate me stretching the truth for fame.

    • Richard Nikoley on May 11, 2010 at 13:25

      Stephen & John

      (By the way, Stephen, there is a “reply” link under each post such that specific replies are nested underneath for a bit better flow).

      With regard to John’s observations it reminded me of when I was scheduling officer for US Seventh Fleet in Yokosuka, Japan back in the late 80s. Among my duties was forecasting and management of a $180 million fuel budget for all the ships in our operational area. That, and I also filled in for the logistics officer from time-to-time and that essentially consisted of the entire operational budget.

      I learned a couple of things:

      1. No matter what, always spend you entire budget. Stock up on toilet paper if you have to (and at any rate, TP is the determining factor for how long a nuclear sub can stay submerged :)

      2. Accomplish #1 and you get to “justify” a bigger budget for next year.


      • stephen c benoit on May 11, 2010 at 14:38

        Thanks for the tip Richard, I’m not a regular blogger. Yes, in reality the goal is spend the whole budget. And, we do that. But, I can also tell you that we aren’t allowed to buy toilet paer or other nonsense. We can spend grant money on animals, reagents, labor, travel, some equipment, and that’s about it.

        We (and most in my experience) DO NOT just try to get a bigger budget. Most individual NIH grants are capped. So, no matter what you propose, you get the same amount of money. That’s been true since I have been in the business. I’ve been in the business 12 years and the toal cap for budgets has pretty much not changed. It hasn’t even been adjusted for inflation. Actually, awarded grants are usually cut. I might get a grant for $175K per year and it would be cut to $130k per year. Most of us are just trying to keep the current labs running. Unlike the DOD, NIH is regularly reducing its budget. In that face of inflation, that makes it really hard to fund the people who do the work (since they need inflation-based raises).


      • Richard Nikoley on May 11, 2010 at 15:51

        Well good. Glad to use “use it or lose it” doesn’t prevail everywhere with respect to budgets.

  15. stephen c benoit on May 11, 2010 at 13:09

    Anna – I am also in basic research, focused on how specific molecules interact with each other. And, you are right… even the basic scientist has to obtain grants to continue to lay that foundation.

    I applaud Richard for his revision to this post. I think he did an excellent job.


    • Ned Kock on May 12, 2010 at 07:39

      Stephen, a bit off topic, but are you one of the co-authors of an article, which appeared a few years ago in Nature, on ghrelin secretion and enhanced memory?

      I thought that was a fascinating study. The media might have picked it up as something like this: “Being hungry enhances your memory”. I am not sure if they would have been totally wrong …

      • stephen c benoit on May 12, 2010 at 08:52

        Hi Ned, Yes I was though I only played a minimal role in that study and didn’t talk to the media myself. Thanks for recognizing that.


  16. stephen c benoit on May 11, 2010 at 13:14

    Sean – I AM reading this and agree with you. I hope that you read my above post and understand the points that I’m trying to make.

    Stephen (tempted to quote Luke Skywalker here)

    • Sean on May 12, 2010 at 03:51

      Hello Dr B.

      I was being rather silly of course (I’m not actually your father, in fact I pawned my light saber years ago). I did read what wrote and am glad you took to the time to stop by and comment. Good luck with the research.

      • stephen c benoit on May 12, 2010 at 16:03

        Thanks Sean. Much appreciated. BTW – I think my brother picked up your light saber at a garage sale last year….

      • Sean on May 13, 2010 at 08:39

        Meh, he can keep it. I used to be all like, “There is nothing in the Universe stronger than the power of the Force”, I would use the Force to sort of choke guys from like 2 feet away. Then I saw a kid with an AK-47 mow down like a zillion Jedis and I realized it was all just a load of crap, like the USDA food pyramid.

      • stephen c benoit on May 14, 2010 at 15:45

        Ok, that was really funny.

  17. jon w on May 11, 2010 at 15:05

    this is not a typical blog. thanks richard.

    • stephen c benoit on May 11, 2010 at 15:07

      Indeed… Thanks, Richard.

  18. Joseph on May 12, 2010 at 04:26

    Lesson learned: journalists cannot be trusted to know anything about human health.

  19. Joseph on May 12, 2010 at 04:28

    …unless they happen to have researched and written a fat monograph on the subject that can survive intelligent scrutiny.

  20. Ed T on May 13, 2010 at 07:55

    Let’s see. Feed a lot of quickly digestable carbs to rats and see what happens. An excess of ingested carbs is quickly converted via de novo lipogensis to fatty acids; primarily (70%) palmitic acid. By the way, butter is approximately 27% palmitic acid, 24% oleic, and 12% stearic acid. I don’t have the time to calculate the relative amounts, but its possible that the carbs are causing more an an increase in palmitic acid than the butter.

  21. melanotan-1 Scenesse on June 6, 2010 at 16:26

    Hello, in your blog entry here you actually described the effects of melanotan II. There are two melanotan peptides: melanotan-1 and melanotan II.
    Having studied one or the other (or both) you’ll might be interested in the following news?

    melanotan-1 (afamelanotide / Scenesse) has gotten approval from the Italian Medicines Agency for usage as a melanogenesis inducing drug to help alleviate the painful photosensitivity the stems from erythropoietic protoporphyria.

    This is the first melanocortin to ever be approved for human medical usage.

    Here is the news about this.


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