PUFA's, the Primal Blueprint and Low Carb diets

It's sort of a funny thing in low carb circles.  Atkins followers - or those who have fashioned their plans by tweaking Atkins - remain the majority of adherents to this lifestyle, despite the surging popularity of Paleo-styled plans.  

I admit to not knowing or caring a thing about Omega 6 vs. Omega 3 and all that jazz until sometime in 2009 after I'd found the LC web.  Atkins was a big fish oil pusher (if memory serves he had his own line of supplements) and fan of the O3, but he certainly didn't spend much time addressing the dreaded O6 fats.  The root of all evil in the minds of many.

I have his original book, and many recipes contained good old  fashioned industrial mayo made from soybean oil or other veggie oil.  There was no shunning of veggie oils that's for sure, or commercial salad dressings containing them so long as no carbs went along for the ride down the gullet.  Chicken may not have been as highly touted as the more luxurious ribeye, but it certainly had its place.  And when climbing the rungs, nuts were big.  Macadamias preferred, but not because of the O6:O3 ration, but because they happen to be the lowest in carbs.  I just threw out an expired Atkins shake I used to use sometimes in place of cream in my coffee (mocha coffee, yum!) - sunflower oil!  Let's not go into fats in the various "product" around, although many of the newer moose turd look-alike offerings no longer contain these in the name of paleolithic purity.

So last summer I think it was, I got involved in one (of the many) discussions on O6's and O6:O3 ratio over at Jimmy Moore's forum.  You see, a lot of low carbers also find peanuts and peanut butter acceptable, and are even bigger fans of almonds.  Almond meal is a hugely popular alternative "flour" amongst low carbers.  One day I pointed out the O6 content of almonds.  One ounce of almonds (unsalted dry roasted) contains just 5g total carb of which 3g are fiber = 2g net carb.  While the ~3.5g PUFA is only around 25% of the fat in almonds, it is nearly entirely O6 with nary a balancing O3 to be had.  (This is similar to the content of 1/4c. almond flour.)

So anyway, after reading Sisson's Definitive Guide to Fats we see he promotes the idea that paleo humans ate, as Eaton estimates, a 1:1 or 2:1 ratio.  Here's how Sisson puts it:

Omega-3s are found primarily in fish, algae, flax and nuts. You also find good portions of them in eggs from chickens that are fed fish or flax meal. And you’ve heard us go on and on about the three forms: ALA (think flax) as well as EPA and DHA (think fish oil). Omega-3s aid circulation by naturally thinning the blood, fight systemic inflammation, support brain function and ease symptoms of depression, anxiety and even ADHD. (Nods of approval)
Now back to the ratio matter. Estimates vary, but experts generally characterize Western diets as anywhere between 10-30 parts omega-6 to 1 part omega-3 (10-30:1). What ratio should we be getting? What did our primal ancestors likely eat? Try 1:1.  Although many in the establishment will try to tell you that 4:1 is good enough.
That last line reads to me as a note of disapproval for what the "mainstream" is trying to get away with.  So ... let's look at Sisson's Sample Low Carb Menu.  Sisson counts every carb in his non-starchy veggies (which I find pointless, and have since stint 2 on Atkins) in order to reach his total of 115 g for the day, but I'm going to focus on just his major fat sources.  For breakfast, these include eggs, butter and cream.  For lunch, olive oil, avocado and salmon.  Almonds for a snack, and for dinner fats come from steak and coconut oil.  So let's take a look at Sisson's sample menu using the fat gram totals from his analyses and nutritiondata.com's excellent fatty acid breakdowns to quantify the PUFA, O6, O3 contents and the O6:O3 ratios.  Here's how the sample menu shakes out:

Seems that this diet would be high in those dastardly PUFA and the even more dastardly omega 6's by the standards of a certain doctor.   Now I'm sure Sisson corrects his O6:O3 ratio with supplements but Grok didn't have fish oil capsules in his cold dark cave.  But look down the absolute content columns and we realize that the cattle derived fats - grass fed or not - would not impact the overall PUFA content or the ultimate ratio very much, nor does the coconut oil.  It's the top four items and the eggs that contribute the most to the outcome.  Even those specially fed high O3 chicken eggs don't come close to meeting even a 4:1 ratio we're told is OK.  Salmon is the only thing on his menu that pulls Sisson's PUFAss out of the omega 6 fire, and still his intake sans supplementation comes out almost 9% of his dietary fat calories.  By his own analysis, PUFA (including the minor veggie sources) comprises 8% of his daily caloric intake for those days when he eats all meals and includes berries & wine after dinner.  

But Sisson doesn't always eat salmon with his salad.  Instead he may top his salad with roasted chicken.  Let's see how this pans out:

WOWZERS!  We're in SAD diet ratio danger zone here!  (I used 6 oz. roasted chicken- mixed parts - with skin).   OK, so how about if Sisson swaps out the steak for salmon?  Twelve percent ... yes 12% ... dietary fat from that neolithic agent of disease in a paleolithic inspired diet?   How about if Sisson decides to counter that chicken with salmon for dinner (I used 8 oz salmon for the 8oz ribeye).   

We're still in danger zones here.  

Avocados, eggs, olive oil and ghee (clarified butter) are all paleo friendly fats/foods.  The only one that comes close on the ratio is the olive oil.  Add in the almonds, you're going further south.  

What about that chicken?  Well, I don't have to tell you that while skinless chicken breast is shunned by  high fattie low carbers, chicken wings are a favorite in the LC community.  (Not to mention that when eaten out these are almost invariably served with soybean oil containing bleu cheese or ranch dressing/dip).

Now, I'm not sure what all this does to one's liver or diabetic predisposition, but we sure as heck can't blame the lowly PUFA for weight gain when so many successfully lose weight or maintain eating a lot of these fats.

Neolithic food for thought ....


j said…
great analysis ms. carb-sane,
i enjoy a simple yet poignant breakdown of various guru's meal plans to show the simple inconsistencies implicit to telling people how to eat while claiming evidence backs up the claim.

no doubt people will seeth with anger at the mere suggestion that mr. sisson's diet is problematic according to his own stated fear of 06 fats, but little if anything will be done to fill in the blanks. instead its just more of the usual "eat in this ratio of impossibly difficult to count calories and carbs while arguing over the minutiae of studies and paleo-gospel"
Melchior Meijer said…
A few thoughts.

Stephan once pointed to a quite thought provoking association between n-6 consumption and obesity. Excess n-6 is also quite effective for frying your liver (pretty well documented).

People who follow Mark’s ‘primal diet’ probably still consume considerably less n-6 than people on a seedoil drowned SAD, if only because they tend to eat less due to increased satiety. Absolute amounts are probably just as important, if not more important, as (than) n-3/n-6 ratio’s.

Many people in the paleo community are very aware of the possibility to ingest higher than optimal amounts of n-6 from ‘paleo approved’ sources. From Staffan Lindeberg to Sarah Fragosso, they all give the advise not to overdo nuts.

Please CarbSane, don’t tell me you now hate Mark Sisson as well. Have you seen the miserable, overweight, prediabetic lifes he has helped transforming? I cannot help but to deeply bow my head in front of such an achievement. Yes, he is a clever businessman, but hell, aren’t you American? I’m a Dutch socialist ;-)
mem said…
PUFAs are not *primarily* a "weight gain" issue in paleo/primal/ancestral eating circles. The primary issue with PUFAs and O-6/O-3 ratio is that of neolithic agents of disease.
CarbSane said…
@Melchior: I don't hate anyone, even the loathesome (to me on many levels) Taubes. There's a big difference between finding someone personally distasteful and outright hatred.

My issues with Sisson is that he's really lacking the background and understanding to promote a WOE on any basis of science. His website exists to sell supplements, let nobody be fooled.

I'm sympathetic to the O6 connection, but since there have been great results obtained from canola and even corn oil versions of the keto epileptic diet, there's just that one little bit (big ass old black swan??!!) of evidence that says to me that there's something else about the oils and not the fatty acids themselves at fault here.

Consider industrial seed oils are:
- often chemically extracted
- often mechanically heated during extraction
- often hydrogenated
- not suited to high heat (e.g. deep frying) applications
- often used in foods that are rife with other "bad apple" ingredients

So, as such, I have a hard time with the data pointing fingers at these fats per se. Because for example, one of the worst O6 nuts, walnuts, enjoy a ton of studies demonstrating observed heart health bennies.

As to: "Have you seen the miserable, overweight, prediabetic lifes he has helped transforming? I cannot help but to deeply bow my head in front of such an achievement." I'll tip my hat but not excuse that he is, as you say, a "clever businessman".

I'm an American capitalist. I still don't like profiting from misinformation even if it helps some.
CarbSane said…
Uggh lost a comment ...

@mem: Stephan created a bit of a stir with a correlative graph showing changes in fat consumption that mirrored the obesity epidemic . He's not the first to have at least hinted at seed oils being at the route of the problem.

I think Sisson and Primal success stories perhaps demonstrate that it's not the fatty acids themselves that are the problem, but the quality of the source (contaminants, oxidation, hydrogenation).

@Jeff: Thanks! And welcome to the Asylum :-)
I hope folks don't get me wrong on my position here which is that there may well be reason to avoid chemically extracted, modified or oxidized by high temperature PUFA's. I don't see that as a factor in weight loss though per se. It may well be critical to health, however.

Many seem to tout PB as a high fat low carb plan when it's not according to his own menu. FWIW! Yes 55% fat sounds "high", but his menu is hardly a carnivore's ruminant protein delight!
Sanjeev said…
Did you & Paul Jaminet time your posts to coincide?

"the problem" below is prostate cancer

> That it was the omega-3 DHA specifically, and not
> polyunsaturated fats generally, that caused the problem,
> is supported by the fact that higher levels of the omega-6
> linoleic acid were protective against cancer:


damn ... thought you had to avoid Linoneic acid, the Darth Maul of NADs.

Maybe someone we know should go over his massive, MASSIVE reading list that he's so proud of and actually try to understand some of it.

IMHO Paul might do a little blurb about why this new DHA->prostate cancer study is not an Ioannidisian[0] study.

[0] Ioannidisian, not Dionysian
Melchior Meijer said…
Anonymous said…
Thank you for this. I feel silly for having temporarily put walnuts on the naughty step. Seemed dumb at the time...
Finally, someone (CarbSane) who isn't afraid to call Sisson out about his credentials or lack thereof. Apparently most of the paleo community has decided to ignore the man's background; at least KGH and Peter/Hyperlipid have education and credibility to speak of.

What's with Colpo, I mean who really reads or cares about what this guy thinks.
Sanjeev said…
Colpo was a "true believer" until he got the urge to actually read some of the studies that supposedly prove "metabolic advantage"

He is a careful researcher, and when the studies proved to be NOT as advertised he went with the studies, not with Eades/Atkins/Hahn.
Unknown said…
My wife and I followed the Primal blueprint, lost weight, felt better, etc. I lost about 45 lbs in 3 months. good energy, clearer thinking.....works for us...
Unknown said…
My wife and I followed the Primal blueprint, lost weight, felt better, etc. I lost about 45 lbs in 3 months. good energy, clearer thinking.....works for us...
Chee Fong Chong said…
I don't particularly eschew any food, but I think high intakes of omega-6 PUFA (regardless of ratio to n-3) is highly prone to peroxidation in vivo, and thus contribute to high oxidative stress and inflammation in the body. PUFAs also form 70% of all atherosclerotic plaques. Chris Masterjohn has touched on this, http://www.westonaprice.org/health-issues/nonalcoholic-fatty-liver-disease http://www.cholesterol-and-health.com/PUFA-Special-Report.html, and I think his analysis is spot on. So high omega 6 intake in particular regardless of ratio, could still be bad after all, won't it ?? What do u think ??