Monday, 7 December 2009

Lard or tallow better than extra virgin olive oil?

This is going too far, certainly for an ex-vegetarian. For the past couple of weeks I have been enjoying sirloin steaks, but beef tallow would border on insanity. I did read on pemmican (tallow mixed with dried meat), but pemmican belonged in the cold Canada, and I am not a Native American.

Olive oil has been my staple for the over ten years. I used it in salads, for cooking, frying and even occasionally made mayonnaise with it. My diet had been most certainly low fat, but aside from olive oil there were no other fats, save for some tahini, a few nuts or oily fish now and then.

When I got into the Paleo paradigm, I had doubts about olive oil, as it is a quintessentially Neolithic product. Nevertheless, it is recommended by Dr Cordain and used widely by the Paleo followers. Olive oil is supposed to be good because it is mostly oleic acid, which is a good monounsaturated fat. Human fat is composed mostly from oleic acid. Our Paleo ancestors did not use olive oil, but they gorged on bone marrow and brain, which are also relatively rich in oleic acid. So, it appears that olive oil is a modern substitute for bone marrow. Not easy to buy organic bones these days...

But bone marrow has a very beneficial omega 6:3 ratio, roughly 1:1, whereas olive oil contains 10 times more omega-9 than omega-3. This is typically not a problem because overall PUFA content in olive oil is considered relatively insignificant. That may be the case if you are using very small amounts of olive oil, but if you are near 50g/day, you might also be getting about 5g omega-6. You have to drink a lot of fish oil to counterbalance this and besides total PUFA can be more of a problem. Another problem with extra virgin olive oil: it really should not be used for frying or baking.

I would have continued with olive oil if it were not for one minor detail: my sebaceous glands. I had acne as a teenager and suffered excessive sebum all my life. Only vigorous exercise and much sunshine alleviated the condition. By in the past I live a happy live of unhealthy eating and many thinks could have caused my skin problems. Later I attributed my acne to dairy, but the excessive sebum remained, possibly because of high carbohydrate diet. But now, after having gone Paleo I expected this would change. It would not. In fact I discovered a few acne spots on my back which made me think about the whole story again.

What I discovered is that while ratio of omega-6:3 seems to be important, the total intake of oleic acid can be even more so. It appears, that normal sebum contains omega-6 and oleic acid, but if there is a lot of oleic acid in blood, sebaceous glands excrete the excess. There would simply be more oleic acid in sebum. Now, sebum with oleic acid has different viscosity and does not evacuate as easily. Also, oleic acid itself acts as irritant and possibly stimulated proliferation of cells lining the ducts, causing clogging. It may also help some pathogens to grow on sebum.

Clearly, when one is losing weight quite a lot of oleic acid is released into the bloodstreem. When this is combined with dietary fat from olive oil, the excess is evident. Now, when this is happening when there is a lot of exercise and limited carbohydrate intake, the fat will get burnt leaving less for the sebum. But doing 20km daily runs on a low carb diet is not easy. Besides, it is not Paleo (or not in our nature).

While a few whiteheads or blackheads should not be a real issue for a Paleo warrior, the skin can reflect some metabolic imbalance. And when there is a small problem with the skin, there might a bigger one elsewhere - resulting from excessive oleic acid. Clearly the composition of all cell membranes would be affected.

This is only a working hypothesis and is about to be tested over the next few months. But if I am to limit olive oil, what else is out there? I will try to get some bones (I actually tried bone marrow as a child and liked it) but that would not solve the cooking problem. My choice is beef tallow. It also contains a lot of oleic acid (about 40%), which is good, but there is less of it than in olive oil, which is even better. I will continue to use olive oil for salads. There is a potential issue with tallow: palmitic acid. By I am not buying the argument that palmitic acid is bad in the Paleo context. After all, easting sugar stimulates fat production in the liver and the oil being produced as a result is: palmitic acid. It is simply part and parcel of our metabolism, like cholesterol is. I believe modest addition of organic grass-fed beef tallow would bring back the lipid balance which was distorted by too much oleic acid from olive oil. Time will show.

BTW, tallow appears to be better than lard because of the lowest PUFA and omega-6 content. Chicken fat seems to be the worst in that repect. I must have been easier to hunt a mammoth than to catch a wild hen.


  1. You're on to something. I have what western "quacks" call chronic pancreatitis. I was vegetarian. After no help from the westerners, I found a Korean doctor and he put me on 1. cardio-excercise 2. animal fat. Along with some restrictions such as no wheat, and mainly roots and fat in the winter...and no sweets, i'm finally symptom free (unless I skip the excersise for too long). Chicken fat still makes me sick. I don't eat beef, so that leaves bison/lamb/goat/salmon. All of these fats make me feel genuinely good to eat. Which is a relief most people can't comprehend.

  2. cardio-excercise is pretty much an oxymoron, you can bet paleolithic man didn't go jogging.
    While your "cardio-excercise" has helped you, you should checkout something like Dr Doug Mcguff's body by science.
    Sorry if that sounded confrontational just trying to help.

  3. great info, to go against all of the common advice about using fats like canola oil and evoo is genius. Besides according to NPR, most of the imported evoo is not evoo and already rancid. They use olives that has already rotted on the ground.

  4. Coconut oil is great to cook with.

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