Quality Not Quantity Is What Matters
Why do we eat ? Simple question, usually answered in mainstream thinking with the word ‘energy’. This is wrong, the correct answer is ‘for nutrients’, and among the most important of these are the fat-soluble vitamins. Obtaining these essential items is one reason fat is so central in a healthy diet for human beings, above all fat from properly fed pasture raised animals.
Nora Gedgaudas’ ‘Primal Fat Burner’ is the follow up to her highly successful book ‘Primal Body, Primal Mind’. Gedgaudas makes a strong case for a high fat diet, and is one of several writers who argue that ketosis, or fat burning, is our natural metabolic state. This is an interesting area of research with many of the effects of a ketogenic diet only recently coming to light. I myself was unaware until recently that heart muscle has a preference for fat metabolism and that a persistent intake of carbohydrates can be quite damaging, and may be one of the factors in coronary heart disease*. Also of interest is the therapeutic impact of ketosis on the brain, especially as this organ does use glucose as a fuel source.
Energy, however, plays an exaggerated role in the nutrition debate. This is a reflection of the mainstream position which places energy balance, calories in calories out, at the centre of the discussion, and puts its main emphasis on the macronutrient content of foods. I have argued elsewhere (see here) that we should drop macronutrients as a concept precisely because they distract our attention from what really matters, which is nutrient content not energy. Most of us are walking around with enough fuel to last us for months if needed, we really do not need to eat every day if it is only a question of energy stores.
From this perspective, the most useful chapter in the ‘Primal Fat Burner’ is Gedgaudas’ ‘Field Guide To Fat-Soluble Nutrients’ (pp. 105-124). Here she helps us shift our focus to where it properly belongs, the vitamins A, D, E, and K, the role they play and how they interact both with one another and animal sourced fat. Her discussion echoes a similar emphasis on nutrients in Frank Tufano’s YouTube channel (see here), one of the strongest features of his approach to nutrition. Gedgaudas writes,
“While ketones are the hot new celebrity getting the glory, and debates about macronutrient ratios grab the headlines… the micronutrients made available by eating animal sourced foods might deserve our respect even more.” (p. 105)
As she points out, all of these critical nutrients are “ultimately dependent on dietary fat… to be most properly absorbed and used.” (p. 105) This is an aspect of nutrition that is almost completely ignored in the mainstream.
Gedgaudas’ discussion also lends support to the argument that even the concept of ‘micronutrients’ is not really helpful either (see here). Adopting this language involves accepting the orthodox framework to some extent, with its prioritisation of macros and its itemisation of individual vitamins and minerals. The reason this is not a good approach is that it ignores the way ‘micronutrients’ operate, which is not in isolation but together.
“Micronutrients don’t exist as isolated entities. Nature designed them to exist in synergy with one another and with other compounds that help them get absorbed.” (p. 108)
This is why I argue we should ‘forget micronutrients’ (see here) and instead concentrate on the real six food groups (see here), several of which are left out completely in the mainstream framework and are one reason why we are in fact so malnourished today. Cate Shanahan also makes this point (see here). Gedgaudas reinforces this argument through a description of how the fat-soluble vitamins form a “family”.
“For every receptor for vitamin D on a human cell, there are two receptors for animal-source vitamin… therefore, you need ample vitamin A in order to be able to properly use your vitamin D, and you need the two vitamins in relatively healthy ratios to each other, because an excess of one can create a relative deficiency of the other. On top of that, you also need vitamin K2 from animal-source foods to properly utilise vitamin D3. Vitamin K2 is actually the substance that makes the vitamin A – and vitamin D3– dependent proteins come to life – it is the activator of the equation.”
“Take it one step further, and you discover that vitamins A, D, and K also need certain minerals to fully realise their benefits. Vitamins A and D3 require sufficient zinc and magnesium to do their job. And to absorb many of these minerals from our food in the first place, we need fats and the presence of these three fat-soluble vitamins, and we need hydrochloric acid in our stomachs, which we procuce the most of when eating animal-source foods. It’s a full and synergistic circle.” (p. 108)
Gedgaudas then goes on to describe the role of vitamin E, other key minerals, and the importance of sunshine (one of my six food groups, see here). Echoing Cate Shanahan, she argues that current guidelines significantly undershoot our vitamin requirements when it comes to optimal health.
“The US RDA for vitamin K – they’re talking primarily about K1– is only 90 mcg. Current research shows we likely need about ten times as much and should focus instead on vitamin K2.” (p. 120)
Gedgaudas goes into much greater detail on the specific functions of the various vitamins and their extensive benefits, including on genetics, gene transcription, and epigenetics (p. 123). The morale of the story, however, to my mind, is that the overly analytical approach currently in use by the mainstream simply breaks down in the face of such an intricate web of interactions and interdependencies among nutrients. Gedgaudas would agree with this I think. What is needed instead is to step back and look at the bigger picture, starting with actual foods, but then zooming out to the food groups, and then again to examine traditional cuisines that have successfully combined all these elements in a way of eating, one that is appropriate for the people whose way it is, and for the topographic and climactic conditions where they live. Gedgaudas herself was heavily influenced by her experience of living in the far North with Inuit, but few among either her readers or of this blog belong to this people, our task is to reconnect with our OWN traditions, in a manner that is workable and sustainable under the conditions we face today.
Exactly what that looks like I don’t yet know, and I am not sure the answer will come from a blog in any case. But it is the right question to be asking, and it is one I will return to many times here.
Nora Gedgaudas, ‘Primal Fat Burner, Live Longer, Slow Aging, Super-Power Your Brain, and save your life with a High-Fat, Low-Carb Paleo Diet', Allen & Unwin, 2017
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