• Your life and health are your own responsibility.
• Your decisions to act (or not act) based on information or advice anyone provides you—including me—are your own responsibility.


Eat More “Heart-Healthy” Trans Fats!
(We hid them in plain sight)

This is a bonus article: I usually update on Tuesdays. I’ve got something astoundingly excellent lined up for this next Tuesday, so subscribe to my RSS feed to remind yourself!

Tireless media coverage, and government-mandated nutritional labeling, has convinced everyone that trans fats are bad for us.

Fortunately, unlike most dietary scares of the past 50 years, the government and the ADA appear to have got this one mostly right: trans fats are indeed toxic. According to this data (yes, it’s a prospective study and therefore contaminated by associational confounders), consuming just 2% of your calories from trans fat doubles your risk of heart disease! They’re also associated with obesity, Alzheimer’s, and infertility in women, and they may interfere with liver function.

What’s a Trans Fat? (You can skip this if you’re not interested in chemistry)

Oleic acid, a cis-fatty acid (Source: Wikipedia)

Hydrogenation” means that a hydrogen atom is forced into the space where a double bond once was, making it into a single bond. For instance, hydrogenating a monounsaturated fat makes a saturated fat.

Dietary fats are either saturated, monounsaturated, or polyunsaturated. “Saturated” means that there are no double bonds in the molecular structure, and no hydrogens can be added. “Monounsaturated” means one double bond, and “polyunsaturated” means…well, more than one.

The interesting part is that double bonds can be cis- or trans-…basically the chemical equivalent of right- or left-handed. It turns out that fats created (or hydrogenated) by enzymes, in mammal bodies, are all cis-handed. But chemical hydrogenation creates a mixture of cis- and trans- fats that actually favors the unnatural trans- configuration 2:1. And the resulting trans- molecules have a dramatically different shape!

Eliadic acid, the same fat in trans- form

This is why trans fats wreak havoc in your body: they’re the wrong shape, and your body simply doesn’t know what to do with them. It’s like putting brake fluid in your engine oil, or antifreeze in your gasoline.

(The alert observer will note that it is impossible to create a saturated trans fat.)

Hidden Trans Fats: They’re Everywhere

So you think “I’ll only buy products with 0g of trans fat on the nutrition label. Then I’ll be safe.” Right?

Does it contain trans fat? This won't tell you.


Trans fat hides in plain sight.

Trans Fat: Hiding on the Nutrition Label

Here’s the first place it hides: on the nutrition label. If a ‘serving’ of food has 0.5 grams or less of trans fat, the label can say “0 grams”. But how many ‘servings’ are you eating? If a ‘serving’ is 50 calories, you can easily eat eight servings at a sitting—or four grams of trans fat!

How can you tell? Look on the ingredient list. If you see the words “hydrogenated” or “vegetable shortening”, you can guarantee the presence of trans fats—no matter what the nutrition label says.

Trans Fat: Hiding in ‘Heart-Healthy’ Seed Oils

Of course, we should be eating those ‘heart-healthy’ polyunsaturated seed oils instead, right? Like ‘canola’ (rapeseed) oil?

Well, aside from the fact that seed oils contain mostly pro-inflammatory n-6 (“omega-6”) polyunsaturated fats, both n-6 and n-3 polyunsaturated fats are less chemically stable than saturated fats. It turns out that the process of extracting and deodorizing them (which requires both hexane, a poisonous industrial solvent, and high heat) turns some quantity of them into…trans fats!


Concentrations of trans isomers of 18:2w6 and 18:3w3 were measured in soybean and canola oils purchased in the U. S. […] The degree of isomerizations of 18:2w6 and 18:3w3 ranged from 0.3% to 3.3% and 6.6% to 37.1%, respectively. The trans contents were between 0.56% and 4.2% of the total fatty acids.

Vegetable oil solvent extraction plant

Vegetable oil solvent extraction plant, China.

Yes, that’s the ‘heart-healthy’ canola oil that they put in everything nowadays because it has ALA in it (the least useful omega-3). Yet the average canola oil contains over 2% trans fat! (Remember: 2% of calories = doubling of heart disease risk.) And if extraction under carefully-controlled conditions creates that much trans fat, how much more does the uncontrolled heat of cooking and frying create?

(We don’t know—but we do know that n-3 fats are less chemically stable than n-6 fats, and generally get hydrogenated first. So all those “Omega-3 Enriched!” oils become “Trans-Fat Enriched!” when you cook with them. For evidence of this, we move to the next section…)

Trans Fats: Hiding In The Deep Fryer

The third place trans fats hide is in the deep-fryer. Canola oil is the most common frying oil, because everyone knows canola is ‘heart-healthy’…right?

Mmmm...myocardial infarctions!

If you can run a city bus on it, it's not food.

Unfortunately, since polyunsaturated oils are unstable under the continuous heat of the deep fryer, canola oil is hydrogenated so it’ll last longer. (This is why we fried everything in saturated fats, like beef tallow, before the now-discredited “Lipid Hypothesis” took over American nutrition theory: saturated fats can’t hydrogenate by definition, and they don’t degrade nearly as much or as quickly under heat.)

How much?

Industrial canola oil for deep-fat frying contains 27% trans fat. (Source.)

Still want that order of French fries?

Live in freedom, live in beauty.


(Did you enjoy this article? Share it with your friends! For more articles about fat, try “Why Humans Crave Fat” or “Fat and Glycemic Index: The Myth of ‘Complex Carbohydrates’“.)

Postscript: What Should I Use Instead?

Use saturated fats, which don’t hydrogenate—and monounsaturated fats, which hydrogenate to saturated fats, not trans fats. Butter, beef tallow, and coconut oil each contain only a tiny fraction of polyunsaturated fats…and if you buy grass-fed beef or butter, that fraction contains more healthy n-3 fats and less unhealthy n-6 fats.

And since a surprising number of people still believe that saturated fat is bad for you: no, it isn’t.

Patty W Siri-Tarino, Qi Sun, Frank B Hu, and Ronald M Krauss. Meta-analysis of prospective cohort studies evaluating the association of saturated fat with cardiovascular disease. Am J Clin Nutr Jan 2010
“A meta-analysis of prospective epidemiologic studies showed that there is no significant evidence for concluding that dietary saturated fat is associated with an increased risk of CHD or CVD.

And here’s the layman’s version, from Scientific American: “Carbs Against Cardio: More Evidence that Refined Carbohydrates, not Fats, Threaten the Heart“, Scientific American, May 2010

Flaxseed Oil: For The Greatest Shine You Ever Tasted!

Omega-3s: The New Fiber

“Omega-3s” have replaced “high fiber” as the new hot marketing adjunct for health food…for an excellent reason. The SAD (Standard American Diet) is woefully deficient in anti-inflammatory omega-3 polyunsaturated fats (“n-3 PUFA” in the literature)—particularly EPA and DHA—and extremely high in pro-inflammatory omega-6 polyunsaturated fats (“n-6 PUFA”).

This is due to our heavy reliance on grains for feeding both ourselves and our meat animals. Both grains and the seed oils (misnamed ‘vegetable oils’) we extract from them contain high amounts of n-6 PUFA and low amounts of n-3 PUFA—especially the corn oil and soybean oil that comprise so much of what passes for “food” today. Ratios of n-6 to n-3 were 1:2 to 2:1 in the pre-agricultural diet, roughly 4:1 in the pre-industrial agricultural diet, and they often exceed 30:1 in the modern American diet. A significant number of Americans get no EPA or DHA in their diet at all!

ALA: When An Omega-3 Is Not An Omega-3

The most important and essential n-3 fats are the longest two: EPA and DHA, particularly DHA. However, the only natural dietary sources of EPA and DHA are grass-fed meat and oily fish. (Grain-fed meat contains far less n-3 fats and far more n-6 fats. “You are what you eat” applies to cows, too.) EPA and DHA supplements are mostly derived from oily fish…

…and fish oil tastes like…well, fish oil. There’s a reason it comes in sealed capsules, and it’s not just that it goes bad when exposed to air. So when you see a packaged food that boasts “Omega-3 Fortified!” you can bet that it contains ALA (alpha-linolenic acid) derived from flaxseed or ‘canola’ oil—not EPA or DHA.

There are two problems with ALA. The first is that our bodies are remarkably ineffective at converting ALA into the EPA and DHA we require.

Anderson, Breanne and Ma, David WL. Are all n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids created equal? Lipids in Health and Disease 2009, 8:33 doi:10.1186/1476-511X-8-33

“…The conversion of ALA to DHA is on the order of 1% in infants, and considerably lower in adults.”

So you can eat all the “Omega-3 Enriched!” crackers you want, or take all the flaxseed oil supplements you want…but they won’t substitute for salmon, mackerel, sardines, or grass-fed meat.

The second problem is that ‘flaxseed oil’ is, like ‘canola oil’, a new name for an old product. (‘Canola’ is actually a plant called rape: the problems of marketing ‘rape oil’ are left as an exercise for the reader.)

What product is that?

(Scroll down for the answer.)










Linseed oil.

Yes, you’re paying $15 a bottle for little brown capsules of furniture polish.

This is linseed oil.

This is also linseed oil.

Disclaimer: I hate to have to say this, but I’m sure some stoned vegetarian somewhere will think “Hey, I can save a grip.”

And if you mix it with fine sawdust, you can make your own linoleum!

Linseed oil is versatile!

Yes, it’s a furniture polish and a nutritional supplement…just like Shimmer Floor Wax!

Furniture polish is not food.
Eat grass-fed meat and oily fish.
Don’t eat seed oils.
Live in freedom, live in beauty.


(If you enjoyed this article, you might also enjoy “GERMOPHOBIA!”, or perhaps my debunking of John Stossel’s hit piece on grass-fed beef.)

Postscript: An alert reader (Shawna) has found a reasonable medicinal use for flaxseed oil—as a laxative. (See our comments below.) And just to be clear, I am not contending that flaxseed oil is poisonous or that no one should ever consume it: what I’m debunking is the idea that flaxseed oil can substitute for EPA and DHA intake (it can’t), and that loading up a cracker with flaxseed oil somehow makes it healthy (it doesn’t).

“That’s Not Food!”: Reflections on Restaurant Eating

Most of what gets served in restaurants isn’t food—it’s a nice-smelling, well-presented simulation.

Caution! Contains diabetes.

I’m certainly no paleo diet purist, but I eat far more meat, eggs, and vegetables, and far less grains and starches, than most. Over time this has caused me to prepare more and more of my own food, as what is served at restaurants becomes less and less appealing. A mountain of bread and pasta I can buy myself for two bucks if I wanted to, which I don’t? $22 + tax and tip for a steak I can pick out myself for $7 and guarantee it’ll actually be cooked blue rare? Meh.

Anyway: I had just finished a book signing, someone had recommended a local restaurant to me, and it had been several years since I’d eaten actual Szechuan cuisine—so I decided to check it out.

It was indeed excellent…but now that I’ve been eating paleo for some time, I realized that I had an entire multi-course meal before me, made almost entirely of non-food. And despite cleaning my very large plate, I found I was still very hungry…because what I was eating wasn’t food at all, just something that looked pretty and smelled nice.

  • Hot and sour soup? Probably the best part. It has a little food value from the mushrooms and dissolved fat in the stock, but it’s barely enough calories to power my walk back to the car.
  • Vegetarian egg roll? That’s not food at all…it’s gluten saturated with grain oil, surrounding a few lonely scraps of oil-soaked carrot and cabbage.
  • Won ton? Same thing, but without the carrot and cabbage. A completely food-free substance.
  • ‘Szechuan beef’? OK, beef is food, and some of the vegetables with it are food…but all the beef on my plate would fit in a shot glass, it’s swimming in a lake of industrial lubricant (grain oil) and corn syrup, and it sits atop a mountain of…
  • White rice—which has the nutritional value of Coca-Cola and an even higher glycemic index. [Though no fructose, as Walter points out…indeed, since I wrote this article, I have added occasional white rice to my diet. -JS]

Essentially, I have before me a very pretty, well-spiced, and carefully presented food simulation. It’s tasty, in the same way candy is tasty—but it’s not satisfying, for the same reasons candy isn’t satisfying, which is that candy is not food. It’s empty calories…

…and so is this beautiful “dinner” I’ve just eaten.

I drive home and fix myself some real food.* And, as if to underscore the point, I spend the next day farting like a cow until all the pretty but nutritionally useless non-food has left my system.

Live in freedom, live in beauty.


(* That night “real food” meant grass-fed hamburger, eggs, onions, bell peppers, garlic, and a small potato, fried in butter.)