Cholesterol & Saturated Fat with Dr. Cate Shanahan, Omega-3s & Fish Oil, & Plant-Based vs. Animal-Based Nutrients

#388: Cholesterol & Saturated Fat with Dr. Cate Shanahan, Omega-3s & Fish Oil, & Plant-Based vs. Animal-Based Nutrients

Diane Sanfilippo Featured, Paleo and Primal, Podcast Episodes Leave a Comment


  1. News and updates from Diane & Liz [1:42]
    1. Keto Quick Start tour dates
    2. Balanced Bites Meals
    3. The Body Awareness Project
  2. Cholesterol and saturated fat with Dr. Cate Shanahan [4:14]
  3. Supplementing with omega-3 and fish oil [23:47]
  4. Plant-based versus animal-based nutrients [33:35]

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You’re listening to the Balanced Bites podcast episode 388.

Diane Sanfilippo: Welcome to the Balanced Bites podcast. I’m Diane; a certified nutrition consultant, and the New York Times bestselling author of Practical Paleo and the 21-Day Sugar Detox. My newest book, Keto Quick Start, released on January 1, 2019. I live in San Francisco with my husband and fur kids.

I’m the co-creator of the Balanced Bites Master Class with my podcast partner in crime, Liz. And together we’ve been bringing you this award-winning podcast for more than 7 years. We’re here to share our take on modern healthy living, answer your questions, and chat with leading health and wellness experts. Enjoy this week’s episode, and submit your questions at or watch the Balanced Bites podcast Instagram and Facebook accounts for our weekly calls for questions. You can ask us anything in the comments.

Remember our disclaimer: The materials and content within this podcast are intended as general information only, and are not to be considered a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Before we get started, let’s hear from one of our sponsors.

Liz Wolfe: Today’s podcast is sponsored by Perfect Keto. Dr. Anthony Gustin and his teams have created a line of supplements that are super clean and effective, no matter what your dietary needs. Diane has been blending their MCT oil powder into her matcha latte lately. Not only are MCTs; medium chain triglycerides; a premium source of your body’s preferred type of energy, and help to fuel your brain and body, but there’s also no added taste. It makes your coffee or matcha wonderfully creamy. Check them out at and use the code BALANCED for 20% off at Perfect Keto; and their sister site, Equip Foods.

1. News and updates from Diane [1:42]

Diane Sanfilippo: Alright you guys. Just a couple of quick updates for you right now. Today’s episode is airing originally on February 21. So if you're in the Denver area, I will see you tonight with Emily Schromm. That’s going to be a fun event. I hope to see you there.

And if you don’t live in the Denver area, but you live near Kansas City, then come see me and Liz this weekend. It will be Saturday. So we’ll be hanging out. And then in Phoenix, March 27th. It’s not totally part of the tour. But I was going to be in Phoenix for a Beautycounter event, so I will be there signing books. And I hope to see you there March 27th.

The other quick update I have for you guys, if you haven’t seen Balanced Bites meals have officially launched. They are shipping. You can order them every single week, any day you order up until Saturday at midnight pacific time. They will ship the following week on Tuesday and will get to you either Thursday or Friday of that next week. So feel free to hop on in to place your orders.

We’ve got keto meals coming soon. We will have paleo meals. And coming soon you’ll be able to mix and match and kind of pick and choose whatever meals you want to get. But to start out, I have a set box of 10 meals because I want to get your feedback on all of the recipes that we have in that first 10. So far, so good. You guys have been loving the meals, it’s been really fun to see what’s happening. Really fun to watch you guys eating them and enjoying them at home, and having just a great home cooked meal. And it makes me feel warm and fuzzy, so I absolutely love seeing it. Stay tuned for more on that. And you can always check that out at

The Body Awareness Project. You guys; if you haven’t heard, Emily Schromm’s body awareness project, the first project was all about skin. Myself and Liz Wolfe were both featured in it. We did some interviews really talking about skin, and skin health, and how to make the most of what you're doing to improve what’s happening with your skin.

And the second part of the project was all about adrenal health; a fantastic, fantastic resource. For those of you who have been struggling with it, we have lots of episodes of the podcast about adrenal health and adrenal fatigue. If you're looking for something more comprehensive, definitely check out the Body Awareness Project. You can go to Body Awareness Project online or you can check them out on Instagram for more resources.

There are also boxes that come with the course. So everybody loves getting a box of fun little things to try. Some things are full sized. I know in the skin health one, there’s a book in there. There are all kinds of goodies. All kinds of products to try and resources. So definitely check out the Body Awareness Project.

2. Cholesterol and saturated fat with Dr. Cate Shanahan [4:14]

Diane Sanfilippo: OK, so today I want to highlight a few of our older episodes that cover some questions that we get all the time from you guys. And with almost 400 episodes in the bank, I think it’s easy for some of these to get a little bit buried. So today we’re bringing them to the forefront.

Let’s start with one about fat and cholesterol. In episode 286, I talked to Cate Shanahan on the show, and this episode is packed with useful gems. We know this is a confusing topic, and it’s one that doctors bring up all the time. “Your cholesterol is too high,” etc., etc. So we really want to hammer this home.

Have a listen to the first segment here. Be sure you go back and listen to the full episode, as well. It’s episode 286. I absolutely loved this conversation. It was like an instant classic the day that we launched it, because I know you guys have been so into the topic of healthy fats, what’s good, what’s not, and how all that does or doesn’t impact our cholesterol. So go check it out.

Diane Sanfilippo: Alright, so today’s topic we’re going to talk about all things related to fats; healthy fats, cholesterol, all kinds of good stuff. But before we dive into listener questions, what I want to do is just have you talk about this topic from your perspective. If we look at kind of zeroing in on how what we eat in terms of fat and cholesterol affects our health in terms of any sort of cardiovascular disease risk, or cholesterol levels. Just the truth about that from your perspective, as well as where we’re kind of going astray. And knowing that our listeners are pretty keen on the whole; we’re not afraid of egg yolks, we’re not afraid of eating fat or that it’s going to directly cause heart disease or any of that.

Dr. Cate Shanahan: {laughs}

Diane Sanfilippo: But at the same time, there still is confusion. And I would say; not just confusion but just that little bit of apprehension; like, are we really ok? Is this really {laughs}.

Dr. Cate Shanahan: Right!

Diane Sanfilippo: Like, are we sure?

Dr. Cate Shanahan: Is that glob of butter really not going to end up giving me a heart attack or a TIA?

Diane Sanfilippo: Totally.

Dr. Cate Shanahan: Yeah.

Diane Sanfilippo: Totally; and also, what are some truths that we know about, what can predict heart disease and what does all of this mean for just the average person? So that’s a lot. But feel free to just kind of talk about your perspective on all of this.

Dr. Cate Shanahan: Well, you know I’m really glad that you’re wanting to talk about this. Because this is really the meat of the matter for me, as a doctor. Because when I; of course when I went through medical school, I learned the typical soundbite nutrition; I call it soundbite science. Where you have all these complicated diseases, but you have one cause. So cholesterol causes heart attacks, salt causes hypertension; fat makes you fat. And really it didn’t go any deeper than that.

And actually the reason I decided to call the book that my husband and I wrote together Deep Nutrition was because we went deeper than that. And really, that’s what’s inspired me to look in this whole new direction anyway. Because when I got sick at one point in time, I had to change my diet in order to get better. Because nothing else was working. And I came across the idea that there was such a thing as essential fatty acids; these fish oils. And that completely blew my mind; because I just had this idea that all fat was the same, it was all bad, end of story. So that little glimmer of a light suggesting there was a whole other bucket of information out there that I could look into about fats; it was just the perfect thing for me. Because as a biochemist; I went to Cornell for biochemistry before I attended medical school, after I graduated from college. Just the chemistry of the fatty acids was something that I really could drill down into. It was missing information that just helped me understand everything.

And of course, once you start understanding that this whole idea that saturated fat is bad for you “might” be a lie, then it really poses all these questions that I hope we’re going to maybe answer a little bit today. So, if it’s not true, then what does cause heart disease? And how do I know if I’m at risk? And this whole field of cardiology is about to undergo a major shift. And I think it might take 5 years, but I’ve been seeing amazing headlines in the medical journals. There was one where this cardiologist was talking about; the headline was, “Eat Some Cheese.” {laughs}

Diane Sanfilippo: That’s kind of hilarious that that’s an exciting headline; but hey, you know.

Dr. Cate Shanahan: {laughing} I like the “some.”

Diane Sanfilippo: Well they have to, you know, introduce moderation with everything, otherwise somebody might be in trouble.

Dr. Cate Shanahan: Exactly. But it reminds me of “the cheese stands alone.” In the song that you learn in elementary school. {laughs}

Diane Sanfilippo: {laughs}

Dr. Cate Shanahan: So the cheese is standing alone right now with a few cardiologists not afraid to gather around and say; “Hey, go ahead. We don’t think this is going to kill you anymore.” So I thought that was very earth shattering, and hopefully it will lead to the next big thing which is understanding that statins are not the cure-all, and they’re actually even dangerous. The cholesterol lowering drug; statins.

Diane Sanfilippo: Right. So what I’d love to ask you about, and before we get into our listener questions. I tend to be pretty self-indulgent with my questions on this show {laughs}. We just bring on guests that I want to talk to and ask questions of, so. You know; this is how we go.

Dr. Cate Shanahan: I’m here to serve.

Diane Sanfilippo: But I’m curious whatever sort of background or whatever sort of thoughts you have on vegetable oils, and what we need to know about why they’re unhealthy; what folks need to know about any of that.

Because it seems like, if we use common sense, we would know that naturally occurring fats in foods like butter and cheese; it seems crazy, if you’re not thinking, “What does the research say?” If you’re just thinking as a person who has lived through time, just looking at what our grandparents and great grandparents ate. Once we started introducing the “science” to what we’re eating and what we’re producing, as what we call food. I’m air-quotes all over the place. You know; things we call “food” that are made by man versus very naturally occurring things.

Once we introduce all of that, that’s when things start to get confusing. But, we can’t ignore that sometimes, something that’s “made” isn’t the worst. But sometimes it kind of is the worst. And from my estimation, vegetable oils are far more concerning than something like grains.

Dr. Cate Shanahan: Oh yes.

Diane Sanfilippo: So, what is it that we need to know about what’s so bad about vegetable oils?

Dr. Cate Shanahan: Yeah, so vegetable oils were actually guilty of causing heart attacks and strokes all along. And in fact, Ancel Keys, the father of this idea, they call him the father of the diet heart hypothesis. He’s the one that created this image of saturated fat clogging up in our arteries that continues to just be the rule of the day here in mainstream medicine, as of this moment. Hopefully that will change.

But he actually literally framed saturated fat for crimes committed by vegetable oil; and that’s one of the things that I’m always; I love this topic because I’m always hoping to get more people to see that no one really ever believed saturated fat; there was never any evidence that saturated fat was bad. The whole time, this Ancel Keys, and the people who have continued his research at Harvard, like Walter Willett, who is still at Harvard, the whole time that Keys was talking about saturated fat; he was referring to margarines that were made out of hydrogenated vegetable oil, because that’s what he studied. But the way he talked about it, he misled doctors and the public into thinking that he was actually studying butter and eggs. But he was studying hydrogenated vegetable oil, and it’s just really, it’s the crime of the century.

I think this guy, Ancel Keys, is like the worst criminal really. And he’s getting away with literally with murder. And they’re worshipping him at Harvard. And this is the crux of the problem with modern medicine. This is why half of the people that I speak to don’t want to go to regular doctors anymore, because we’re so mixed up about this issue, and everything falls out from here. Because it was this issue; the idea that saturated fat was bad for us; that destroyed our relationship with food.

Before Ancel Keys; before the 1950s, before World War II, there was no concern about it. It was just; don’t eat too much, obviously. But we had whole foods; we had farmers that we knew. People would buy food; they would buy chickens, they would buy whole chickens. They didn’t have to get the boneless skinless chicken breast to have every last shred of animal fat removed. And it was that one directive, the “avoid saturated fat” that obliterated our relationship with traditional cuisine, traditional cooking; even our respect for cooking. It was in the 50s that this phrase that I hate was invented, “Cooking and cleaning.” Have you ever heard that phrase? {laughs}

Diane Sanfilippo: Of course; totally.

Dr. Cate Shanahan: I mean, when did those two things get put together? It’s as if those are the menial tasks that are beneath the modern housewife. And so to have that kind of mentality, it was just all part of what was happening in the 50s. Doctors went right along with it. And in doing that, we didn’t realize we were discarding the most valuable source of nutrition information, the biggest body of nutrition science available to us, which was traditional cuisine. Because it’s not random that all cultures did the same things; which we call the four pillars of cuisine.

But it’s not random that you go anywhere on this planet and you see chickens, and pigs, and some kind of vegetable, some kind of root vegetable. You see the same kind of animals; very often you see dairy products. It’s not random; this is what we need. {laughs} And we just discarded all of that, because somebody told us that saturated fat was going to clog our arteries. And it was like; oh my gosh! How could we be so; that’s dangerous, to just be so laissez faire about everything people had done just because some guy in a white jacket says to.

Diane Sanfilippo: I like how worked up you get about it.

Dr. Cate Shanahan: {laughs}

Diane Sanfilippo: I can picture you are extremely animated on the other end of this recording.

Dr. Cate Shanahan: Yeah, I’m like a Muppet over here.

Diane Sanfilippo: Because it is something. And we talk about this in detail at length in our Master Class; we’ve got a lot of students in our class right now who are podcast listeners; and they’re like, “Yes! We just learned about this!” Because our fat and cholesterol module is broken into three videos, because it’s so much information; whereas most of them are one video. We give them 2 weeks, and I still don’t think it’s enough time, because it’s just so much information.

But you know; I think it’s part of the modern headspace, which we’re getting away from a bit now. I would say my generation and those younger, who no longer just kind of bow down to the white coat. And I do think that there’s something about this notion; part of it could be that we have Dr. Google now, which is for better or for worse.

But I do think that people need to realize that doctors are people too, and they’re not immune to group think, and they’re not immune to following something because it’s “always been that way” or following something because that’s what they’re taught. And I think when we look for doctors to help us, I think it’s just as important to find somebody that you respect as a thinking person, not just because they have this MD after their name. so I think that’s really a big challenging thought process to kind of put forward; but unfortunately, it’s one of the reasons why it is hard for a lot of folks who are struggling with their health to find somebody who is really going to work with them.

But again; they’re people too, and some of them, I would guess a lot of them don’t even realize that they’re perpetuating such unhealthy, I don’t know; zeitgeist about what to eat and; anyway. That’s a whole other topic. But do you think a lot of folks bought into it because of the way that we named these things? Because we’re calling it fat versus lipids. Or because of this idea of saturated or solid sounds like it’s going to harden our arteries? Do you think part of it is also the language that we’ve used?

Dr. Cate Shanahan: Totally. I think that’s a great point. Yeah, saturated. It sounds like it’s filling you, or you’re going to be full of it really quick.

Diane Sanfilippo: {laughs}

Dr. Cate Shanahan: Suddenly you’re just going to turn into it. {laughs}

Diane Sanfilippo: Yeah.

Dr. Cate Shanahan: Absolutely, yes. And I think also that the visual image that Ancel Keys created was of an artery being clogged with grease, as if that’s exactly what happens.

Diane Sanfilippo: {laughs}

Dr. Cate Shanahan: As if you ate butter, then it would just end up little bits of butter in your arteries. Which is as ridiculous as saying, “Well you better blend all your food. Because if you don’t, chunks of it are going to get stuck in your arteries.” {laughs} But because he used chemical words, like saturated and polyunsaturated and stuff like this; that gave him the aura of deeper knowledge. And doctors at that time didn’t have to learn organic chemistry, and not everyone today does, and most doctors actually frankly forget it, because it’s not made relevant.

So it was just like that, a little bit of knowledge kind of thing. It’s kind of like what Mark Twain said something really smart about that. It’s like, I never let knowledge get in the way of; no. “It’s not what you don’t know that gets you in trouble, it’s what you think you know that just ain’t so.”

Diane Sanfilippo: Yes!

Dr. Cate Shanahan: {laughs}

Diane Sanfilippo: That’s so true. The power of being an effective communicator, or strong orator, for example can really mislead a lot of people.

Dr. Cate Shanahan: Yes.

Diane Sanfilippo: But we don’t have to get into the details {laughs} of what else that can affect in our world. But yeah, I think that; I draw the analogy, which sounds crazy to people, but it’s just as crazy that for the same reason eating a piece of broccoli, which is hard on your plate and solid; doesn’t then directly transfer to being a piece of broccoli clogging your artery. It’s just as absurd to think that eating saturated fat or something in the form of butter or lard will do the same thing.

Because what we forget in that translation of food on the outside of our body to chewed, and then assimilated as nutrients in the body, we forget that there’s an entire digestive process by which our body is mechanically and chemically breaking down food into nutrients that then it will do something with. It doesn’t do anything with the whole food; and by that token, if it doesn’t digest the whole food and doesn’t fully break it down, it doesn’t then just get into your arteries. You will poop it out whole. {laughs}

Dr. Cate Shanahan: {laughs} Exactly.

Diane Sanfilippo: If you’re not digesting fats properly, they will be in the toilet. If you're not digesting kale or corn properly; they will be in the toilet, and you will see them. So it doesn’t just go from your plate to your artery.

And I’m laughing because it is absurd that we would ever think that that could happen; but it’s not absurd that people have been misled to believe that that’s the way that it works in the body. You know; because somehow, it’s very easy to be afraid of that.

Dr. Cate Shanahan: Yes, exactly. Especially, like I say, when somebody’s got a white coat on and they’re using words that pertain to this whole other field of knowledge; chemistry, that not everyone is very well versed in. so it seems like; “Well how am I ever going to learn all of chemistry. That sounds like a chemistry word, so it must be true,” right? It’s just, it’s still misleading us because we’re still seeing really bad science coming out every single day. And because there are half-truths in it; so the half-truth is what enables the people who are the editors to be fooled into thinking it’s actually useful progression of science, but it’s not. And as a scientist, it’s very frustrating. I feel like it’s the number one problem, is that people are misrepresenting a limited understanding of something as the whole story. Yeah. So. Nowhere is it more of an issue, though, than with cardiology and with heart health.

Diane Sanfilippo: OK, so again make sure you check out the full episode, number 286. We go on to talk about seed oils and vegetable oils; high fat diet, confusion surrounding statins and doctor recommendations. All that really fun stuff.

Next up; episode 216. We talked about supplements and superfoods. And what I’m going to highlight here is where we talk about fish oil. You can also search the topic archives for more episodes where we talk about cod liver oil, because we’ve talked about it a bunch before.

But one quick word from one of our sponsors, and then we’re going to jump into that segment.

Liz Wolfe: Today’s podcast is sponsored by Vital Choice wild seafood and organics. America’s leading purveyor of premium, sustainable seafood and grass-fed meats, and a certified B corporation. Their popular Vital Box program delivers top customer favorites directly to your door. Any mix of wild salmon, fish, and shellfish that you prefer. Vital Choice offers a wide range of wild seafood; from top shelf Alaskan salmon and halibut, to Portuguese sardines and mackerel. Plus, mouthwatering grass-fed meats and poultry. Be sure to save 15% on one regular order with the promo code BBPODCAST or get $15 off your first Vital Box with the promocode BBVITALBOX from now through the end of the year.

3. Supplementing with omega-3 and fish oil [23:47]

Liz Wolfe: And this is actually kind of; this next question, a little bit of a segue into the topic of omega-3 if were’ talking about cod liver oil. This is from Peeta; not PETA like people for the ethical treatment of animals. At least not to my knowledge, that’s not who this is. But this one is on omega-3, and the question is “Omega-3 supplements in a more affordable range other than seafood, for example, for autoimmune paleo. Something that can be purchased worldwide, as the one you generally recommend are really expensive in Australia.”

So, I wanted to pop this question into this podcast because I’ve actually been talking quite a bit with Dan from Corganic about the extra virgin cod liver oil. And he’s been such an amazing source of information on the CLO, and the nutrients in it, and the processing of cod liver oil. He knows absolutely everything about how this stuff works. And one of the things I really appreciate about Dan is that he’s willing to answer questions in the manner that he did with this one, and I’ll just tell you guys exactly what he had to say.

I asked him about an alternative to the extra virgin cod liver oil; which honestly if I’m going to get somebody started on cod liver oil or recommend a cod liver oil to folks, I want it to be the highest quality humanly possible. And the more I learn about the Rosita extra virgin cod liver oil that Dan also sells and is a big proponent of, the more I kind of like it from a processing standpoint. It’s not just the nutrition inside of it, it’s how they process it. It’s also how it tastes, because it’s very light. This is not meant to be an ad for the EVCLO.

But we recommend it for a reason. It’s extremely high quality, and this is one of those things where, if you’re going to take some cod liver oil for DHA, and for vitamins A and D, it should be really high quality. It’s something that you probably want to spend a little bit more money on.

Dan actually went ahead and gave me a little tip for folks if you really, really need to find something a little bit more affordable; here’s what he said. You might consider Nordic Naturals Arctic; not the Arctic D. He said if EVCLO was considered raw milk from a local grass-fed farmer, then the Nordic Cod Liver Oil would be analogous to organic pasteurized homogenized milk. Nothing a real foodie would necessarily consume if they had a choice. It is processed with heat and chemicals, but the good news is they don’t add synthetic A and D vitamins, so the levels of A and D are significantly lower because of molecular distillation, but it’s way better that way than taking moderate or high doses of synthetic A and D, which can be toxic or damaging. And we do see that happening, those being added to kind of the less expensive cod liver oils.

So, that would be a way to get natural A and D plus DHA and EPA if you needed to save a little bit of money. But again, Diane and I have said this many times; when you’re looking at a supplement like cod liver oil or a fish oil supplement, which we don’t recommend. And Diane maybe you can throw something in on that once I’m done rambling. You want to really go with the highest quality possible. And sadly, there aren’t a whole lot of those out there, partially because the worldwide demand for sources of DHA has exploded beyond belief. So I think we’ve really sacrificed quality in most corners of the market for that reason. But yeah, I know the question was about omega-3 supplements, but we actually don’t generally recommend those to folks. I would steer people towards cod liver oil if they need a little bit of supplemental DHA; but again, quality matters.

Diane Sanfilippo: Yeah, on the fish oil tip. I think we talked about fish oil versus fermented cod liver oil or cod liver oil in a bunch of episodes ago; I don’t even know what episode number, it’s been a long time. So I think we very exhaustively covered our sort of arguments against a standard fish oil, and what you alluded to here in terms of processing tends to be the number one reason against it. I don’t personally know of a fish oil company; that doesn’t mean they don’t exist, but just a standard fish oil company that is doing things so well that it’s very obvious that it’s a good healthy choice.

And the reason for that being; omega-3 fats are so delicate that any processing that might not be a cold process or something that’s delicate, not happening with any chemicals, that’s just not damaging the fat, I feel like that’s really hard to come by. It’s going to definitely make that oil pretty expensive. I’m sure you’re not going to find it at Costco, as much as I love Costco for a lot of reasons, I don’t know that I would take a very delicate, highly susceptible to damage, polyunsaturated fat supplement from a source that I’m quite unsure of the quality of it.

So I would rather not take a supplement than take something I’m unsure of when it comes to a polyunsaturated fat. Because we also know, I think Chris Masterjohn has talked about this a lot, and maybe it even came up in our interview with him, which was probably a couple of years ago now, but you don’t need very much of any of this stuff all the time. We only need almost trace amounts of DHA and EPA or any of the polyunsaturated essential fatty acids, whether omega-6 or omega-3. We don’t need that much of it. So I’d rather make sure that what I’m getting is really high quality, and doing that from sardines.

I know she’s saying omega-3 supplements in a more affordable range; the best thing is going to be canned wild sardines. See if you can find a BPA free can, but I think that’s really affordable. I think that’s probably really affordable worldwide. I think that sardines probably sell more popularly outside of this country than they do within it. I don’t know about Australia for sure.

Here’s my other thought; if somebody is looking for omega-3 supplementation, I’m not positive on the price of this but you can look into it; algae-based omega-3 will provide end-form useable DHA. So you’re going to get that from things like chlorella and spirulina, and I believe there are ways to get supplements of that as well. I’m not sure if it’s more affordable; it’s definitely the approach that we tend to recommend for folks who don’t eat animal products or who are allergic to them. Interestingly enough, I think one of the reasons why the algae may have the end-form useable DHA is it’s almost, I’m guessing, it’s almost more of an animal than a plant, even though it seems like a plant. I think the way that it probably functions and has much, I don’t know what kind of cellular structure the algae have, but I think that even though it looks like a plant, I think biologically it might act more like an animal. So I think that’s really interesting, and I can’t remember where else I heard more about that.

Liz Wolfe: I feel like maybe you watched X-Men or something.

Diane Sanfilippo: {laughs} Who even knows.

Liz Wolfe: I don’t know, we’re fading, I can tell. We’re fading fast.

Diane Sanfilippo: I feel like it was a Matt LaLonde thing. Anyway. That’s what I would recommend looking into as an alternative source, although I’m not exactly sure on how much more affordable that would be.

So again, be sure to check out episode 216. There’s a lot more in there about supplementing that’s worth listening to.

Our final snippet today is from episode 257, where we talk about the importance of eating meat. Every day we’re hit with headlines demonizing meat and the paleo style diets; now of course keto diets. So we thought it was a good one to finish up with today.

In a nutshell, we received a listener question on veganism versus paleo, and of course we had some thoughts on this. The clip here is from when we talk about vitamin A & omega-3s, but I really do suggest listening to the full episode so you have the whole backstory.

I also recommend going back & listening to episode 331 with Diana Rodgers, where she talks about how critical animal agriculture is to the planet, and to healing the world. And as a side note, she and Robb Wolf are working on an amazing book right now, and I can’t wait to see what comes out with that on sustainability. I think that’s going to be a resource for all of us to really dive into, because we see so many folks talking about not eating meat, saving the planet, and I think it’s a really misguided notion.

Let’s hear from one of our sponsors first.

Liz Wolfe: The Balanced Bites podcast is sponsored in part by the Nutritional Therapy Association. The NTA trains and certifies nutritional therapy practitioners and consultants (including me; I’m an NTP), emphasizing bio-individuality and the range of dietary strategies that support wellness. The NTA emphasizes local, whole, properly prepared nutrient dense foods as the key to restoring balance and enhancing the body’s ability to heal.

The NTA’s nutritional therapy practitioner program and fully online nutritional therapy consultant program empower graduates with the education and skills needed to launch a successful, fulfilling career in holistic nutrition. Registration is now open for February class, and you can learn more and save your seat by going to Don’t forget to check out the NTA’s annual conference, Roots, happening March 1 through 3 in Portland, Oregon. It’s one of the most empowering and educational holistic nutritional events of the year, and all are welcome.

4. Plant-based versus animal-based nutrients [33:35]

Liz Wolfe: But two nutrients I think we really need to talk about, there are a ton of myths about, are vitamin A and omega-3.

Diane Sanfilippo: I’ve got more, too. {laughs} So we can talk about those too.

Liz Wolfe: Yeah, I’m sure Diane has more.

Diane Sanfilippo: Yeah.

Liz Wolfe: But I talk about these in the book. Vitamin A as retinol is really our body’s critical and usable vitamin A that we need. It’s important in cell differentiation. It’s important in skin health. Accutane is based on vitamin A analogs, but the good thing about actual pre-formed vitamin A, which is retinol that you’d find in liver, and egg yolks, and animal products, has basically been converted from beta carotene, from the carotenoids that the animals eat. They digest plant food that contains the carotenoids in their rumen, which we don’t have. Within their rumen they convert it into the form that ends up in their tissues that we eat, and that’s pre-formed vitamin A.

So we can’t convert beta carotene to vitamin A with that level of reliability, like animals can. Some people can convert beta carotene, for example, to vitamin A in their bodies, but that conversion rate is really low. And I think in the book; I think the figure is like 1 in 6. So your conversion rate is really poor with beta carotene, and the same goes for omega-3s.

We talk about how we can get omega-3s from plants or from algae; when we’re talking about omega-3s, we’re actually talking about an end usable form that’s also converted by animals. So you start out with alpha linoleic acid; crap. Alpha linolenic acid. Man, I’m rusty. And basically animals convert that for us to the end usable form of omega-3 that we actually need. So not all omega-3s are the same. What the FDA allows to be labeled as vitamin A is not actual vitamin A, it’s carotenoids.

Diane Sanfilippo: Mm-hmm. Right. Yeah, when you see carrots or butternut squash.

Liz Wolfe: There are just so many nuances here.

Diane Sanfilippo: Yeah, you see carrots and butternut squash listed with vitamin A, it’s not the whole story. I’m trying to; I’m going to pull up a chart for the omega-3 conversion. We can see if we can link to this, that people can recognize the conversion of omega-3 fats. This is all stuff that we do cover in the Master Class. So for people who are like, “This is what I need to understand; more about this,” we cover this stuff.

But yeah, alpha linolenic acid converting down to either DHA and EPA. Those are the two end usable forms that if you’re looking at, let’s just say, a piece of fish you’re getting EPA and DHA from the fish. You’re not getting ALA. It’s just a different form of the fatty acids. Our bodies just do a poor job at converting those for various reasons. Our bodies are simply not as optimized as maybe we would have been years ago.

And there may be people who are better at it. Their body may be more efficient at that, and those may be the people who are doing a little bit better without animal foods. And this is where the sort of bioindividuality comes in; where some people just may be doing better. I hesitate to use the word thrive, because I’m not convinced. Even the people who say they feel the best and others say look the best, I feel like there’s a look about it that I can see. There’s sort of a; I don’t know.

Liz Wolfe: Gaunt?

Diane Sanfilippo: A gaunt or unrobust look. And hey, you know, there are a few athletes out there; people are talking about some Olympians who are plant based who are not eating animal foods. And I’m going to throw this argument out that the 0.01% of us who are Olympians are in a completely different category hands down regardless of nutrition. Michael Phelps is not like everyone else, so to compare yourself; and I can’t remember, I want to say it’s a weight lifter who is eating plant based who is, you know, I would say does not look like he’s eating plant based. That’s a generalization, but I think it’s a fair generalization to make. I’ve met my fair share of folks who really avoid animal products, and there are certain things that you can say about the way that it affects your outward appearance, and it’s just a fact. This isn’t a judgment, it’s just a pure, visual fact.

So, you mentioned omega-3 and vitamin A; I’m going to also throw in a couple of others. B vitamin; B12. There are some non-red meat sources of B12. One thing I’ve been talking about a lot in random places is octopus {laughs}.

So for the folks who maybe they’re not 100% plant based, but maybe they avoid red meat and we tend to think that B12; I’m sorry, B12 and iron, both, tend to come only from red meat. You can actually get both of those from octopus. So if you eat seafood, octopus is one that people are probably not eating a lot of, but it’s actually rich in both of those nutrients. So B12 and iron; we also think about iron as something we can get from spinach, for example.

But here, again where we’ve talked about the difference between beta-carotene, carotenoids, pre-formed vitamin A, and iron that comes from plants versus iron that comes from animals. Iron that comes from animals is known as heme iron, and that’s based on the fact that it’s source from hemoglobin, which is red blood cells. It’s a different nutrient; it’s a different form of the nutrient, and the more bioactive form, the form that we need as human animals is really heme iron. That’s what’s optimal for our health.

Again, as you said Liz; this is really getting back to not ignoring the fact that we are not special. We are animals; we are part of this natural food chain. Things need to die for us to live. Farmers; any farmer will know that animals need to die for soil and plants to live. Period. End of story. Talk to any farmer. Go talk to an organic farmer growing vegetables. I have a good friend of mine who, her husband has eaten, I don’t know if he still only eats plant based, but had eaten a plant-based diet for many, many years and started an organic farm. And then he ended up writing an editorial piece for, I believe it was the New York Times; I believe they made a call for entries about this whole plant based versus eating animals way of life. I’ve talked about this before on the show, I know. His piece was entitled, “this is the deal we’ve made.” Like, if we want to grow plants, we have to have dead animals. There are nutrients in the soil that need to be there from bones of dead animals.

Liz Wolfe: The plants need the dead animals.

Diane Sanfilippo: It’s simply the plants need the dead animals. Nitrogen.

Liz Wolfe: And people. The dead people, too.

Diane Sanfilippo: Nitrogen, potassium, and I forget what else it is, you probably know better than I do growing things {laughs} with a garden. I don’t know if you’re growing; you’re growing some vegetables, I know you are. I’ve seen.

Liz Wolfe: Ha-ha-ha.

Diane Sanfilippo: So anyway.

Liz Wolfe: Vegetables are hard to grow, though. Can I point that out since you’re talking about it?

Diane Sanfilippo: {laughs}

Liz Wolfe: If we’re really talking about getting to a local level, and eating only what we can produce, and really reducing our footprint overall, whether that’s plants or animals. Do we live in a part of the world where you can actually do that? If you live in California, maybe you can. But growing plants is so much more intricate and involves so much more time and cultivation and care than does having cows out having a beautiful life on pasture.

Diane Sanfilippo: It’s phosphorus. Sorry, I was like why am I blanking on the P in the NPK. Not to be confused with NPH, Neil Patrick Harris. Everybody loves him. So anyways {laughs} I digress.

I think recognizing that that’s part of what has to happen for plants to grow; I honestly believe, if you want to eat a plant-based diet, you can do so, see how you feel. Don’t ignore the fact that this is how nature works. Don’t cover your eyes and ears and shake your head and sing a song, and ignore the fact that this is what we are a part of. I just think that’s being ignorant and it’s being closed off to the fact that there is information that exists that is true, period. This is not about an opinion, this is not about ethics and morals. This is about facts of nature.

And I think that if you’re dealing with a person who can’t observe and read information about, here’s what you need to grow plants. And where do those nutrients come from? They come from animals, dead animals. If your friend can read and understand that intellectually, and say; “Ok, I still feel better.”

This is what I talk about in the arguments I have for saying, ok, I’m going to eat paleo. And let’s not get into the stuff that creates a heated argument, let’s just focus on how I feel. Let’s focus on how my health has improved. You can’t argue with her health. So if she feels great, we know, this is what we know intellectually. It takes about 5 or more years; maybe 7 years for deep nutrient deficiencies to surface as health problems. For some people it happens sooner, for some people it takes longer. The average amount of time is about 7 years. So unfortunately you're not going to know you're struggling with a plant-based diet until 7 years down the road. And you’re actually almost so far in the hole, that you have to dig your way out of it.

I think Alexandra Jamieson is a great person to catch up with on this; go follow her stuff. She has written books on plant-based diets and several years ago realized she did not feel good. And that was after years and years of eating that way. That’s just one example, and I’m not using that as the end all, be all. But Denise Minger is another great example. I think Denise really wanted to be able to argue for a plant-based diet, and the research just doesn’t support it. Information about optimal human health just really doesn’t support it.

So I think if you can observe the information and say, “yes, that information is here, and it’s true, and it’s real, and I have it, and I’m making my decision in this direction,” more power to you. Make that decision; we all get to make that decision. We don’t need to be here to convince each other otherwise. But we do need to know the information. And if your friend doesn’t want the information that’s real and true {laughs} then you’re just not on the same page in terms of, let’s understand what’s true and we can each make our decisions from there.

And this does get kind of political, right? You don’t come to the table as separate political thinking people and leave adopting someone else’s mindset. It just doesn’t happen that way, we can’t convince people in that way. It takes more time, and it takes for their mind to have that opening. That was a bit of a rant. {laughs} Anything else on that, because I’ve got a lot of other notes we can get through here.

Liz Wolfe: Yes. I have something. And I’m sitting here making notes while you're talking, because I don’t want to make clicking noises, so I’m making them on my phone. But I think we need to point out that this; ok, so first of all just like a vegan doesn’t eat soy all day every day necessarily.

Diane Sanfilippo: {laughs}

Liz Wolfe: We’re not talking about eating bacon all day, every day. We’re not even talking about eating meat all day every day. This is about knowing how this web of life works. Really understanding the nuances of this and how sometimes those things are emotionally uncomfortable. I don’t know if we’re at a point in evolution where we can reconcile our emotional selves with our instinctive physical selves that are oriented towards survival. I think that’s something humans will be grappling with for a long time. But this is about knowing how that web of life works, and then choosing where you want to come in on it. And what you’re comfortable with, and whether your health can be balanced with that.

So maybe you eat mostly fruit, or you eat not very much fat, or you only eat coconut oil, or you only eat bananas. Which, hello, carbon footprint, bananas being one of the worst crops on the planet, I think, human labor wise; I think Diana from Sustainable Dish has talked about this. You know, maybe this just means eating mostly plants, and then having chicken liver every once in a while for B12 and iron and getting the most impactful source of those things as you possibly can. I don’t know where people are coming in with this. And I think a lot of people that profess to be vegan probably have little cheats here and there. So keep that in mind, as well.

Diane Sanfilippo: Ok, that’s it for this week. I hope you enjoyed this mashup of episodes. Be sure to go back and listen to the full episodes; we’ll link to all of them from the show notes for this one. This episode is 388, so you can find the links to all the other episodes we talked about today. And you find me, Diane, at Don’t forget to join our email lists for free goodies and updates you don’t find anywhere else on our websites or even on the podcast. While you’re on the internet, drop over to Apple podcast and leave us a review. We would absolutely appreciate it. We’ll see you next week.

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