Kurt G. Harris MD

PāNu means paleonutrition. The "paleo" here signifies "old" and not necessarily paleolithic. The PāNu approach to nutrition is grounded on clinical medicine and basic sciences disciplined by knowledge of evolutionary biology and paleoanthropology. The best evidence from multiple disciplines supports eating a pastoral (animal-based) diet rather than a grain-based agricultural one, while avoiding what I call the neolithic agents of disease - wheat, excess fructose and excess linoleic acid.

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« Where are the fat carnivores? | Main | Fruit order in the 12 steps »

Insulin is a doorman at the fat cell nightclub, not a lock on the door

Heather asks on the forums:

Still not fully getting it, can dietary fat be stored as bodily fat?

Yes and no, but mostly yes.

Start thinking of dietary constituents as like money or commodities- amino acids and fatty acids are fungible. You can't say that this or that molecule becomes this or that thing, and it does not matter anyway. The more important thing is the "account balance" of the amino acid or fatty acid commodities

When you eat fats as TGs (triglycerides), the fatty acids are absorbed and either re-assembled into TGs for storage, or they are burned as fuel, or some of them may be used to make hormones or parts of cell membranes, etc.

There seems to be a predominant central misunderstanding , that this or that thing "turns into" or can't "turn into" something else in the body. Think of amino acids or fatty acids as like pounds sterling or euros and dollars - the body does not care where the currency it needs come from like your bank does not care where the dollars or euros or pounds in the vaults or on its digital ledgers came from. A molecule is a molecule, and there is no need to account for whether it came from last night's meal or one that occurred months ago, as it makes no difference.

It is like opening a window in your house for ventilation, and asking whether the oxygen in your next breath came from outside or was already in the house. Or let's say you have a light on inside the house to help you read on on overcast day. Which photons are illuminating your book? Or you accelerate your car after a stop light. Which gas did you just burn, the gas when you refueled an hour ago, or petrol that was already in the tank?

All these questions have the same epistemological status as asking "what happened to the fat molecules I just ate"?

The human body is a non-steady-state open system, both thermodynamically and in terms of conservation of mass. That is also why saying things like "calories in equal calories out" or quoting the first law of thermodynamics only proves you understand neither biology or physics at a basic level.

As far as fat you eat being stored, think of it like this: What you eat, including the fat or carbohydrate or protein is one set of parameters that affect hormone levels that in turn affect fat storage. Your body does not decide what to do with each lipid molecule just like your bank doesn't decide what to do with each dollar you deposit. It does not "decide" to store fat because you ate too much of it. Instead, amounts of macronutrients you eat are one set of factors that influence the balance of fats in storage.

The question of whether the fatty acids you ate were stored or whether existing fatty acids were not released is meaningless becuase fatty acids are fungible- just like the bank reserves growing if money does not leave is the same as money coming in - think BALANCE or EQUILIBRIUM.

Let me explain further.

Net fat storage is just the difference between fats stored and fats released - both are happening at the same time. Just like the patron count in a busy night club can grow or shrink with people coming in and people leaving at the same time, depending on whether more come in than leave.

The hormones that are influenced by what you eat don't work by locking the door or closing the nightclub and kicking everyone out. They work by changing the relative ease of entering or leaving the building. So think of fat storage in fat cells the same way. The same way patrons can leave and enter a nightclub simultaneously in opposite directions, fat is constantly being stored and released at the same time - the question is not "on or off" but what is the ratio of the two processes. Insulin is like a bouncer at the door - maybe he lets the prettier young women in, and maybe he tosses some obnoxious drunks. Maybe he is neutral when not many patrons are in the bar, maybe he turns you away if the joint is at capacity. But the door is not ever locked, and people come and go even as the number of drinkers grows and shrinks throughout the evening. And as you can see, other factors besides the doorman or bouncer affect the rate of patrons coming or going (time of day, the band is no good tonight, etc.) just as insulin's action to promote fat storage is always in the context  of other factors.

If you have just been released from a POW camp on starvation rations, and you start eating 5000 calories a day of nothing but fat and protein, I can guarantee that you will start to store fat.

Alternatively, if you have lowered your caloric intake due to reduced hunger on a low carb diet, and have plenty of fat stores, and your body is seeing less glucose than it is used to, you will liberate and burn body fat under influence of the Randle cycle and lower insulin levels.

Is insulin involved? Yes. Do higher insulin levels, all other things being equal, shift the equilibrium towards storage and away from fat release? Definitely. Does any of this mean you cannot store fat without eating carbohydrate or that you cannot burn fat with insulin present? Of course not. You always have some level of insulin present if you are alive and healthy. What effect it has is contextual, as is the case with every hormone.

Insulin levels are an important factor in fat storage but they are not the only factor and IT IS NOT AN ON/OFF SWITCH. Insulin is ONE hormone that affects the storage/release equilibrium.

Reader Comments (42)

Great explanation. Another piece in the puzzle.

March 15, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterBart

I have been following your Paleo concepts for a few weeks now, and what struck me was how dazed I was for a few days at first, and how I seemed to run out of energy when playing tennis for the first week or two. But then that seemed to end, and I seemed to have gotten leaner in the process. Yesterday when I played tennis I was moving better and feeling better than before I started the program. I also seemed to have reduced mood swings and reduced feelings of hunger. I am sunning myself daily here in the tropics (people think I am crazy) and still taking some D3 supplements, because I am 65. I don't do blood tests and the rest.

What you mention in passing sometimes, and what might assuage some posters, is more words on the time it takes to see or experience results. Some reactions are fairly quick, like an improvement from not eating wheat, at least for me, but others must take more time, and the results, it seems to me, would best be measured over a scale of months, not days or weeks.

I remain puzzled by some of the obsession of posters on the site with measurement and ratios: it seems to me that if you are actually eating "enough" saturated fats and a decent level of protein, the result can only be that you don't want to eat very much in the way of carbohydrates, so that avoiding (meaning not eating any) sugar (including fructose) and wheat, is not that much of a challenge. They just don't look very appealing or taste very good. If you have a craving for carbohydrates it could mean that you are not getting enough fat. I like sushi, and that works for me for the rice portion. I eat some Gruyere cheese, to get additional k2, but you can't justify eating a quarter pound of the stuff at one sitting.

I am curious about the idea of things "turning into" one thing or another. In a way, the underlying issue you are dealing with is a version of the idea that eating saturated fat means you will have too much (saturated) fat stored on your body. This has always struck me as not too different from versions of animism. (Eating tiger meat will make you like a tiger....) This is the concept of that animal fat going straight to your arteries, etc. On the other hand, who has ever seen a fat plant? So of course plants are better as food, if you accept that primitive level of thought on the topic. I sometimes wonder if the writers for the NY Times actually do any research, or if they just rely on what they were told years ago.

Thank you for your interesting and helpful Blog.


KGH: you are welcome

March 15, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterRichard

This blog is the shit! This is where everybody misinterprets what Taubes is saying in GCBC. I hope this clears it up for those folks!

Last time I checked in (Feb 22nd, Body by Science post) with my dad's weight I believe it was 195lbs. He is now 190lbs, down 28lbs in total. Its completely effortless. There was a women who came up to him at Crossfit asking him how much weight he has lost, he obviously told her. She just said "Wow, I haven't lost any!" She has been at it for months now! He has only worked out 15 times since December! Perfect example of someone not controlling hormones and thinking exercise (the most intense kind to!) will take care of it for them! Not the case!!

I need a t-shirt with the 12 steps on the back! I'd wear it to the gym everyday!

Thanks again Doc! Can't wait until the "What to eat if you have cancer" post comes up! I lose sleep at night in anticipation!!!

KGH: I shouldn't keep making promises. I keep getting sidetracked. A post on grassfed beef is next. The cancer one in the offing still.

March 15, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterBen Wheeler

nice write-up! Enjoy reading your blog - thanks. If you could also perhaps provide more input on your book reading list I'd find this very helpful. Is there one that is particularly well documented with evidence-based research?


Well there's GCBC obviously. Honestly, if there was a single book that said everything I think is important this blog would not be here. Pay attention to my blogroll. If you want solid science, start with Stephan and Peter. As far as books that tell you what to do, Primal Blueprint by Mark Sisson is very accessible and PaNu concordant.

March 16, 2010 | Unregistered Commentermacondo

I still didn't get it that clearly. Let me ask you this, if I go crazy and eat 1000 g of pure animal fat in a day, would the extra fat I wont burn off be stored as fat? If not, wouldn't my triglycerides skyrocket? What hormone is responsible for telling fat cells to take up fat when there is too much of it? In this case it can't be insulin, because fat wont make any extra insulin secrete, and the palmitic acid in the animal fat might even induce some insulin resistance.


Why are these questions so interesting? If you can eat 1000 g of animal fat in a day without steatorrhea or vomiting, we'll write you up as a case report.

For the 1000th time, you can still store fat if force yourself to eat too much of is. Acylation stimulating protein. AND YOU STILL MAKE INSULIN AT BASELINE, so why "can't" it be insulin?

And yes if you don't get the shits, your TGs will be through the roof after each fatty meal. So?

March 16, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMike

Just to be clear - I'm obviously a fan and when I now segue into critique it's in the hope to help strengthen the clarity and effectiveness of the presented arguments.

The first part of this blog post is perfect, but I think the choice of a night club as an allegory is not optimal for two reasons.

1) I don't think it is a graceful and effective allegory
2) I don't think the mechanism by which the body decides how much energy to store as fat and how much stored fat to burn is best explained by allegory

While the allegory is obviously sufficient and useful for the seeker of knowledge, it seems to me that it would not be intuitively understood by the reluctant audience.

I think the purpose of the allegory is to explain the principles of balance and equilibrium which I agree are important, but maybe not quite so necessary at the forefront of an argument. If you think an allegory would be helpful to illustrate equilibrium I suggest considering the case of the dam.

Fat is stored energy from any source. The sources of energy are the macronutrients (protein, fat, carb) and any of them can be stored as fat. The mechanism by which the body determines how much energy it will store as fat and how much of the already stored fat will be burned can be said to be allegorically similar to the workings of a dam.

The rivers and streams flowing into the reservoir at the top of the dam is the energy that arrives in the body as whatever macronutrient.
The reservoir is the total of energy in the body whether stored as fat or in another form - for the sake of the fat storage allegory we will ignore the part of this energy that is not fat.
The natural evaportion of water in the reservoir is the body's use of energy (for motion etc). This is what allows us to ignore the part of the reservoir energy that is not fat.
The dam itself with it's ability to control the water level in the reservoir is the hormonal mechanism that controls the level of fat storage. For the symbolic explanation you can simplify the working of the dam as a raising or lowering the top of the dam which will intuitively make it obvious why lowering it below the surface level of the water in the reservoir will result in a reduction in the water level of the reservoir.

I think people in general already understand the concept of equilibrium. They may need a reminder of how it can apply in this context, but I think that reminder may be more effective if presented as an example rather than as an allegory.

For this reason my argument would go along the following lines:

The mechanism by which the body decides how much energy to store as fat and how much already stored fat to burn at any given point in time is decided by hormone levels and available energy in whatever form. It is not a simple process, but this is a simple argument that tries to give a general steer on how best to think about body fat storage. In the detail of this superficial but sufficient argument I will focus solely on the role of the hormone insulin for three reasons

1. It is one of the most important (if not the most important?) hormones when it comes to determining how much energy is stored as fat and how much fat is burned
2. It is easy to explain, understand and get some level of scientifically based verification on (biochemistry)
3. It is something over which an individual can have direct influence if they so choose

A simple way to explain the process by which the body decides on the level of fat storage is to say that the level of insulin at any given point in time dictates the body fat percentage.

Insulin level X (where X is high) dictates a body fat percentage of 50% (half your body weight in mass, where you weigh almost twice as much as you could)
Insulin level Y (where Y is low) dictates a body fat percentage of 5%

The energy-to-fat and fat-to-energy process may be quite efficient but the body cannot shift from 50% body fat to 5% body fat in an instant if the insulin level changes. Rather it would be more correct to say that any moment in which my insulin level is X my body is gravitating towards 50% body fat (whether coming that way from above or below 50% is not important) and any moment in which my insulin level is Y my body is gravitating towards 5% body fat. It may take months or even years to reach the body fat percentage dictated by the insulin level. And it may be a moving target.

In any given day insulin levels may vary significantly, so for some hours in a day the body fat percentage is gravitating upwards and for some hours in a day the body fat percentage is gravitating downwards. Over time it is meaningful to consider the average insulin level of the body as if measured every second and consider the corresponding body fat percentage the one you are gravitating towards in the long run.

Insulin levels (I think?) vary more significantly and are generally higher if you periodically eat a lot of carbohydrates. One way to maintain a steady and low level of insulin is to eat few carbohydrates.

If you reach the corresponding body fat percentage to your average insulin level you will have achieved an equilibrium. An equilibrium based on frequently varying insulin levels will have a larger range of corresponding body fat percentages with a resulting higher variance in daily/weekly weigh-ins.

While it is certainly useful to consider based on my current insulin level the weight at which I have reached an equilibrium I think the explanation by example is more powerful than the explanation by allegory.

Anyway, fantastic blog and I can only applaud you for your generosity, common sense and skill with the written word.


I appreciate that you think your metaphor is better than mine, but it is hard to read, and it is simultaneously both too simple and too complex. Also, there are numerous factual errors that make it unsatisfactory.

When you say "the level of insulin at any given point in time dictates the body fat percentage."

- that is just completely incorrect. In fact most of what you have here is more of the same oversimplified and misleading "its' all insulin levels turning things on and off that I am editorializing about.

One point of the essay is that it is NOT all about insulin levels. Taubes never said that, and even if he did, I certainly don't

March 16, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterKrennick

Human beings are not furnaces. If the dietary fat we consumed was merely used to heat us and we were a closed system, then eating fat would make us obese. Fat largely goes towards maintaining, and improving, our big fatty, cholesterolly brains. Some amount of dietary fat goes towards heating us and fueling us and to our metabolisms for sure. We can grow new interneuronal, interglial connections and enhance our brains (and our thinking) throughout our lives and that requires dietary animal fat and cholesterol- (which is only obtainable from animal sources). 'The Other Brain', R.D. Fields. Low-fat plant based diets degrade the brain. What’s truly scary (or remarkable) is that humans can subsist on low-fat, high-carb diets. Stop thinking of fat as primarily fuel and start conceiving of it as the structural component of your brain. In GCBC Taubes says that a switch to high-carb diets leads to a concomitant reduction in the consumption of fat. Also, eating more plants (wheat) reduces the amount of dietary animal fat. How about this idea of a human who is able to live (but not thrive) on a high-carb, low-fat brain-degrading diet. There's probably a hierarchy. On a sub-optimal low-fat, high-wheat diet, the body and the 'lower' (reptilian) brain are served first because the organism can survive with just these two sections operating. But then the 'higher' (thinking) brain is not serviced and maintained as well because it's not the priority. The survival of the whole organism takes precedence. The integrity and health of the 'higher' brain is actually
sacrificed on a poor diet to the rest of the brain and body. You don’t need to think well to live but you do need to continue to breathe and have your heart pump and circulate blood continuously.
My 83 year-old mother, who has eaten bread, corn oil, and mostly vegetarian all her adult life is physically healthy but has short term memory loss (dementia). I think her higher brain is disassembling (or not being continually repaired) to serve the rest of her lower brain and body, and even though we have her eating more fat and meat and have banished 'frankenstein' vegetable oils from her diet forevermore, the damage may be irreversible.

March 16, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterLaurie

Great post, Kurt. Thanks for further clarifying all this; it really helps.

So if insulin is the doorman...
Then leptin is the fire marshall ("This place is over-crowded; stop letting people in!" But sometimes you get resistance to the fire marshall's commands, which leads to chronic overcrowding).
And testosterone is the building contractor ("Put some of these people to work making the building bigger!")
So cortisol is... the bartender??

Sorry, just having a little fun. ;)


You've got the idea exactly... many messengers, some have more authority at certain times some at others. All responding to environmental conditions. Stop looking at metabolism as run by a bunch of binary switches.

March 16, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterGlenn

Great post. This is the kind of nuance that is missing from the average biochem text, but is so important in understanding what's really going on. Please continue these kinds of posts. Also, your last grains post was excellent as well.

KGH: Thanks, all effective argument in science is really metaphorical at heart.

March 16, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterThomas

So the million dollar question is:

How do we kick out more obnoxious drunks and scare away the pretty ladies?

March 16, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJeff

Question about the final couple of sentences of this post. Your final sentence implies that insulin is not the only hormone that can store fat, but if so, what other hormones can? And if another hormone is capable of storing fat, why was it that prior to insulin treatment, type one diabetics were incapable of storing fat? I specifically remember a chart in GCBC showing 6 or more hormones that facilitate fat mobilization and only insulin facilitating fat storage.


Your questions and the way you have phrased them indicate you have missed the point of the essay.

First: ASP or acylation stimulating protein - but they way you asked the question implies insulin is an on/pff switch or that it is sometimes missing..

Second: Type I diabetics have no endogenous insulin, so they are not taking up glucose and they are burning as much fat as possible. That another hormone CAN store fat does not mean it WILL - it is the balance of hormone action in response to environment - the environment is one of cellular glucose starvation in Type I, why would you want the body to store fat and why expect it to? Type I DM is a SPECIAL CASE, would yo agree?

Insulin is always present if you are alive, OK.

March 16, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterGeoffrey


I posted this under Heather's original question in the forum but it might be more appropriate here.

Dr. Harris,

Thank you for that explanation. That makes so much sense. I have a follow up question regarding those of us that seem to have what you call a broken metabolism and that can't seem to maintain or lose weight on PaNu. If this broken metabolism is due to not just eating a SAD but also due to yoyo dieting (on Paleo), and for those that seem excessively hungry, could it be that this hunger is actually real? That the body is simply starving for food and especially fat if the previous diet was too low in fat or calories, or if the person has health issues, so initial weight gain is inevitable? In other words, should we just honor that hunger and assume that after some initial weight gain the body will eventually adjust and work properly and the weight/fat will come off again?

Thank you...

March 16, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterKristina

More Fat for thought. Please feel free to quibble with these numbers, but I'm erring on the side of EM2 of an animal fat and cholesterol heavy diet with no neolithic agents. No wheat, no sucrose, no corn or other vegetable 'oil' or fats because- 65% of our brains are fat. 50% of the weight of the cerebral cortex is cholesterol. (Cholesterol is not chemically a fat. It's a high molecular weight fat-soluble alcohol that is only made in animals.) Our 100 trillion cells' membranes are composed of lipids and cholesterol. Their surface area is two football fields. Additionally we have long cellular processes called axons extending out from our 100 billion neurons. They have FATTY membranes that if laid end to end would wrap around the earth four times. We harbor and provide sustenance for 1000 trillion bacteria that have lipid membranes. These symbiotic bacteria turnover daily. Cells have been evolving on our planet for 3 billion years. Vegetable oils were first purified and isolated for the paint, putty and varnish industry 100 years ago. Agriculture is 10,000 years old but bread has to be quite a bit younger. Availability of concentrated sucrose is about 200 years old. You go ahead and eat neolithic foods that don't supply enough animal fat and cholesterol for your fat hungry brain and axons and membranes and hormones if you want to. I'll take my chances with EM2 and that mother nature has, by trial and error, worked out a lot of the kinks, thank you very much.

March 16, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterLaurie

The bouncer analogy helps to clarify insulin's role in our bodies. I just read Bernstein's "The Diabetes Diet" based on your mention of him. He states that we shouldn't "cheat" or give ourselves excuses to go off the diet. This idea of "no cheats" and your bouncer analogy solidifies the notion (for me anyway) that our bodies/weight are dynamic.

Thank you so much for this post!

March 16, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterpaleonubrooklyn

I've always used a mental model of "faucets" to think about fat utilization and storage. One faucet controls fat going into the adipocyte; the other controls fat coming out. When the outbound faucet is at a trickle, but the inbound one is wide open, it's easy to gain fat and hard to lose it. But the bouncer metaphor is more vivid.

As a person who has always struggled with weight, I've had more occasions to think about this than I like to remember. It has always been maddening to me to become hungry while carrying a lot of extra body fat. I would think to myself, "Why is my body so stupid? Can't it see that it's awash in stored fuel? Why is it telling me I need to eat?" The answer, as I eventually came to understand it, is "internal starvation," a concept that was first proposed by Pennington, I think. The fuel is there, yes, stored in the adipocytes. The metabolically active cells want it, but they aren't getting enough, hence hunger. I wonder, though, if the internal starvation is mainly caused by the adipocyte bouncers being reluctant to let people out of the club, or the bouncers on the starving cells being reluctant to let people in. Or both.


Leaving the metaphor, you first have liver inflammation and liver IR due to PUFA and fructose, the pancreas then jacks up insulin to get its message through to the increasingly tone-deaf liver - it has to regulate serum BG - the chronic hyperinsulinema that results would cause an unneeded influx of glucose into muscle cells or risk of hypoglycemia during fasting, so maybe muscle cells protect themselves and the brain with muscle insulin resistance.

Unlike the physiologic insulin resistance that occurs on VLC, this IR is in the setting of HIGH insulin levels.

If the IR is more normal in adipocytes, you are obese.

If the IR is increased in adipocytes, you are a skinny diabetic.

Something like that...

March 16, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterTodd

I had thought that if you ate 5000 calories of only fat and protein, some protein would be converted by gluconeogenesis, some would go to building muscle, the fat would go to building hormones and cellular repair and building the new muscle cells and the rest would be spent in futile cycling. Without high insulin levels not balanced by glucagon how can more fat be stored than is used providing energy, various body processes like making hormones, etc, and in futile cycling.
People have done experiments on themselves where they ate that much, mostly in fat, and maybe lost a pound or two from lowering glycogen stores and the associated water molecules but didn't gain any. Dr Bernstein first tried to put weight on too thin T1 diabetics by having them drink olive oil but it didn't work, he found to put weight on them they had to eat more protein. The part I don't get is if you eat more protein than you need for gluconeogenesis and more than your body can build muscle with, what exactly happens to the rest? How can it be converted to fat and stored? What is the mechanism? If you don't need more glucose it wouldn't be converted to that, would it? If you're already building as much muscle as possible, the rest has to go somewhere else. Is it converted to fat somehow? Then wouldn't it get caught up in futile cycling also? How could it be stored without more insulin coming from somewhere?


You seem stuck with some "Zero Carb" cartoon ideas of metabolism. I've tried to explain it metaphorically. I've tried to explain why to stop asking nonsense like "what turns into what".

Let me ask you this - how does an underweight, starving person who is suddenly fed normally get back to normal weight, including replenishing fat stores. Do you propose that is caused by pathologically high insulin levels? Or is there a normal body set-point phenomenon that is basically the inverse of the broken metabolism in obese persons?

March 16, 2010 | Unregistered Commenternonegiven

Thanks, I have been struggling with that question too. I figured it was probably that way, but the 'cartoon zero-carb' idea is the way it sounds like it is. The mechanism is definitely much more complex than "Insulin Bad" and "Expenditure Irrelevant".

KGH: Yep. Hyperglycemia is really bad, so in that sense "insulin good"!

March 16, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMatt

nonegiven wrote: "I had thought that if you ate 5000 calories of only fat and protein, some protein would be converted by gluconeogenesis, some would go to building muscle, the fat would go to building hormones and cellular repair and building the new muscle cells and the rest would be spent in futile cycling."

This may sound a bit rude, but I'm getting tired of hearing about futile cycling. Yes, futile cycles exist in the human body, but it has not been proven that they can or do "burn off" all "excess" dietary fat. They are mentioned as a possible explanation for the metabolic advantage of low carb diets, but it's not even clear if a metabolic advantage exists in the first place. Also, I'm wondering if there is some limit as to how much futile cycling can take place. Futile cycles produce heat; core body temperature can not get too high or it will negatively affect many important physiological processes. If futile cycling is unrestrained/unregulated, could the heat produced overwhelm the body's capacity to regulate its core temperature? I don't know, but I bet there are some highly educated folks out there who could crunch the numbers and tell us.

March 16, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJoselyn

I have been reading your site for some time now and cant wait to read and reread each post. I keep sending links of this site to my father in law who has worsening Type II diabetes, mostly I believe from a terrible diet. It finally took and he started eating according to your 12 steps. He told me that he was going to have to decrease his meds. Well, bottom line, I know that this is a lot of work for a busy doctor to do but you are really helping people. Thank you.

KGH: Thanks, Mike, it's great to know we are having some effect, and costing big pharma some money!
Thanks for spreading the word.

March 16, 2010 | Unregistered Commentermike

I don't know how you keep up your level of response to blog comments. Do you even sleep? ;)

One request/suggestion for a posting that I wonder if you'd consider: Protein - what is "too much"?

There's plenty of paranoia regarding eating too much. There are very definite, and very varied, figures regarding grams per day relative to lean body mass etc. etc. (grams per pound confuses me - grams per kilo anyone?)

What does happen if you get say, 1.4 grams per pound of lean body mass or perhaps to express it better: 35% calories from protein. (Apart from instantaneous death, obviously...)

I'm not looking to fine-tune anything but I'd be very interested to read your thinking on this specifically.

As for the fat - I get it - honestly.


For now I'll just say imagine a million years of evolution happening in a world where only the last 100 had the ability to even know what a protein was.

March 16, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterRedYeti

How did I know that was the answer? ;)

Thanks Kurt - but hope you find time to give it your usual "treatment" in a posting.

March 16, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterRedYeti

OK...I hate to add to your comment review load by just saying "holy crap this is a good blog" but there I've gone and said it. Been reading Stephan and Peter for years and just never came over here until yesterday, in spite of seeing occasional references in other places.

As someone who can gain weight on anything at all, including a pure home-made pemmican diet (I've tried it), this post finally made it all clear in a way that GBCB didn't. For me, it is exquisitely all about the calorie load, which I have come to accept. Eating comes down to "what do I have to NOT eat to facilitate my willpower to abide by over all calorie reduction?" And the answer, gained over years of trial and error, is "pure (all 12 steps), nearly zero-carb paleo." My wife calls it the "just say no to everything" lifestyle, but it is nice to have cravings nearly disappear and carb-binging stop.

Anyway, thanks for taking the time.

Scott W

KGH : thanks Scott, glad to be of help

March 16, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterScott W

Kurt, I'll just throw this wrench into your hypothesis if it's alright with you.

If it was possible to grow fat by eating only meat, or eating only a boatload of animal fat, then where are the fat carnivores?

We do agree that by "grow fat", we mean "grow obese" like a hippopotamus would or a gorilla would or a human would if he ate carbs. Otherwise, it's a good logical refutable solid valid hypothesis you have there.


What hypothesis? I have seen and read plenty of testimony from people who have gained weight eating nothing but fat and protein. It's not a "hypothesis" and it is not mysterious or surprising. It only mystifies me that people consider this controversial or even interesting, really.

As far as my definitions, when I say store fat, I mean exactly that. Store fat in a fat cell. I do not mean "get clinically obese". You said that, not me. I do not dispute that it is harder to get obese on VLC. That is obvious. But if you have disturbed leptin signaling or otherwise screwed up body fat setpoint, you could become obese or stay obese (we see this all the time!) on VLC or ZC.

Here we go:

It is easier to store fat by eating carbohydrate than by eating fat. Insulin has something to do with this. We all know this, and no one is disputing it. However, this does not mean you cannot store fat without eating carbohydrate. (Don't confuse EATING carbohydrate with having it available in your body) I just explained that fat is being stored and released simultaneously ALL THE TIME.

If you could not have net fat storage with no carbs IN YOUR DIET, then every time you fasted on zero carbs, you would lose fat, and when you ate you would not store any. Guess what would happen then? You would eventually go to 0% body fat. Have you met a zero carber with no body fat? Maybe you can show me one subject. I'll publish it as a case report and give you some credit.

Same thing with wild carnivores that eat no carbohydrate ever. If you can show me one with no body fat, then that animal might not be storing fat. Any animal that has fat is by definition storing it. And if they don't have periods with net positive fat storage, they would DIE due to the cumulative losses of adipose as they burn fat in between kills.

<i>A bucket that has a leak in it that has no way to fill it is by definition always empty - it has to be.</i>

Wild animals and wild humans that are not obese are not obese because they are not damaged. It has nothing to do with whether their diet normally has carbohydrate in it. Animals that have more stored body fat, like hippos, are not obese either. They have more body fat and are evolved to. Obesity is "more fat than you are supposed to have", not "more fat than a human". Don't be anthropocentric.

Now read those 4 paragraphs I just wrote several times, and forget all the nonsense you heard from "The Bear" or whomever.

So no "hypothesis", your wrench is plastic toy.

I am starting to know how Lyle McDonald feels, maybe.

March 16, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMartin Levac

Great, useful metaphor. Thank you for using both sides of your brain to simplify a complex issue. You will be quoted. You Rawk!

KGH: Thanks Beck

March 16, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterBeck

And... twittering and facebook are the amplication of the second messengers when leptin, adiponectin, n-3, n-6, testosterone, estrogen, dhea, cortisol, epi/ne, 25OHD/calcitriol and other VIPs cross the velvet rope with the help of the Doorman...

Nice allegory. haa Party's at ur molecular joint...??! Good times!!


Thanks, G : ) When I was writing this, I was thinking of the scene in "Knocked Up" when the black doorman is rejecting the two girls and saying " You pregnant, and she old as hell.." the rest of the dialogue is kind of x-rated. That Judd Apatow stuff cracks me up.

March 16, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterDr.BG

I'm sorry Kurt, I just realized now that you were talking about normal fat metabolism all along and not about fat accumulation like in obesity.


Your posts are too long and pointlessly argumantative. I am not interested in debating. I am taking about "normal" fat accumulation and pathologic if you are have an abnormal metabolism.

March 17, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMartin Levac

Kurt: "I am starting to know how Lyle McDonald feels, maybe."

Yes, but I hope you won't do like him and stop educating people and start calling them "retards". That would be a tragedy for us. ;-)


KGH: Read some of the nit-picky comments and see what you think.

March 17, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterPatrick N.

Part of the confusion on this point, especially from newly minted Taubes-o-philes, comes from one of his lecture videos. At some point during the lecture (or maybe the Q&A), while discussing how fat is formed, he says something like "Without dietary carbohydrate, you just can't get fat". I watched it months ago and remember thinking, "Er wow he's in for it with that claim" but it hasn't really made that much of a splash in the Taubes bashing community for some reason. I guess they don't want to actually watch his lectures.

But for those of us that do, and who may be overly credulous and take Taubes at his word, that line has probably spawned more zero carb metabolic confusion than anything else yet said. It's been a while since I watched the video so perhaps I'm not remembering it properly, but even that would illustrate how someone might come to believe that there's some magic about zero carb.

Vids (forget which one of these has it, or if it's in both):


I think it is literal minded-ness to interpret Taubes that way. He should qualified the statement by saying "usually". I guess some people don't know we are talking about complex biological systems.

Also, I've read the book three times and never once had the impression that it would be impossible to store fat or for people with disturbed metabolism to get fat without dietary carbohydrate.

He is right, though, in the sense that it is generally very hard to stay obese or gain abnormally excess fat on no carbohydrates. That's my clinical observation and I am sure Mike Eades and other clinicians would agree.

I see this stuff as propagated by Owsley and Charles Washington more than by Taubes.

March 17, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterpfw

Kurt, how would you look if you avoided the question on a public forum which you have no editorial power over? "Me posts are too long and pointlessly argumentative"? But, we only have your word for that since well, you edited my post and omitted the part you found to be "too long and pointlessly argumentative". Yeah, I guess your blog posts are short and sweet and not argumentative at all.

Look, it's your blog and you can do whatever the hell you want with it. You can also hide behind the power you have over what's posted in reply on your blog for all I care. But you and I both know what's going on even if you don't want to admit it openly. Have you ever posted on somebody else's blog only to find out that you were edited the same way you edited me? I mean, do unto others before they do unto you, that kind of crap.

You still haven't answered the question even in your subsequent blog post. Where are the fat carnivores?

Look, never mind, alright? You can believe anything you want and I shouldn't burst your bubble like that. It's a mean thing to do anyway. I won't do it again, I promise.


Once again, there aren't any fat carnivores and it has nothing to do with eating carbohydrate. There are no fat humans in HG societies either, and they eat carbohydrate (Kitavans).

You are wrong about gorillas and hippos, and your definition of obesity is fallaciously anthropocentric.

This is absolutely NOT a public forum. It is my private domain and you are wasting my time and being an argumentative, annoying asshat to boot.

I am not hiding behind a goddamned thing. I am using the power I legitimately have to use my time and resources the way I see fit. Publishing your pointless long-winded treatises is not on my list.

As far as my editorial blog posts they are whatever I wish them to be. What they are not are invitations to debate internet harpies and nit-pickers or community forums.

I said I was not interested in debating you and I am not. I am totally indifferent to your desires in this regard.

So you are gone now, goodbye...

March 17, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMartin Levac

I didn't get that impression from GCBC either, which was why I was somewhat surprised by the statement in the lecture. It seemed to be reaching.

Some basic charity towards Taubes is due, I think, and so I don't hold one (probably mis-stated or poorly worded) sentence against the rest of his work. Just wanted to point out something I've seen cited all over the zero carb world as evidence of the impossibility of fat gain.

KGH: I would always emphasize a written work over the spoken word in these areas.

March 17, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterpfw

Good post. It needed to be written.

I like the doorman analogy. Using that analogy, Fructose has a VIP pass and barges its way in, causing problems in a full nightclub but not in a part-empty one.

"I am starting to know how Lyle McDonald feels, maybe." You called ML an asshat. You're getting there!

KGH: Thanks, Nige. You have to strike a perfect balance to get called a name here. Somewhere exactly between civil and the "delete" button.

March 17, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterNige

If the IR is more normal in adipocytes, you are obese.

If the IR is increased in adipocytes, you are a skinny diabetic.

I never thought I'd be grateful to be fat. Better fat than a diabetic, even a skinny diabetic. Woohoo, my fat cells' insulin resistance is more normal!

KGH: Well the way to look at it is if your fat cells are more normal you are being warned of your metabolic syndrome before frank diabetes.

March 17, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterStrawberry Shortcake

A confusion I have is how those with SAD-impaired gut function -- Celiac's, Chron's, et al, and their concomitant fat absorption problems -- can ever get back to some sort of "balance or equilibrium." If a person is unable to digest fats well due to grain-damaged gut, and the option is clearly not to eat tons of carbs and protein, what is to be done?

March 17, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterBen

Asking more about acylation-stimulating protein, is it something that is secreted in response to eating fat, much like insulin is secreted in response to eating carbs? The reason I said it can't be insulin that makes fat cells take up fat is because fat doesn't make any insulin secrete, so there will be only baseline insulin levels, so the fat cells will only take up fat at baseline levels, but insulin can't tell them to take up the extra kg of fat I ate.

I guess where I am heading is that when there are hormones that makes fat cells take up fat in response to both fat and carbs, why are some people blaming insulin? Not to say that you do so and I am not trying to disagree with you or debunk you. It is just that I have never heard of a hormone that makes cells take up fat in response to eating fat, and I would just like to learn a little about it. Based on my hypothetical scenario such a hormone must exist.

When an insulin theorizer tells me "what causes fat accumulation? insulin. what raises insulin? carbs! see", I can say, wait a minute, there is a similar hormone that acts in response to fat, why is it the insulin's fault?


You are missing the point still...You are still focusing on "things turning into things". Think about it being demand driven, not supply driven.

we are "blaming insulin" because in the setting of hyperinsulinemia it very definitely contributes to obesity. What on earth does that have to do with there being other ways to store fat? This being true has zero to do with that.

Stop it with the binary thinking!

March 17, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMike

@ Mike

ASP can help transport fat into fat cells, but ASP still need insulin to do its job. ASP's real job is to transport fat into fat cells if there is more energy in the blood than what is required (or requested as Kurt said it). ASP can do this even with a baseline level of insulin.


March 17, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterPatrick N.

Just wondering why my one comment was deleted, and the other was not accepted? I can understand if you don't want people to know about 2,4 dinitrophenol for weight loss/futile cycling issue. It works but unfortunately causes other problems.

However my comment that ALL carnivores do consume carbohydrates is undeniable. Why hide that fact?

I love the blog, and all blogs that encourage the improvement of health. I just like to discourage statements that are not based on reality.


I am growing tired of trivial nit-picking and pointlessly argumentative posts. You know exactly what I mean by carbohydrate and so does every one else - I mean plant matter. Who gives a damn if there are some carbohydrate molecules in meat or consumed liver or in viscera? That has nothing to do with the OPs point.

I am hiding nothing- your observation is undeniable, but it is also trivial, well known and besides the point. To characterize my post as "not based on reality" over a literal minded reading like that is frankly, insulting.

Predominantly carb free, mostly carb free, carnivorous, meat eating....

I deleted both references to DNP as I don't want suicide recipes with dosages on my blog.

These kinds of discussions - nit-picking "corrections" and trivial displays of off-topic knowledge - are a waste of time and do nothing to advance my aims in working on this blog.

March 17, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterFlampton

<trivial displays of off-topic knowledge - are a waste of time and do nothing to advance my aims in working on this blog>


that explains what happened to my second "alligator fat" comment in the fat carnivore post. I am not offended, as the alligator studies were completely irrelevant (if strangely fascinating), but more or less offered as tangential comic relief to the very serious question, "where are the fat carnivores?"

What I really want to know is, where are the Snowdens of yesteryear?

March 18, 2010 | Unregistered Commentercaphuff

A very widely read and well thought of blogger: Leo Babauta eventually took the decision to remove all comments from his blog. (By odd co-incidence he's championing the Primal Blueprint today I notice).

I can understand why he did that, and to some extent it makes the blog better, since Leo tends to write interesting postings from a very personal point of view on varied "life style" related areas. Once I've read them, I need read nothing more. Losing the comments from that blog did not detract from it.

In contrast, the replies you make to comments are extremely valuable for getting context and clarity on a subject (and, inevitably, on the subjects that get dragged along with them).

I'm not sure if you'd ever actually consider losing the comments from your blog, but just thought I'd say how much I, for one, would miss them.

Judicious but merciless use of the delete button is probably what's called for!


Thanks for your commisseration, RedYeti.

I noticed that Leo (who linked me a few weeks ago) has 150,000 subscribers and no comments.

I have about 2000 subscribers. Interesting, huh?

I have deleted 4 posts and banned one person today. I have been very very close to closing comments permanently these past few days. Every post is like handing in a paper to two or three thousand grade school teachers armed with red pens. What is it about blogs that people feel viscerally compelled to comment, no matter how off topic, rude or pointlessly argumentative? I spend HOURS every day just READING the comments here. Like any health blogger, I am just sharing my opinion with whoever wants to read it that might find it helpful.

I am not trying to save the world, or vegans, or anyone in particular. That is a fool's errand.

It's not a peer-reviwed journal, amateur debate club, or a community forum. It's a blog.

The delete button is now at defcon 3. The next step will be no comments. Seriously.

March 18, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterRedYeti

kill the comments! they're obviously driving you crazy, anyway.

Kill this one, even.

Then maybe you'll have time to write all them other blog posts you keep commenting about in response to other comments.

Please do not respond. Just kill it.

KGH: We'll try cranking down the delete threshold for now. I don't want to punish the innocent.

March 18, 2010 | Unregistered Commentercaphuff

re the role of comments
i highly value this blog. it has a high priority for me, and i read every post, and in addition - unlike even with stephan's and peter's blogs- i read every comment within about 24 hours. but i must say even i'm having trouble keeping up with the comment flow. i can only imagine what it's like for you.
i've had the thought that the comments serve as potentially useful feedback for when you finally write your book- you get to see what needs clarification or amplification, and where your audience's interests reside.
otoh, at some point, you're putting off writing your next post because you're too busy with comments. i've also had the thought that your posts will provide the skeleton of your book for you.
i'd suggest you consider using the delete button more instead of spending energy on distractions, while allowing comments which spur you to illuminate the issues from other angles.


Thanks for your thoughts, Jeff. The problem with the delete option is I still have to read them all.

Maybe a registered commenters option would split the difference. I can think of a few dozen regular commenters who could keep me on my toes and alert me to important studies, etc.

Or I may just turn comments on and off so I can work on substantive material. There is no way the book will get written with the current system, so I have to think about changing something.

March 18, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterjeff klugman

"Maybe a registered commenters option would split the difference. I can think of a few dozen regular commenters who could keep me on my toes and alert me to important studies, etc."

Not a bad idea. Also, simply having moderators would solve this problem I think.


March 18, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterPatrick N.

I hesitate to post yet another comment but - if you are considering outsourcing the moderation: I've used Kaya Systems successfully for a few small tasks. It's a reasonably small outfit run by two guys who were college educated in the USA.

Though the fact that the VAs won't be first-language English may be too much of a barrier in this context.

Perhaps someone closer to home from somewhere like www.virtualassistantnetworking.com might be better.

As for Leo's lack of comments - he used to have them, but turned them off some time after his blog subscriptions went into the top ten or so subscribed blogs on the planet. He stuck with them for quite some time. Longer than many would have I think.

(I notice you've just installed a comment CAPTCHA - I'd be interested to know if that puts off some "drive-by" commenting as well as the dreaded spammers)

March 19, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterRedYeti
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