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A Superficial Understanding Of The Paleo Diet Can Have You Running Into The Grip Of Powerfully Pro-inflammatory Main-ingredients

Are You Pop Paleo or Deep Paleo? Read this to find out.

A superficial understanding of the Paleo diet can have you running into the grip of powerfully pro-inflammatory toxic oils

To be, or not to be, labeled Paleo: that is the question.

Lately I’ve been given more opportunities to speak about the Paleo diet, which I take as a complement given that a) adapting a Paleo diet is a great alternative to the food pyramid and b) I mention the Paleo diet in my book Deep Nutrition exactly once. Nevertheless, when asked whether or not I’m a Paleo gal, I’ve always struggled to respond with full confidence. Am I Paleo?

Turns out, I’ve decided that neither “yes” nor “no” really works.

The Deep Nutrition philosophy shares much with the fundamental concepts of Paleo, most notably the belief that our diets have diverged radically from that of our ancestors, and that’s gotten us into big trouble.

But there are some key differences that are no small matter, differences important enough to preclude me from visiting the majority of restaurants Paleo experts identify as “Paleo approved.”

Take for example, THE PALEO RESTAURANT GUIDE TO AUSTIN, TEXAS kindly compiled by threedietsonedinner, which came to my attention because PaleoFX 2013 will be held in Austin from March 28-30 . I called a number of these restaurants to plan my stay, but was dismayed to discover the majority lean heavily on the use of Canola oil. One of them offers almost nothing free of Canola.

I’m thrilled to have been invited to be a speaker. And I think it’s time I made one thing clear:

This cave girl don’t do Canola, nor any of the trans-fat-rich so-called “vegetable” oils (listed here) . (For the purposes of this article, the term Canola stands for all toxic industrial oils.) I avoid the stuff at all costs. And if you’ve followed my blog or read any of my books you know I think you would do well to do the same. In fact, along with reducing your intake of empty calories (like sugar and corn syrup), eliminating Canola oil is the single most powerful step you can take to improve your diet.

Canola oil may be the farthest thing from Paleo ever invented.

Unlike Gluten, a plant protein that predates the genus Homo, the blend of oxidized fats identified in bottles of Canola simply could not have existed in the Paleolithic era. The polyunsaturated fat-mutating technology hadn’t been invented until the industrial age. The Canola plant itself did not exist until sometime around 1970—facts Paleo enthusiasts may want to consider now that Canola oil provides up to a third of the calories in typical restaurant meals.

Many of these Canola-loving restaurants wind up being identified as “Paleo Approved.”

For those of use trying to cut Canola, that’s just not going to work. So here’s the fix: We need to make a clear distinction between the popular form of Paleo and the one reserved for more serious players.

So from now on, let’s call the pro-Canola Paleo side “Pop Paleo” and the no-Canola side “Deep Paleo.” 

Canola marks the dividing line between Pop Paleo and Deep Paleo. But there are other differences worth noting. For example, I think raw dairy can be part of a healthy diet, that fermentation is an essential part of a dietary program, and that homemade bone stock is a great way to help maintain connective tissues integrity well into old age.

So are you Deep Paleo? Here’s the test:

  • Do you do your best to avoid Canola oil when shopping or dining out?
  • Do you think homemade bone stock is an important part of a healthy diet?
  • Would you pass on bacon if you were unsure it was from humanely raised animals?
  • Do you eat real, fermented pickles, sauerkraut or kimchee?
  • And do you include some dairy in your diet?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, then welcome to the cave of the Deep Paleo tribe! Like me, you’ve broken through the more superficial elements of the Paleo/Primal movement and dug deeper to find your own truth—the diet that works best for you.

Of course, Pop Paleo enthusiasts are welcome too, as long they know the secret passphrase: “Canola not for eat! For make torch go!”


Andrea (first commenter, below) pointed out that this post could be read as another attempt to fractionate the Paleo group into micro sects. That’s the last thing we want. If you “get it” about oils, you are in the minority –in my experience. So please pass this on: Canola oil can ruin an otherwise perfectly Paleo meal. Its pro-inflammatory potential makes it instant ANTI-PALEO.

Related Paleo content I include this as an example of a common mistake. While the site overall is very helpful, this post contains an error in the list of bad oils I see often. However the fear of omega-6 here is taken too an extreme and the recommendation to avoid peanut oils is not one I agree with, nor does the most published scientist in the field, Dr G Spiteller.

Peanut oil does not oxidize during heating for a variety of reasons and when it comes to determinining if a given oil is toxic or not, oxidation is the issue, not the omega-6 content.

Omega-6 is an essential oil and I’ve treated Pop Paleo enthusiasts presenting with skin rashes and diarrhea that are hallmark indicators of omega-6 deficiency. Fortunately, the symptoms quickly reversed with adding back omega-6 containing foods.

Dr. Cate

With over two decades of clinical experience and expertise in genetic and biochemical research, Dr. Cate can help you to reverse metabolic disease and reshape your body.

This Post Has 47 Comments

  1. Dr. Cate,

    Regarding oxidation and the concept of inflamation, you have noted that more so than omega 6 content in the diet, oxidation of ingested PUFAs is more critical. How does this align with the omega 6 / omega 3 ratio that many in the paleo community try to monitor? So many times I read that we should all be reducing our omega 6 load and/or megadose on omega 3 to balance the ratio.

    Can you share your opinion? Thanks.

    1. Omega 6 and 3 are both essential fats. With all the emphasis on omega-3 we lose sight of the fact that we still need both. The main reason people get into trouble with too much 6 and not enough 3 has to do with the fact that on a typical diet you will get 6 in vegetable oils and 3 almost nowhere.

  2. OK! Here we go:

    How many of you would be willing to send a letter or email to one or more restaurants that you love if Dr. Cate goes to the trouble of writing a template for us? Let’s start this campaign now!! 🙂

    1. I’m in!

      Maybe the local Weston Price Foundation chapters would be interested in helping band together people too? They’ve already got an organized following and the mutural dislike of veggie oils.

      But first, Facebook!

  3. I just found out that one of my favorite restaurants uses Canola Oil. I’d like to send the owner and chef an email urging them to discontinue its use. Would you be able to put together a template email or letter that all of us in the Paleo/Primal/Ancestral community could use to send to restaurants? If it could include links to many substantiating articles, (including from any mainstream medical journals, if you can find any), that would help make the email so much more powerful.

    I could try to do write such an email on my own, but I know the arguments would be sloppy and ineffective. If you could put this together for us, we could start a huge campaign of educating chefs and restaurant owners!

    Thank you so much for considering this request and for all the great work you do.

  4. What are your thoughts on Blood Types and diets? I follow more of the deep paleo, because I’m type O. My acupuncturist tells me my Type A children should not eat that much meat or fat as me. Your thoughts? I also am having such a hard time losing weight when i don’t keep track of calories – it’s easy to overdo calories when you eat a lot of steak, whole milk and butter!

  5. So..did you find any restaurants in Austin that fit the bill? I live here, and would love to know of anyone NOT using these horrible oils. Thanks.

    1. I ate at TRACE but had to make the usual special requests, unfortunately. And since they had no idea, they used no oil whatsoever, so it was a little weird.

  6. Awesome article! I have a few coworkers who are hardcore Paleo but eat tons of these PUFAs. They thought I was *insane* for my Kerrygold butter use and how much olive oil/coconut oil I use. And my goodness, if you don’t do Crossfit around here don’t dare call yourself Paleo. Funny what we do when we start labeling and putting ourselves into groups. I just tell people I am a real food eater. If they want to know more, I am happy to answer questions.

  7. I think the only piece that I have a question about is the part about peanut oil. Many people have digestive issues caused by peanuts and should exclude them from their diets. Rather than promoting peanut oil as a “safe” oil…aren’t their better sources from which to get healthy omega-6 levels? Like, eating local, free-range eggs, free-range turkey and other grass-fed meat, or by simply cooking in pastured butter? Or, am I confused? I don’t understand why peanut oil would be one that would be okay…considering that peanuts cause such problems for so many people, both allergy related and digestion.

    I am not trying to argue or offend anyone…just posing the question, because I am far from being an expert…there is just SO much information out there, it can be overwhelming.

    1. We don’t want to advise restriction to people who don’t have issues and keep in mind that many people have allergies to eggs and seafood. It’s difficult enough to get good nutrition these days!

  8. I was doing well until the “dairy” question. I have tried every way imaginable to incorporate at least a small amount of high-quality dairy into my diet, from either cows or goats, to no avail. It affects my lower GI tract in some way that I don’t really understand, and it takes weeks to fully recover after testing a dairy-containing food. I finally eliminated even pasture butter and ghee, although I do eventually intend to test them again. Maybe.

    I was one of those people that didn’t have any obvious problem with dairy until after going paleo and dairy-free for an extended period of time. I don’t know what happened, and while I have heard similar stories from others, I haven’t come across a good, solid, objective explanation.

  9. Thanks Dr. Cate. Big fan, here. Thank you for clarifying WHY Canola is bad for you (oxidation v. omega 6 content).

    It seems everything has canola in it these days, and waiters and cooks seem to gleam when announcing that they only use canola oil, like they are being so healthy. When I eat lunch out, I try and visit a whole foods type salad bar. It seems all the hot food has canola as an ingredient, I usually have to skip the hot items (and sometimes hunger says eff it, and I serve a portion of it, soooo bad!).

    In the past year I switched to using only coconut oil (deelish) and butter (more deelish!) when cooking at home and even skip the olive oil (nasty flavor).

    As far as the Deep Paleo questions?? I am proud to say, that I read your book DN about a a year ago (still one of my favorites) and I answered yes to 4 out of the 5 questions. I still have a hard time saying no to cooked bacon, no matter what the source. However, when I purchase it, its always uncured bacon usually from Trader Joes, so yummy!

    Hope to hear you one day in person, maybe at Paleo F/X 2014?? Hahah, one can dream/plan.

    Thanks for all you Dr. Cate.

    1. It’s the oxidation, not the omega 6 content. We have a chapter called Good Fats and Bad in Chapter 8 of Deep Nutrition that will help you understand the profound effects of oxidation on tissues of the body.

  10. Dr Cate

    Since really trying to go deep into nutrition I have been experiencing more “flare ups” of gout. Because of the meds I am on because of cardio-myopathy and a-fib, I am sure they have screwed up my blood. But is this frequency of pain an attempt by my body to adapt to the new diet? I love the plan, I actually enjoy the food more. We are only using Olive and Coconut oil in our house.

    Thank you

  11. Dr. Cate,

    Great article. Now, to refresh myself, is it the high amount of PUFA in canola that makes it unstable for cooking?

    Also, I am going to begin my medical school journey this fall at the University of Louisville, but would love to end up in California. Do you know of any residency programs (preferably internal medicine) in coastal California that do not adhere strictly to conventional wisdom, but rather teach principles more in line to those of yourself?



  12. Dr. Cate, do you have any tips for typical items you can eat out or choices one can make that have the best chance of being canola free? I eat most of my meals at home, but I don’t like the idea of having to avoid eating out all together–what fun is that. Thank you for an interesting post.

    1. They can add Canola to everything. I ask “is there anything on your menu that can be made without Canola.” Often, they have to whip out some olive oil and make a grill item special.

  13. My body is the barometer of oils! When I eat an oil, such as a seed oil, I get the deepest ache in my gall bladder meridian (outside of my thigh) on the side I am sleeping on. It took me ages to work it out why I would sometimes have it and sometimes not, but then I realized it was every time I ate outside the home.
    Sure stopped me eating out!

    I am in Italy at the moment and thankfully I can eat everything that the restaurants serve (the meat and vege bits anyway, not the pasta or pizza!)

    I went to Spain last year and although they cook with olive oil, the olive oil is so contaminated with other oils that I couldn’t go out to eat and had to cook everything myself. Such a pity!

    I believe I am like a canary in the coal mine. I will be the one to feel it in my body when there is not something right in the food. It’s a gift and it’s hard to bear sometimes.

    Olive oil even in Italy is contaminated, but the restaurants always get their oils from places they can trust. I can only hope that they continue to do so.

  14. You go girl. Good job, Dr. Kate. I love your attitude. You are a born teacher!!! Love you.

  15. I got the Canola oil thing from “Deep Nutrition”. But I’ve heard & read some things about supposed olive oil, labelled as EV and all, that make me wonder how trustworthy it is – even actually canola and perfumed to smell/taste like olive oil. What do you know about this? The recommendation from these sources is to limit oneself to California olive oil, presumably because we have better regulation of the industry and producers than they have in Italy, Spain, Greece, etc. But, really??? Should I be concerned about olive oil?

    1. I’m not. As long as it tastes a lot like olive oil, that’s good ‘nuf.
      One of the problems raised about olive oil is they ‘dope’ olive oil with hazelnut. But that’s more of a culinary problem than a health problem because hazelnut is also a fine oil for cooking though not as popular for whatever reason so it fetches a lower price.

  16. Hi Dr. Cate,
    Thank you. I found the article so useful as a newbie to paleo (former decade long vegan). On a regular basis I’m now emailing restaurants inquiring whether their fish is farmed or wild caught, meat is grass fed/finished, and is the poultry pastured. I never thought to inquire about the canola oil although in the back of my mind I knew I should – I’ve asked about it in the past but lately I’ve forgotten! Thank you for such a big reminder. I will no longer forget. Job well done.

  17. Just want to mention that if you eat at any large health food chain, everything has canola oil in it. They all use lot’s of it. Other less mentioned things on my to be avoided lists, that are in many foods eaten by paleo folks are xantham gum and guar gym, both of which can be gut irritants.
    Thanks, great work, as always.

  18. Thanks, Dr. Cate! Deep Nutrition opened my eyes to the canola threat. I thought I was doing such a good thing to use organic (non-GMO) Canola and was kicking myself (right to the olive oil aisle) once I got the correct info. Your work has changed my life!

  19. I have been thinking of myself as “Primal” (think Mark Sisson primal blueprint) these past 2 1/2 years and he is a noncanola oil person too.

    I find that my body has a harder time with canola and most vegetable oils than it does with Gluten. I have a hard time going out to eat anything. The oils are much more inflammatory to my system than anything else.
    Breakfast seems easier since I can ask for eggs fried in butter please.

    When I try explain to people that I do not eat vegetable oils their eyes glaze over. Most folks are much more knowledgeable about gluten these days.

  20. One more question: Would it be fair to conclude that all seed oils are bad and nut oils are good? I realize peanuts are legumes so they’re in a different category altogether.

    1. Its about the processing. You can get poor quality olive oil and high quality grapeseed. So I guess I could rephrase, that: It’s really about how much you are paying. If you have to pay more, it’s probably b/c the manufacturer is doing it right.

      1. OK. Thank you. It’s shameful that the only way we can figure out how an oil has been processed is by making an assumption based on the price! It sounds like we need the oil manufacturers to show some kind of symbol or label that indicates how the oils were processed. Should we complain to the FDA about this?

        1. Yes! I think that’s a superb idea!

          However, while in my opinion these oils are responsible for a huge portion of chronic disease burden in the US and a recent study showed that PUFA consumption is not as healthy as once believed (, the USDA and FDA probably are still of the mind that PUFAs are “the good kind of fat”

  21. This is a really great post, Dr. Cate. Thank you so much for making this distinction between Pop Paleo and Deep Paleo. I now realize that I need to be much more careful at restaurants! Regarding canola oil-use at restaurants, do you think it would ever be used for sauteeing vegetables or meat? I thought I was avoiding bad oils by avoiding french fries and other fried foods but do you think any restaurant would use canola oil to saute meat or veggies? I would think it wouldn’t taste good but, who knows, maybe they use it because it’s cheap. Also, I often eat bacon at restaurants but have never asked if it came from a humanely-rasied animal. I’ll start asking!

    1. Oh yes, they do use Canola in EVERYTHING. This is a big BIG secret of the restaurant industry. You will be shocked once you start asking.

      Ask about “blended” oils too, which are mostly canola/soy and only a small percent is olive. It’s shameful what’s going on behind kitchen doors in some restaurants.

      Those who are doing it right deserve to be recognized!

      1. Depressing! But if we all start asking, then chefs will start to realize that there are a lot of us who demand better. Grassroots efforts are sometimes the most effective!

      2. I was once told by an employee at Red Lobster that they coat ALL their seafood in soybean oil. GMO, no doubt. Yuck.

  22. Dr. Cate, this is another excellent distinction from a leader in the field: you. Bringing the science back to medicine again!

  23. Pop paleo vs deep paleo? Do we really need more labels to beat each other up with in playing more paleo than though? I understand where you are coming from here, I just don’t think adding new terminology or levels or whatever else you might want to call it is particularly helpful to the community.

    1. Andrea we don’t want to divide either !! but the fact is this message needs to be heard and so if you have a better suggestion as to how to wake people up to this extremely important and almost universally overlooked issue (by patients coming to me doing “Paleo”), I’m all ears!

      This article, though, is not about who is MORE Paleo, but about the fact that there are those who GET Paleo better than others and those who get it good could provide guidance to others on this particular point. I was hoping that would come across but, alas, no, so now I get to point it out. Thank you!

    2. And it is not really “beating anyone up” to say that consuming gluten has certain potential consequences- or consuming canola oil. But if Dr. Cate is saying that eating large amounts of Canola oil is simply NOT PALEO, then that can be our accepted dividing boundary: PALEO or NOT PALEO. I am a word guy and every new category in language adds to precision. So, Andrea, if you want to call canola-heavy diets “semi-paleo,” then I figure Dr. Cate can go with that. But as far as writing blogs and making up headlines, the graphic is cute and the headline is fine with me. It got you and me to read the article, right?

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