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From the CFI Vault: Grocery List Prioritization

By Marcus | In Nutrition | on September 12, 2012

Many moons ago, I re-ran a post about the grocery costs of going paleo. It may help to have it fresh in your minds for today’s topic. In the comments of the original incarnation of my post, Ruth broke down how she and Sean attack their trips to the supermarket:

I used to be able to spend less than $150/mo on food shopping at Costco. When I first adopted the Paleo life, I started turning to Whole Foods and Trader Joes for organic fruit/veg and grass-fed meat. Add free-range eggs to that mix and my bill more than quadrupled. One month, Sean and I spent almost $1400 on groceries! Needless to say, we’ve learned to find make the necessary compromises that fit our budget since then.

We try to stick with organic for all foods where we consume the skin (apples, grapes, sweet potatoes), and not as much for the foods that we peel (avocado, bananas, grapefruit). We still buy free-range eggs, but since we already supplement with fish oil, we opted to not get the omega-3 enriched eggs. We’ll buy the grass-fed ground beef at TJ’s and GF bison from Lindner Bison (Torrance Farmer’s Market), but other than that we just try to keep it organic.

Just like Marcus said, though, we’re willing to pay a premium on other luxuries we deem necessary in our lives like smart phones, accessories, booze, and lululemon (guilty). Why not place a higher priority on what we pay for food that will have a direct affect on our longevity, quality of life, and (most importantly) PRs?

One of the primary aims of paying a hefty premium for grass-fed meats is the improved omega-6 to omega-3 (n-6:n-3) ratio. Ideally, the goal is to take in a 1:1 ratio of equal parts n-6 and n-3. The problem is that n-6 is prevalent in so many of our foods today and n-3 is a relative rarity (hence the usage of fish oil to up the balance in our favor). If you can, you’d like to eat meats that have as close to that 1:1 ratio as possible.

In one of his podcasts, I heard Chris Kresser of thehealthyskeptic.org mentioning the various ratios of meats. The things he mentioned were pretty eye-opening and have had an effect on how I choose to spend my money at the market. On Chris’ site, I managed to track down a couple posts where he talked about this exact topic. In this post, where he talks about optimizing your n-6:n-3 ratio, he first touches on the subject of how even paleo eaters may be getting excess omega-6. For those who snack on nuts all day, they may be making things worse!

…nuts are often high in omega-6 LA, which we get far too much of as it is. So nuts should not constitute a significant source of protein. Walnuts are especially high. Just 100g of walnuts a day amounts to a whopping 266g of omega-6 per week. Keeping in mind that we want a 1:1 ratio of omega-6 to omega-3, you’d have to eat 34 pounds of salmon a week to achieve a balance. Good luck with that.

Poultry, especially dark meat with the skin on, can also be very high in omega-6 and should also be limited. For example, chicken skin has about 14 times more omega-6 than even grain-finished beef, and 10 times more than grain-finished pork.

This made buying almonds or other nut butters a much lower priority for me, and made me turn to conventional beef/pork rather than even “free range” chicken. I’ve priced out truly pastured chicken at the farmer’s market and the cost is prohibitive compared to bison or beef. Of course, due to the very low fat content, chicken breast is pretty negligible and can be a good protein source when the skin is removed.

Another of Chris’ posts covered a couple studies that took a look at the various meat choices and measured their ratios. I encourage you to read the full posts, as there is a graph that illustrates how quickly omega-3 disappears once a cow is moved to a grain-based diet, among other great points. One study he cites “found that grass-fed beef had an n-6 ratio of 1.65, whereas grain-finished beef was 4.84“. Then another study took a look at more sources and had the following list:

  • Range-fed bison: 2.09
  • Feedlot bison: 7.22
  • Range-fed beef: 2.13
  • Feedlot beef: 6.28
  • Elk: 3.14
  • Chicken breast: 18.5

As you can see, bison is at the top of the list, followed closely behind by pastured beef. Surprisingly, the grass-fed beef even tops elk! Another thing mentioned in his podcast is that grain-fed beef doesn’t have extra n-6 (unlike chicken) but is simply lacking the n-3 and CLA (another vital fatty acid). These can be supplemented if you are on an extreme budget crunch — although the cost of buying grass-fed may be a wash.

Hopefully this helps guide your food choices and maybe lessens the impact on your pocketbook. Feel free to share any other shopping tips you may have to comments.

WOD 09.12.12

Back Squat 3×5 (or Wendler)

4 rounds for time:

  • 5 (heavy) deadlifts
  • 7 handstand pushups
  • 240m run


3 Comments to "From the CFI Vault: Grocery List Prioritization"

  • Amy says:

    September 12, 2012 at 7:20 AM -

    Whenever chicken/beef/bison goes on sale we buy as much as we can and freeze it. Last weekend alone we bought 20lbs of GF beef and bison. It’s definitely a big upfront cost but now we won’t have to buy beef/bison for months and we got it at a much lower price.

    I also read in “It starts with food” that if you’re going to eat nuts, Macadamia and Hazelnuts have the best n6:n3 ratio whereas almonds and walnuts had some of the worst ratios.

  • Alice says:

    September 12, 2012 at 9:51 AM -

    Is it legal to hunt Bison in California? I think Michael Pollan wrote about hunting wild boar or something to that effect in Sonoma. I’m not volunteering, by the way, but you know… just a random thought. Semi-annual Intrepid hunting party? Then we can put all those muscles to use.

  • Amanda says:

    September 12, 2012 at 2:56 PM -

    Alice, I’m game for a hunting party.

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