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The Carnivore Diet: Unsustainable Fad Or Archetypal Human Diet?

Dec 07, 2018

Summary

Imagine you came across a deal that's too good to be true: a top-notch 2015 Mercedes car for just $5,000. 

Your response is probably going to be: "impossible, that car has hidden defects". Or: "I'm not stupid, a good car of that year costs at least $25,000"

Sure.

I get it...

I would be very skeptical as well.

You buy the car and...

The thing drives great, and you're very happy with your purchase for 10 years!

I know you're surprised.

I would be too.

The carnivore diet's claimed benefits are somewhat similar to the previous car example...

Carnivore diet proponents make many radical claims: improved skin, sex drive, muscle mass, hormonal health, and sleep quality. 

No more cravings - ever.

Autoimmune conditions that vanish. A brain that works much better than on a plant-based diet.

15 years of pain that becomes manageable after two weeks on the carnivore diet. 

Throw reductions in body fat, anxiety and depressive moods on top of that.

And much more.

Your first thought will again be: "too good to be true?" 

I thought the same...

So what's a carnivore diet?

On a carnivore diet you'll be eating nothing but animal foods - no plants allowed.

No vegetables, no fruits, no tea, no coffee (okay, coffee is sometimes still allowed at the beginning of the diet)

No grains, legumes, beans, pulses, seeds, nuts... 

No plant foods at all.

None.

Nothing...

Just animal foods.

So how does that work out, a diet that only animal foods?

Most of the time, beef is the prescribed main food of the carnivore diet.


"You can choose any food you want my son:
ribeye, or t-bone, or rump beef."

 

Other animal proteins can be added back in later, after you've adapted to the carnivore diet: shellfish, clams, fish, pork, fatty parts of chickens, goose, elk, lamb, etc.

Eggs and milk may also be added under certain circumstances...

But let's return to the topic of results on this diet:

Are the results people experience on the carnivore diet too good to be true, just as you'd expect with the under-priced Mercedes car?

Not necessarily...

Some people do have incredible results. 

The question is, can you expect such results as well? That very question will be answered in this extensive blog post.

One warning: this blog post is 20,000+ words long. If you're short on time, bookmark this page, only read the summary, and continue reading the whole work later.

The full blog post digs much deeper into the scientific justification of the carnivore diet.

Hint: I'm not talking about scientific validation, because the carnivore diet has not yet been tested in high-quality scientific studies (yet).

You can argue that the diet does not need to be scientifically tested, however, before observing there's something to it. Lots of circumstantial evidence exists. That evidence leads me to believe that at least over a shorter period of time the diet is safe.

So let's consider why so many people on the carnivore diet experience such spectacular health benefits.

The reason this diet is successful is that many people have food intolerances. You may or may not have an intolerance, but if you do, cutting out that food will alleviate your symptoms.

Plants contain many substances that can cause a food intolerance.

Why?

Just like animals, plants don't like to be eaten either - and thus they protect themselves. On the carnivore diet, you basically cut out all food that are possibly problematic.

Let's look at some of these protective compounds in plants, commonly called "antinutrients":

  • "nightshades", which can cause itchiness, a runny nose, joint pain, and gut irritation. Nightshades are a plant family which include tomatoes, (bell)peppers, eggplants, and cayenne.
  • "oxalates" can irritate the gut, cause inflammation and kidney stones. Oxalates can be found in spinach, cacao (and thus chocolate), chard,  beets, kale, peanuts, (sweet) potatoes, and rhubarb, and other plant foods.
  • "tannins" are found in tea, grapes, unripe fruits, and chocolate. Tannins may inhibit digestion, appetite, and energy production in the body.
  • "lectins", which are found in all plant foods, may cause fatigue, brain fog, poor motivation, indigestion, skin problems, (joint) pain, and inflammation. Inflammation is tied to many modern diseases, such as heart disease and diabetes, and lectin consumption also gives some people autoimmune symptoms.
  • "FODMAPs", which is an abbreviation for "Fermentable Oligo-, Di-, Mono-saccharides, And Polyols", which can cause digestive problems in the form of bloat, flatulence, diarrhea, and indigestion.
  • "gluten", which only causes issues in a select group of people, but nevertheless, issues that are incapacitating. Many people who suspect they have a gluten intolerance are actually sensitive to FODMAPs or lectins.

Yes, that's a long list... 


Basis of the human diet or silent killers?
Continue reading to find out...

 


Keep in mind that I use the word "can" in relation to food intolerances very deliberately.

Not all these plant compounds cause problems in everyone.

You, for example, may be sensitive to nightshades but not to gluten. Another person may have problems with lectins, while you do not... 

So have plants been problematic forever? Should we never have consumed any plants in the first place? 

Not at all...

There are many food preparation strategies to reduce these protection mechanisms in plants. The main strategies are to properly soak, sprout, ferment, and/or cook any plant food.

But even properly prepared plant foods still cause problems for some people.

The main role I'm allocating to a carnivore diet is that of an "elimination diet".

The principle of elimination diets is quite simple: firstly, you eliminate any food that possibly irritates you for a period of time. Some plant food may currently give you immune responses or create gut problems. Secondly, you then slowly re-introduce certain groups and see how you respond.

To be fair, many people on the carnivore diet never reach the second stage: they stay on an animal food (read: beef) only diet for long stretches of time, possibly forever.

Now, I've got an ethical responsibility as blogger because thousands of people read my works. I cannot (yet) give you a straightforward recommendation to follow this diet forever.

To me, the carnivore diet has upsides and downsides.

The upside is that it's a great way for you to screen whether you've got any food intolerances.

The downside is that you may end up with a vitamin C deficiency or experience problems from eating almost no carbohydrates for long stretches of time.

Yes, I'm fully aware that proponents of the carnivore diet don't consider vitamin C on a diet that contains (almost) no carbohydrates a problem, but until there's solid scientific evidence that this argument is valid, I'm not willing to look the other way.

The same is true for not consuming any carbohydrates for longer stretches of time...

Should everyone follow the carnivore diet?

Again, my answer is "no".

If you don't have any health issues, I don't see any reason why you would cut out all plant foods. A counterargument is that you may experiment with a carnivore diet to see whether you feel better though...

Fully up to you...

Having said that, I do think there's good evolutionary justification for following a diet that's much higher in animal foods.

Don't get me wrong, almost all of the scientific sources I've accessed on the diets of our human ancestors millions of years ago, demonstrate the presence of an omnivore diet--not a carnivore diet.

But: the transition away from Chimpanzees through several intermediary steps in human evolution, does entail that animal foods and not plant foods are responsible for the incredible human brain development. 

In other words: more animal foods were consumed, and these animal foods were responsible for human's exceptional brain development.

Evidence even exists that our ancestors ate animal foods which are very high in fat.

Let me explain:

At first, your ancestors probably included more "leftovers" from other carnivores into their diets, such a brains and bone marrow that could be scavenged (due to human tool use).

Later on, once our brain developed more, there's evidence for hunting enormous fatty animals, some of which are extinct now such as the mammoth.

Hunting for really fatty animals has a huge advantage if you're successful: you're supplied with a much higher number of calories compared to what you'd get from leaner animals.

That fat, in turn, further contributed to building our brains...


A 1.77 million year old human ancestor
who had 25-40% smaller brains than modern humans.



In this blog post I also look at modern hunter gatherer societies, and observe whether they follow a carnivore diet.

Results are mixed in that instance.

Some modern hunter-gatherer societies eat a predominantly animal foods based diet, while others consume mostly plant foods. Many of these societies do have a preference for animal foods if they're available.

But a more important question is whether you can learn about our original human diet from modern hunter gatherer societies -- I don't think so, and I'll explain why in the full blog post.

So let's say you're convinced.

You've chosen to try the carnivore diet...

So how can you best transition to a carnivore diet safely?

Simple:

  • Start consuming three meals per day in which you only consume fatty beef. Rib eyes and ground beef are great options. Alternatively, replace one of your 3 daily meals with beef every week, until you're following a full carnivore diet.
  • Stay on this diet for at least 30 days, preferably 90. Yes, the initial transition period is rough for most people.
  • Make sure to eat enough - most people undereat when going on this diet.
  • Add supplements to aid digestion. Examples are betaine HCL for stomach acid (beef requires lots of stomach acid to digest). Also add high-quality salt, and some potassium (follow instructions with using potassium).
  • Also include vitamin C as an insurance policy (I'm not willing to recommend a diet that's almost free of vitamin C without more scientific proof). There's zero downside to using vitamin C, and without it you'll be taking a risk.

The initial adaptation period to the carnivore diet can be rough, because you'll be weaning off carbohydrates.

Make sure to read the full blog post to understand all details about transitioning to a carnivore diet.

Now, the question is, should you follow a carnivore diet?

I'm convinced there's value in trying this diet in the short-term, but I cannot recommend this diet in the long-term yet (with a clear conscience).

One last comment before I'll take a deep dive into carnivore diet science: I mostly remove my personal experience from the equation in this blog post.

If you like to read about personal experiences, many 14 - 90 day carnivore diet journals can be found on the internet.

This blog post is not one of them. Again, the main reason for writing this blog post is scientific justification.

And it turns out, there are valid reasons to believe the carnivore diet may have a place if you're aiming to improve your health, and there are valid counterarguments as well...

By the way, want to receive 10 practical tips for making your carnivore diet experience even better? These tips are not included in this full blog post:

 

 

THE CARNIVORE DIET: UNSUSTAINABLE FAD OR ARCHETYPAL HUMAN DIET?

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Table Of Contents

Carnivore Diet Introduction:

1. Introduction: A Carnivore Diet, Are You Freakin' Kidding Me?

(Pre-)Historical Background Of The Carnivore Diet:

2. Human Brain Development In Evolution: A Role For A Carnivore Diet?
3. Meat-Based And Plant-Based Diets In Recorded History

How To Best Implement The Carnivore Diet:

4. Carnivore Diet Basics - And How To Start
5. Science-Backed Reasons Why A Carnivore Diet May Work (Or Not!)
6. My Carnivore Diet Recommendations

Conclusion:

7. Conclusion: Experiment Wisely With The Carnivore Diet.



*Post can contain affiliate links. Read my affiliate, medical, and privacy disclosure for more information. 

Author: Bart Wolbers. Bart finished degrees in Physical Therapy, Philosophy (BA and MA), Philosophy of Science and Technology (MSc: Cum Laude), and Clinical Health Science (MSc).



Return To Table Of Contents

1. INTRODUCTION: A CARNIVORE DIET, ARE YOU FREAKIN' KIDDING ME?

Imagine you had these options:

A potato diet, an ice-cream diet, a green juice diet (or juice fast), a bean diet, and a rice diet, and a carnivore diet.

What do these options have in common?

Three seconds to guess...

The answer is simple right?

All the aforementioned diets prescribe just one type of food at the exclusion of all others.

And I know what you're thinking:

"all these diets are unsustainable" 

"you'll get [insert: 'high cholesterol'; 'low blood sugar; 'high blood pressure'; 'high blood sugar'; starved'; 'fat'; 'underweight'; unhealthy'...]"

"you will be sick and tired of eating the same food after 3 days"

"you'll miss out on many essential vitamins and minerals by eating one food type"

Many similar statements exist...

Believe me, you'll survive on eating just ice cream or beans for a while. But are such diets optimal?

There's thus truth to these statements: many fad diets are horrible for your (long-term) health.

And the logical inference is simple: if a green juice diet is a bad idea, and if just eating beans is stupid, then a carnivore diet must end up tragically as well right?

I must admit:

Even I was very skeptical of a "carnivore diet" initially - and still am. But some of my skepticism has been replaced with hope. And I'm telling you why there's something to the carnivore diet in this blog post.

Of course, the million dollar question is whether the carnivore diet is here to stay.

Why?

Sure, people can survive on such a diet. People survived the gluten-free diets of the 2010s, Atkins in the 1990s, and South Beach diet of the early 2000s as well.

But most people don't follow these diets any longer. The question is thus whether the carnivore diet is here in 10 years time...

Why?

Well, the carnivore diet is often called a "fad".

Just realize there's flip side to calling any diet a "fad".

Whether you're a proponent of diets recommended by governments and health institutions, or whether you follow another diet, people always call the diet they're not adhering to a "fad":

Vegans call carnivore diets a "fad" that does not accord to science.

High-carb proponents call low carb diets a "fad" that is unscientific. Low-carb diet proponents return their "opponents" the favor.

Government institutions call any diet that differs from their recommendation a "fad", even though their recommendations have changed over time (cholesterol and fat is no longer demonized, for example).

So what's the solution in assessing the carnivore diet?

Be open minded...

Observe whether there's anything to this diet. Learn from the diet's benefits, reject its tendencies that will lower your health.

I decided to just that: take an open minded look at the carnivore diet. Stay tuned to find out about the outcome...

Oh, one disclaimer before I'll take you with me in a tour de force:

Many proponents of the carnivore diet still implicitly assume that diet is the be-all-end-all of health improvement.

I completely disagree with that assessment. I recommend:

Implication?

If you're eating a carnivore diet but spending 12 hours a day in front of a computer screen, your health will still be damaged. The same is true for breathing in polluted air or being chronically stressed.

Health is multi-factorial.

Thinking of diet as the be-all-end-all of preventing and curing disease is foolish.

Sure, fixing your diet will move the needle in the right direction, but diet alone is not making you healthy in the modern world.


Red meat: not a solution to every health issue.

 

A second disclaimer: I'm taking a somewhat different approach in this post than most other carnivore diet blog posts out there.

Most posts are about people's personal experiences with the diet. I cannot create such a blog post as I've not (strictly) tested the diet myself.

What I do from a methodological standpoint instead, is to look at the science and evolutionary background of a carnivore diet.

Of course, you do have to "believe in evolution" to accept my argument, but I do think that no alternative theory is currently better able to explain the archaeological record than evolution theory - to put it very mildly.

So let's get to it: the first step is to look at human brain development and to see whether meat could have played an essential role there. 

I'll take you on a journey a couple of million years ago...


How DID you become so smart, human!?

 

Return To Table Of Contents

2. BRAIN DEVELOPMENT IN HUMAN EVOLUTION: A ROLE FOR A CARNIVORE DIET?

In this section I'll look at our 1) human evolutionary past; and 2) the justification of a carnivore diet with that evolutionary past.

Let's take a closer look at what carnivore diet proponents assert...

The first basic claim of carnivore diet proponents is that "in the beginning was the meat". In other words, somewhere in the last few millions of years, our ancestors started consuming more animal foods. 

The second claim is that transitioning to a meat-based diet allowed our ancestors to develop much bigger brains. Humans have extremely large brains compared to primates, especially when comparing fat-free mass to brain size.

I'll explore those two claims in more detail.

(Fat free mass is the body weight excluding fatty tissue - humans are pretty fat compared to other primates)

Let's begin with considering the first claim, that meat (or animal foods in general) helped increase human brain size. Given the scientific evidence, I think that thesis holds.

Why?

Well, let's take a step back:

Your primate ancestors such as chimpanzees and gorillas hardly eat any animal foods. Animal food consumption often tops 5% of their primates' calories, and consists of ants or other monkeys that are hunted down and eaten (yes, really).

The question then becomes: how did humans eventually evolve away from chimpanzees - through our common ancestor?

Well, as you may know, human beings (Homo sapiens) did not directly evolve from our common ancestor the chimpanzee-- several evolutionary developments can be found in between these two species. 

Let's consider some of your most important ancestors (I'm oversimplifying here):

  • Australopithecus afarensis, who lived roughly from 4 to 2 million years ago. The Australopithecus was the first species to use stone tools and walk upright. The Australopithecus had a brain size of around 300-500 cubic centimeters.
  • The Homo Habilis lived between 2 to 1.5 million years ago, having brain sizes of 550 to 650 cubic centimeters - a big improvement in brain capacity...
  • Homo Erectus, lived between 1.8 million and 150.000 years in the past. The first widespread use of fire intersected with the emergence of the Homo erectus. The Homo erectus had a brain size of 900 to 1250 cubic centimeters.

Sadly enough, all these three species are now extinct.

I would have loved to meet them...

The species which you're part of, Homo sapiens, originated about 250.000 - 200,000 years ago. From the time of when your ancestors first started to separate from our common ancestor the chimp, 7 to 4.5 million years ago, modern humans are thus very recent.

Humans have an average brain size of 1,350 - 1,450 cubic centimeters, by far the biggest among primates given that our bodies are also smaller than the primates that have the largest brains.

To compare: chimpanzees have a brain size of roughly only 280-500 cubic centimeters.

Consequence?

The fatty mass in the human brain only takes up 2% of your body weight but uses up to 20% of all your energy.

But let's return to the topic of tool use:

Even though it's often stated that the Australopithecus afarensis first used tools, our primate ancestors use them as well:

Chimpanzees tool use is really rudimentary though.

It's pretty logical to assume that complexity of tool use expanded during the last few million years.

Also keep in mind that even 100,000 or a million years ago, the world was a very different place.

I know that sounds strange, but the period between roughly 2.5 million years ago, and ~12,000 years ago - called the "Pleistocene" - had many ice ages. Those ice ages lasted tens of thousands of years.[297]

Your ancestors were thus living in those ice ages, and have survived these colder periods. The northern latitudes were most often covered with ice, so humans have lived through these periods as well.

(Don't therefore complain about a little snow!)

What's fascinating is that many species that are now extinct still existed back then:


[2]


See these large animals?[3-5] These big beasts are mammoths - mammoths are much larger than modern elephants, 

Other species that went extinct are the American Lion, which is 25% bigger than modern lions, giant deer, saber-toothed cats, and many others.

Between 15 and 80% of all large mammal species went extinct 7,000 to 12,000 years ago.

(Mammals are defined as warm-blooded animals that receive milk when they're young. Human beings are mammals too (yes, even if you're not breastfed...))

Although there's some conflict of evidence, humans probably contributed massively to that extinction - climate change may have played a role as well.[6-9; 299]

Elephants, which are now mainly found in Africa and Asia, thus had much larger counterparts that could also be found in North America, Australia, and Europe.[60; 61] I'll return to the topic of these humongous animals in a second...

Let's first consider why human beings' special brain size compared to their body is so important.[11]

Remember that the brain size of our human-like (Hominin) ancestors already started to increase millions of years ago. 

The intentional control of fire only became widespread 800,000 years ago - which is a very important fact. The discovery of controlling fire can thus not explain why our ancestors started becoming so smart.[11]


Controlling fire: the culmination of brain development, not its cause.

 

A key point is that our chimpanzee ancestors just consume 5% of their daily calories from meat.[12] Insects are a main source of protein and compensate for a predominant reliance on fruits and leaves.[107]

For our ancestors that lived during the Pliocene area between roughly 5.3 and 2.6 million years ago, that percentage of dietary animal foods increased to 20-50%.[13]

Tool use in butchery can be dated to around 3.5 million years ago.[14; 15; 30; 32] High-quality animal foods were thus consumed before tool use became widespread.[29]

Now, to be precise: your ancestors never followed an exclusive carnivore diet.

Plants such as fruits, wild vegetables, and nuts were probably also consumed.[16]

How about tubers?

Tubers are often considered one of the foods that explain human brain development for vegetarians and vegans.

Let's zoom out and take the 30,000 view to tackle that question.

One could claim that tubers would supply your ancestors with high energy density foods at times of shortage, but there is a problem with preparing tubers 1.5 million years ago:

Remember that humans have only learned to cook for 800,000 years--our explosive brain development, on the contrary, was initiated a few million years ago.

Tubers can also not be digested without cooking for modern humans (Homo sapiens).

Sure, our ancestors, such as the Australopithecus afarensis or Homo habilis may still have been able to digest tubers without cooking.

But as Homo sapiens have lost that ability to digest raw tubers, its unlikely that tubers were responsible for growing our brain: if raw tubers consumption was responsible for our brain development, the ability to digest them would not have been lost.

Even today, tubers are sometimes conceived as a "fall back food" for modern hunter-gatherers.[19-22; 31] 

I do therefore not think tuber consumption can explain our brain development...

And yet, there's ample evidence that our ancestors kept consuming plant foods as well.[64; 65]

Our Neanderthal ancestors, for example, did plants to their carnivore foods.[37] Neanderthals did have differences with other human diets, in that they probably relied more exclusively on land-based animal foods such as hyenas and wolves.

Neanderthals consumed a higher protein diet compared to us Homo sapiens and had adaptations in their body structure to deal with that diet.[66] 

It's probable that all species between chimpanzee and humans consumed plant foods in one for or another.

One should thus be skeptical of claims that humans survived on just animal foods alone.

Eating a diversity of foods--not just animal foods--may even be ingrained into both primates and humans.[98; 99]

Relying on multiple foods has the benefits of reducing an over-ingestion of toxins when one plant food turns out to be detrimental. Multiple food sources also protect you when one food becomes scarce.

Nevertheless, it's almost certainly not plant foods that explains why human brains got so big. Why? Well, in that case, humans would eat the same diet as our gorilla and chimpanzee ancestors - and thrive on it.

Or alternatively, you would eat the same diet as gorillas and chimpanzees in a cooked version, but that diet does not accord to the archaeological evidence either - humans did not have access to cooking back then.

The consumption of animal foods is thus intrinsically related to your ancestors' brain development.[23; 24]

Brains and bone marrow from animal foods are additional rich sources of fat and cholesterol. Such foods may partially explain human brain development. 

Even today's hunter-gatherers have a preference for animal foods when they are available.[17; 18] 

Keep in mind that "animal foods" does not just denote meats--shellfish also play an important role.[25-28; 54-56] There's archaeological evidence that such shellfish deposits functioned as an energy-dense and predictable means of getting nutrients that improve brain health.[90]


There's no party like a rib ey... no: oyster party...

The most important argument in favor of a carnivore diet is the essential role of fatty acids in human brain development.[41-47]

Plant foods don't supply the right kind of nutrients to explain why your ancestors' brain developed the way it did.[50-53]

Brain size only started to explode from the Homo habilis and Homo erectus onward.[48] The ability to store dietary fat as body fat is a huge evolutionary advantage  - at least a few million years ago (not today).[49]

Simply put: fat babies entail smart babies because of an excess energy storage.[49] Adult human beings are much fattier on average than chimpanzees and gorillas - and that's great.

Fat is a huge energy reservoir for our brain, that can be used in periods of need. Humans do very well on using body fat for energy for shorter periods of time compared to other animals.

(Of course, that statement is not a recommendation to get morbidly obese.)

Other primates such as chimpanzees need to continually eat and are therefore much more dependent on getting food from one place.


Enough fat for building your energy reservoir?

 

It may be possible that our earliest ancestors were not immediately adapted to eating lots of protein and fatty acids from animal foods.[38; 39; 69] 

A full adaptation to a predominant carnivore diet may thus only have developed after hundreds of thousands or even a million years.

The effect of that tolerance of fatty animal product consumption can be observed even today: Indians in the Americas who traditionally eat a low-fat low-cholesterol diet have their blood cholesterol levels respond much more quickly than humans living in cultures that consume more fat.[40]

(Of course, you can question the entire cholesterol narrative in relation to disease).

And yet, there's even an argument in favor of animal food consumption in primates:

Today's primates highly prize animal foods and even use these foods as a social lubricant.[70-74]

Primates such as chimpanzees hunt for animal foods even if plenty of plant foods are available. Chimpanzees thus mainly consume animal food for social functions, and not for necessity.

Transitioning towards more animal food nevertheless has many benefits. Being an omnivore has immense evolutionary advantages: fruits, small and big land-based animals, (shell)fish, seeds, and nuts can all be consumed if necessary for survival. 

Primates such as gorillas don't have the luxury to consistently fall back on great quantities of animal-based proteins if necessary--and pure carnivores cannot fall back on plant-based foods.

Human beings adapted to the best of both worlds - with an emphasis on animal foods explaining hominin brain evolution.

But let's return to the topic megafauna - mammoths, giant deer, etcetera. Let's link that megafauna story to fat and our brains...

The hunting of megafauna such as mammoths signifies an underappreciated step in explaining human evolution.

These enormous animals contain massive amounts of fat and protein.

For a long time, it was believed that all Homo species had always been gatherers - that we collected berries and fruits, and may have eaten some meat leftovers after a group of lions were done with their prey.

Right now there's evidence your ancestors were hunting as well.[62; 63; 88]  Hominins were not just opportunist that stole carcasses from other animals but were primary killers - at least, not before your ancestors became more skillful hunters.[68]

Rather than actively hunting prey themselves, your earliest Homo ancestors may also have been scavenging prey that's leftover from other carnivores.

How?

When lions or cheetahs make a kill, they rarely consume all the meat. Even if 10% of meat is left on a medium-sized animal, that supplies you with more than 10 kilograms of food. 

The bone marrow and brain is also often left intact - which are the fattier cuts that are best accessible with tool use. 

Getting the most prized parts of bigger animals may have taken a few million years of practice - both figuratively and literally.

How is it possible to know that?

Easy:

Many large animals such as mammoths have been found at excavation sites.[75-82] All of the parts of such animals were used back then--nothing was discarded.[87]

Hunting was probably also a cooperative endeavor.[89] Larger animals especially require cooperation compared to smaller ones. How exactly hominins hunted animals like mammoths and giant game is not yet known. 

What is known, is that once humans became smarter, they transitioned from gathering to hunting.

Lots of animal bones, even from megafauna, has been found at archaeological sites. Such sites demonstrate that meat played a vital role in our existence.

Meat still plays a significant role in hunter gatherer societies today - the sharing of meat is important in modern hunter-gatherer societies.[83-86]

Keep in mind that you can never approximate the fat content of our primal diets by looking at modern hunter-gatherer societies.

Why?

Let's return to these big animals that roamed the earth 100,000 years ago...

Mammoths may have a different fatty acid profile than animal foods that are nowadays consumed by hunter-gatherer societies.[33-36] 

Modern hunter-gatherers hunting a gazelle cannot be compared to the nutrients supplied by a mammoth. The latter animal supplies a much higher amount of fatty acids as a percentage of total calories.

So what's the consequence? Why don't you and I eat elephants and fatty bison anymore, instead of chicken breast?

Simple:

High-fat animals such as mammoths and giant deer went extinct. That extinction may also have led to the extinction of the Homo erectus.

The species you're part of, Homo sapiens (unless you're an alien reading this work), filled a new niche when the Homo erectus could no longer rely on hunting enormous animals with an extremely high energy density.[59; 61]

How?

The higher cognitive capacity of the Homo sapiens helped us survive on smaller prey while still being able to accumulate sufficient calories for energy requirements.

Let me explain...

Homo sapiens are so smart that they can hunt the fattiest (and thus healthiest) animals, instead of sick, young, or old animals.

Even most carnivores such as lions or cheetahs, usually go for the easiest kills. And sure, younger or older animals are easier to kill, but these animals do not deliver the most calories. 

Homo sapiens' survival strategy, surprisingly, was directed at hardest kills with the highest reward: animals in their prime that carry lots of fat.


Difficult exercise: spot the fattest animal from a distance

 

Just think about that for a second.

Let's say you've not eaten for a day. Would you prefer an old and sick animal, or would you opt for a fatty one?

Which option would help you survive best in the long-term?

The choice is simple...

Now, hunting for the fattiest animals is more difficult than it seems. You have to spot such an animal from a distance first. You then need extremely high cognitive performance to hunt the healthiest animals - they are harder to kill.

Teamwork, planning, and reasoning ability may come in to play to pick out the best animal from a group and kill it. 

Such behavior can still be seen in modern hunter gatherers in the 19th-21st centuries. American Indians, when hunting for prey, sometimes even leave skinnier animals behind to find fattier ones.[60]

Also realize that the consumption of animal foods does not mean our ancestors were on a ketogenic diet.

On a ketogenic diet, you're not consuming any carbohydrates - carbohydrates are commonly found in grains, most fruits, vegetables, and potatoes.

And if you do not consume carbohydrates for a while, and you're not eating excessive amounts of proteins, your body switches to burning mainly fatty acids instead of carbohydrates. 

That state of burning fatty acids is called "ketosis", and the process of ketosis lies at the basis of the ketogenic diet.

So why didn't your hominin ancestors follow a ketogenic diet  then?

Here's why:

Freshly killed animal foods contain carbohydrates in the form of glycogen. The carbohydrate content of animal foods can approximate 20% of its total calories. 

Even cultures that were traditionally considered to eat a "ketogenic" diet, such as Eskimos, are not ketogenic all the time at all.[100-103]

Eskimos - on their traditional diets - consume too many carbohydrates and protein to continually be in a state of ketosis.



(Nerd section: please don't confuse "ketosis" and "ketoacidosis". Lots of beginners on the carnivore diet assume that these to concepts have the same denotation--they don't. Ketosis, firstly, is a metabolic state in which your body converts fat into ketones, which are then used as a main source of energy. Ketoacidosis, on the other hand, is an excessive accumulation of ketone bodies in the blood that can be fatal, but only occurs in very specific circumstances, such as starvation, in diabetes, or alcohol poisoning.[255; 256] Ketoacidosis is also marked by extremely high blood glucose levels, which ketosis is not.)



From an ancestral perspective, long-term ketogenic diets are thus a hoax--keep in mind that this claim is uninformative about the possible benefits and side-effects of such a diet.

Ketogenic diets may thus work for certain goals, despite the fact that our ancestors did not eat such a diet.

The claim that a carnivore diet is necessarily a "zero carb" diet, as sometimes assumed, thus needs to be placed into context.

Let me explain...

Carnivore diets are traditionally not zero carb diets, only its modern variants may be.

If proponents of the carnivore diet also include some shellfish, which have a higher mineral density than meats from land-based animals, then they would be adding carbohydrates to their diets as well.

Shellfish such as oysters and mussels also contain carbohydrates:


Don't forget these foods on a carnivore diet: oysters contain
more vitamins and minerals than muscle meats.

 

So where does the story end? 

The end result of this evolutionary process lasting millions of years is an exceptional Homo sapiens' brains development, when compared to our primate ancestors.[91-94; 97]

A brain area located in your forehead called the "prefrontal cortex" is especially well-developed in us. That prefrontal cortex regulates planning, predictions, decision making, and self-control in your brain - everything you'd need for a successful hunt.

Human brains are even structured differently than the brains of our primate ancestors.[95; 96] Also remember that human brains require much more energy. 

The paramount question is this: why is it possible to specialize in bigger brains in the first place? Why did hominins develop bigger brains, while gorillas specialized in stronger muscles?[109; 257-262]

A theory called the "expensive tissue hypothesis" (ETH) attempts to explain that dynamic. Just to be clear, the expensive tissue hypothesis is still scientifically contested - scientist do not fully agree on this theory.

According to that ETH, bigger brains cost lots of energy. That energy needs to come from somewhere, and would be impossible to accumulate based if continuing to rely on plant foods.

Why?

One gram of fat supplies you with 9k calories, while one gram of carbohydrate or protein only yields 4k calories. Consuming the same amount of fat thus supplies you with more than twice the calories compared to carbohydrate and protein.

The story is more complex though:

For hominin brains to expand over millions of years, you either need 1) more energy or; 2) less of the existing energy needs to be spent on functions such as digestion or movement.[108; 109] 

Humans opted for both options.

Let me explain...

To achieve that bigger brain, just eating more fat may not be sufficient: other organs such as the gut may need to shrink. Homo sapiens ended up with much shorter large intestines and relatively longer small intestine than our primate ancestors.

Large intestines are perfect for digesting high-fiber fruits, leaves, and stems - jungle foods.

To properly digest such foods you need the right bacteria in the large intestine. Modern humans cannot digest those foods properly anymore, which is why many types of fiber pass through the large intestine undigested.

Now, that doesn't mean that fiber is completely inappropriate for human beings at all times. Fiber is beneficial in certain instances.

The small intestine, on the contrary, is relatively long in humans, and perfect for breaking down fats.

End result?

Sure:

You're now burning calories 27% quicker than your primate ancestors.[110; 111] Additionally, the development of a bigger brain may be associated with higher body fat percentages and a longer developmental period until adulthood.

Humans also become older than chimpanzees and gorillas...

Bottom line: human large intestines are no longer big enough to digest lots of fibrous plant material like our chimpanzee and gorilla ancestors.[264-267]

Reverting back to a vegetarian or vegan diet today thus does in injustice to your ancestral past.

What's fascinating is that even primates consume a higher-animal food diet when necessary (or better perhaps: if possible). Look at these macaques monkeys, for example:

What would such an environment do for these monkey's evolution over a few generations? Or 10, or 100 generations?

I strongly assume that the consumption of shellfish eventually leads to bigger brain development, which leads to improved tool use, more nutrient availability, and therefore bigger brain development again.

A beloved virtuous circle... 

Consider another fascinating video about the same topic:

Is eating shellfish in the video above only done for social reasons - which is often the reason given for why Chimpanzees hunt?

I'm not entirely convinced - maybe some of our primate ancestors just found a spot like these monkeys, and grew their brains over hundreds of generations...

An important observation is that a (mostly) vegan species can easily adapt to a diet that's higher in animal foods.

The reverse is not true - a lion will not survive on eating grass and stems. The same tenet seems true for humans as well, we're no longer able to go back to a chimpanzee or gorilla diet.

Let's explore why veganism (and thus a pure plant-based diet) is no longer optimal for modern humans...

First of all, many of today's vegans have poorer health than omnivores.

Vegans cannot even get vitamin B12 from their diets and need to supplement. Getting a vitamin B12 injection would have been impossible 200,000 years ago, which invalidates any theory that humans have evolved on an exclusively plant-based diet.

Other nutrients may also be very hard to come by, such as carnitine, carnosine, choline, and creatine. Glycine (an protein building block that's found in collagen and bones of animals), vitamin K2 (which can only be sourced from grass-fed animals and seafood), and many more nutrients are missing from a vegan diet.

Vitamin D3 is yet another issue. As a vegan, you may be able to produce that vitamin through sunlight exposure, but the problem is that in the northern latitudes the sun does not come up high enough in the sky for your skin to produce vitamin D3.

People living in high northern latitudes traditionally consumed animal foods which do contain vitamin D3 as compensation.

As a vegan, you also need vitamin A to create that vitamin D3 in the skin. The plant form of vitamin A is converted very poorly into the animal form, which is why you may not get an optimal vitamin D3 level by getting in the sun as a vegan.

My good friend Alex Fergus also explains why vegan diets are non-optimal in an extensive blog post - that post is highly recommended.

Keep in mind that not only animal foods are different than a few hundred thousand years ago though--the same is true for plant foods.[104; 300; 301]

Domestication has altered the plants we're commonly consuming over the course of millennia.

Almost all current plant foods are different from their wild origins. 

The vegetables that you find in the supermarket today are very much unlike their originals. Take a look here to observe some original fruits and vegetables.


How bananas looked before domestication.[302] 

 

Why did hunter-gatherer societies go extinct, if they are so superior? That question can only be answered by turning to the agricultural revolution...

Surprise:

Diets containing more plant-based products - especially grains - do have advantages from yet another perspective.

Let me explain...

Populations become much more fertile under heavy grain consumption, die early, and thus have rapid turnover rates.[114; 115]

Due to that rapid turnover rate, combined with increasingly high population densities, agricultural societies have been able to gain the upper hand over traditional hunter-gatherer lifestyles in the last 10,000 years.

Hunter-gatherer societies are almost extinct now, while all modern societies have become agricultural. 

Keep in mind that a heavy reliance on a plant-based diet, especially grains, is in no way optimal for you as an individual. Human brain size decreased after the agricultural revolution.[105]  

That decrease in brain size hints to me that society was moving away from what made us great...

You thus do need to live like a hunter-gatherer if you love yourself, even though all societies have become agricultural...

 

Do keep in mind that lots of specifics are still missing in evolution, but the bigger picture is getting somewhat clear...



(Nerd section: what's interesting is that all the cellulose that's consumed by herbivores is transformed by the colon into short-chain fatty acids. Even though herbivores mainly eat protein and carbohydrates, from a net energy perspective, these animals end up with a predominant fatty acid metabolism due to fermentation.[290; 291])



In summary, fatty animal foods likely lay at the basis of human brain development.

Humans also continued to consume plants during that period. In a sense, a carnivore diet does have merit from an evolutionary perspective.

I'll now move to the next topic...

The question now becomes: "do any carnivore cultures exist in the modern world?". 

Answering that question affirmatively would make it more plausible to follow a long-term carnivore diet.

Let's find out in the next section

 

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3. MEAT-BASED AND PLANT-BASED DIETS IN RECORDED HISTORY

In this section, I'll quickly go through several diets of primitive societies, and you'll learn that there are both no pure carnivore nor pure vegan cultures.

Yes, I know most people love straightforward outcomes instead of nuanced views--and you may too--but that's just the way it is...

Sadly enough, not many hunter-gatherer societies exist in 2018 anymore.

It's nevertheless possible to rely on data from the previous century to understand what happened in such societies. I'll consider three hunter-gatherer societies that consume more animal products, and a few other primitive societies consuming very few animal products.

Ready?

Let's go...

I'll first consider the Hadza, who integrate some meat into their diets

In fact, about a third of the calories of the Hadza people's diets is sourced from meat, up to a whopping 15% from honey, and the rest from plant-based foods.[223; 228]

In a scientific study, the Hadza rated several of their foods, including honey, meat, baobab (a fruit), berries, and tubers.[19] 

Outcome?

Honey is their number one preferred food, which is an exclusive carbohydrate. Tubers, on the other hand, take last place - which is an almost exclusive carbohydrate-rich food as well. Fruits and meats thus take the middle position in terms of food-preferences for the Hadza. 

Consistent with the carnivore diet, Hadza thus do have some preference for meat when it's available.

The choice for carbohydrates from honey, moreover, is not surprising to me - most people digest honey really well as a carbohydrate source. People are only allergic to honey insofar they have a pollen allergy.[216-221] Honey consumption may even help people with allergies, although conflicting evidence exists.

Honey is also very easy to digest, unlike most wild grains or tubers. 


Honey: ancestral superfood?

 

And tubers finish last.

But why?

Tubers are literally a "fallback food" - a rich calorie source when no other options are available. 

Let's consider why tubers get that valuation...

Modern humans also tend to project their plenty of food choices onto traditional hunter-gatherer societies. 

The fact that you're able to survive on 15 different plant foods from a supermarket, does not entail that hunter-gatherers who live a more dangerous lifestyle would not opt for maximum calorie food options such as honey or meat.

But how are the Hadza doing on that diet? In the past, their health was great. But the lifestyle of the Hadza is unfortunately under threat right now.[222-224] These people are no longer at the pinnacle of health.

Populations are dwindling and the Hadza have less and less territory to hunt in. Oral health of the Hadza is no longer superior than that of people living in cities nearby.

Maize is now also commonly consumed by the Hadza, which is not a food hominins would consume - maize only grew in the Americas. An over-reliance on honey and tobacco and marijuana smoking may also contribute to poorer oral health. 

Bottom line: meat is respected in Hadza society, as well as honey and fruits for carbohydrates - which is counterintuitive for vegans and carnivores diet proponents...

Next:

Let's secondly consider the Inuit or Eskimos. 

Health circumstances are declining for these people as well. Heart health has been going down, for example, and bone health may even be poorer than the general US population.[225-227]

In the past, the Inuit mainly relied on a diet that's heavy in whale, fish, meat, walrus, seal, and eggs. Many of the meat and fish is actually eaten raw, sometimes from a frozen state. Intuit also drink seal blood, which they deem strengthens their overall health.[230] 

(Consuming products with blood may be an interesting experiment for those following a carnivore diet - such as blood sausage:)


The darker looking sausage is "blood sausage"

 

As stated earlier, the Inuit are not following what is now known as a ketogenic diet, even in the wintertime. Freshly killed meats still contain glycogen and therefore carbohydrates.

Freezing foods (which automatically happens during the winter climate for Intuits) halts the depletion of glycogen from killed animals. When these foods are finally eaten, they thus still contain carbohydrates.

15-20% of the total consumed calories of the Inuit are sourced from carbohydrates.[100-103] Blubber can contain up to 30% carbohydrates, and some foods are fermented by the Intuit to convert some of the protein into carbohydrates. 

During the spring and summertime, berries, seaweed, and tubers were available for the Eskimos - adding more carbohydrates to the mix.

Additionally, there are many reports that the Inuit ate plant foods as well, such as summer berries that were stored for the wintertime, and intestinal contents of animals they killed (which, again, contain carbohydrates as well).

To summarize: the Inuit ate mostly animal foods, but included plants as well - and did eat carbohydrates year-round.

Thirdly, let's consider the Maasai...


The Maasai in Africa: one of the 
last remaining hunter-gatherer societies.

 

As a culture that's both equatorial while also consuming lots of animal food, the Maasai are most fascinating. 

Why?

First of all, the Maasai have very high full-fat milk intakes.[230; 231] Surprisingly, lactose intolerance is widespread among the Maasai - they thus consume milk despite adverse reactions.[232]

The milk of the Maasai is also than what you'd find in a modern supermarket: the amount of fat in that milk is almost double. Due to that amount of fat, Maasai milk is much closer to Jersey or Guernsey milk extremely high fat content (which you can buy in the supermarket nowadays).

Meat and blood are two other main foods of the Maasai - moving their dietary practice closer to the carnivore diet.[233; 234]

The Maasai do nonetheless add some vegetables and fruits to their diet - it's thus not fully carnivorous. Female Maasai also prepare herbal soups.

Traditionally, the Maasai had excellent health.[237] When the famous dentist Weston A. Price visited the Maasai in the mid-previous century, the Maasai did not have any tooth decay (nor access to a modern dentist).

Neighboring tribes were jealous of the Maasai's health back then. The Maasai had very low incidences of heart and blood vessel diseases.[235; 236]

Since that time, more maize has been introduced into the diet, which now comprises up to 40% of consumed calories.[238] Grains have also been added. 

Consequence?

Maasai health is deteriorating.[239-241] The Maasai are losing their traditional way of life, which is a shame (in a sense).

The bottom line about animal foods in traditional diets is this: animal foods are rated very highly, but that valuation does not lead to an exclusion of plant foods. Carbohydrates, moreover, especially from honey, fruits, and milk are included when available.

Of course, I could have treated other cultures that eat predominantly animal foods as well, such as the Mongolians, people in Northern Russia, or American Indians--but I won't. 

You get the point: some hunter-gatherer societies that mainly consume animal foods still exist.

Let's now transition away from an emphasis on a carnivore diet, and look at cultures who primarily rely on plant foods. First up: the Tukisenta from Papua New Guinea.

Now, just as the earlier omnivore who emphasized animal foods had low incidences of heart disease, the same is true for more plant-based traditional hunter-gatherer societies.[242]

The Tukisenta from Papua New Guinea are an extremely fascinating case because their diet consists of more than 90% carbohydrates from plants. Blood glucose responses from Tukisenta people are extraordinarily depressed compared to people in the Western world.[242]

That ability to efficiently transfer ingested carbohydrates from the blood into the cells in the Tukisenta is maintained into old age

The Tukisenta are interesting, as most people living in modern societies cannot handle meals with 90% carbohydrates very well - especially when they get older. 

Might there be yet another reason why traditional societies do better on carbohydrates? Sure, I'll tell you later...


Take the orange pill instead of the red pill,
and you'll eat these potatoes for the rest of your life. Dare!

Next, there are the Kitavans, who live on an island close to the Tukisenta. 

Outcome?

Roughly the same.

A diet that's very high in carbohydrates from plant foods - with low levels of heart disease.[244; 245] Carbohydrates consist of tubers, fruits, and vegetables.

Some coconuts are added to their diets so that their fat intake is around 20% - some fish is also added to their diets.

Even though the Kitavans smoke, they're still not dying of heart disease. Plants for the win again...

Let's move on:

The Tarahumara Indians in Mexico are also a mostly plant-based culture.

Foods include corn, beans, potatoes, vegetables, game, and fish.[246-249] As often is the case with traditional hunter-gatherer societies, modern diseases is very low to non-existent in this culture.

The Tarahumara are renowned for their long distance running capacity, traveling up to 200 miles in one session (no typo).

The more urbanized the Tarahumara have become over the past decades, however, the more health problems they got.[250] 

As is the case with hunter-gatherer cultures that emphasize animal foods, many other traditional predominantly plant-based dietary cultures can be found in addition to the options I've just described: the Kuna of Panama, the Quechua in Peru, Okinawans in Japan, and the Aymara in Bolivia all come to mind.

Interesting fact:

Most of these hunter-gatherer people never end up with high cholesterol levels, no matter how high their cholesterol and fat intake becomes. 

Why?

The reason is simple:

My treatment of all these hunter-gatherer cultures is oversimplified.

Remember I said that diet alone could not fully explain these people's lifestyles?

The amount of movement these people get is also essential to understanding them. People in hunter gatherer societies move astonishingly much compared to most people in developed countries.

Traditional hunter-gatherer cultures also spend lots of time in the sun - check my blog post on why sunlight exposure is essential to health. Such cultures are also naturally low in stress and are exposed to very lower levels of toxins (e..g., there's no air pollution in these societies.)

Diet and exercise alone can thus not explain the health differences between people living in cities in developed countries and traditional hunter-gatherer societies. You cannot replicate life in these cultures by just trying to alter your diet.


Sunlight: still the king of health.

 

Do keep in mind that modern hunter-gatherer diets are not representational for prehistoric human diets.

Many modern hunter-gatherer societies consume tubers--your hominin ancestors could not consume these foods before the widespread use of fire 800,000 BC.

Another observation is that if presented with a greater availability of animal foods, most people in these cultures will opt for animal foods instead of plant-based foods.

To summarize my argument so far:

Animal foods have played an essential role in human evolution, and still does so in some modern hunter-gatherer societies. Nevertheless, modern hunter-gatherer societies which live mainly on plant food thrive as well.

Surprise?

But let's move back to the carnivore diet...

By the way, want to receive 10 practical tips for making your carnivore diet experience even better? These tips are not included in this full blog post:

 

 

 

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4. CARNIVORE DIET BASICS - AND HOW TO START

In this section I'll go over the carnivore diet basics:

The main tenet of the carnivore diet is that you're exclusively allowed to consume animal foods.

Eggs, (shell)fish, all kinds of land-based-animal derived products (muscle meats, organ meat, bone broth, gelatin), and dairy all come to mind as dietary options.

"Forbidden" foods are all plant-based: grains, legumes, pulses, beans, fruits, vegetables, and tubers. 

Simple right?

Not so quick... 

A fascinating tendency of carnivore diets is that dairy consumption is (sometimes) allowed.

From an evolutionary perspective that dairy consumption cannot be justified. 

Let me explain:

Animals were only domesticated ~10,000 years ago.[112; 113] Dairy is thus not an ancestral food. In their defense, however, I've not seen proponents of the carnivore diet always rely evolutionary arguments in favor of their diet either.

The carnivore diet is frequently defended on the basis of cutting out "anti-nutrients" - protection mechanisms in plant - a topic I'll consider in the next section.



(Nerd section: from a logic perspective, the inference that hominin ancestors did not consume dairy before 10,000 years ago to the conclusion that the food is therefore bad is a naturalistic fallacy. It's impossible to infer an "ought" from an "is" in logic. E.g.., the fact that dairy has not been consumed 10,000 years ago does not entail that dairy is therefore unhealthy.

I mainly consider our evolutionary past one input into a proper health science, next to anecdotal evidence, randomized controlled trials, quantified self outcomes, etcetera. An exclusive reliance on either an evolutionary history, or on randomized controlled trials (with systematic reviews), or a biophysics perspective is totally myopic, in my (hopefully informed) opinion.)



So why follow a carnivore diet? Let's look at the basics...

Proponents of the carnivore diet claim that autoimmune conditions, mental problems, digestion issues can all be cured by following the diet. Other claims are improved fat loss, muscle building, and hormonal function.

So are these claims true?

Well, the claims do match anecdotal evidence:

People who've had joint and autoimmune issues for decades have seen their issues cleared after one week on a carnivore diet:

 

Mikhaila Peterson, for example, the daughter of the world-renowned psychologist Jordan Peterson, dealt with juvenile rheumatoid arthritis, anxiety, insomnia, depression, skin problems, and fatigue. After transitioning to a 100% beef carnivore diet, her issues completely disappeared.

Mikhaila's father, Jordan Peterson, had his decade-long anxiety issues resolved after a few days of eating a carnivore diet.

Charlene Andersen, how has been following a strict carnivore diet for over a decade, and cured asthma, allergies, a condition in which you've got the urge to pull out your own hair, skin problems, fertility issues, and more. 

 

Now, I do think you need to be extremely wary of such anecdotal evidence. A simple google search will attribute all such magical health effects to destructive vegan diets as well.

On the other hand, you also need to open up to the possibility that these personal experiences are true. Health interventions that seem too good to be true may be great anyway - antibiotics, blood transfusions, and toilets have saved billions of lives in the last few centuries.

If you were very skeptical towards blood transfusions because it did not fit the medical paradigm of Galen that lasted up until the 19th century, you made a big mistake. 

The carnivore diet may or may not be revolutionary, and the only way to find out is to test it.

The upside of is that many people survive and thrive on a carnivore diet.

Yes, several people have been on a carnivore diet for over a decade.

These people have not suffered from scurvy (a vitamin C deficiency, which is surprising as vitamin C is mostly found in plants.) Of course, I cannot check their claims as I'm not living with these people, but I do believe them as many people have same result.

In the short to middle long-term, it can be observed that many people do extraordinary well on a carnivore diet.

What's fascinating is that some scientific studies do exist on people living on a meat-based diet for longer periods of time.[295] In one study, two people followed a purely meat-based diet for one year and did not develop any deficiencies.

Unfortunately, whether these two persons really stuck to that diet is impossible to verify. Aditionally, including two participants is far too few for any valid study.

Whether the carnivore diet is sustainable thus still needs to be proven regarding the vitamin C topic - I'll get back to that. Suffice it to say that many people are doing amazingly well on this diet...

So let's jump to a next criticism that's often leveled on the carnivore diet:

Some sources claim that a carnivore diet should be avoided precisely because there is no science to back up its claims.

Sure, none of these claims can be proved by looking at the current scientific evidence out there - you cannot "prove" something works that hasn't been studied yet.

The benefits of penicillin and aspirin were unproven once as well (because they were just invented back then). That absence of evidence did not entail that these medicines should be cast aside without testing.

Comments that a carnivore diet is not backed by any science is shortsighted at best, and disingenuous at worst.

An absence of proof does entail you should be more wary of such diets. There may be big drawbacks with a diet that relies on just a few food groups. 

The flip-side of the equation is that including very few foods has advantages as well:

The main reason I'm not against a carnivore diet - at least for short periods of time - is precisely because you can be relatively healthy on this diet while just eating one food group.

You see, you may be intolerant to:

  • allergens in the nightshade food group, which contains tomatoes, eggplants, and peppers.
  • lectins, found in legumes, grains, and pulses.
  • FODMAPS, a specific type of carbohydrate that may not be absorbed well in the intestine.

(I'll get back to these compounds in a later section.)

Now, I'm not saying you are intolerant to these food groups. The problem is that you might be. A carnivore diet is a great way of finding out whether you are.


One long barbecue session: not enough time
for you to claim that you followed the "carnivore diet"

 

Example?

Sure:

Let's return to the topic of dairy...

The problem is that if you do include dairy into your carnivore diet, you're not testing whether you're reacting to foods properly. If you've got lactose intolerance, or have problems digesting certain proteins in dairy such as casein, the inclusion of dairy into a carnivore diet may also be problematic.

The carnivore diet is partially advertised as an "elimination diet" - I think that characterization is perfect.

The goal of elimination diets is to remove any food group that could possibly cause problems.

The problem with the carnivore diet is that it cannot even strictly function as an elimination diet: dairy, shellfish, and even bone broth, all cause adverse reactions in some people.

(some people even claim to have a "red meat allergy" - if you do so, I don't recommend a carnivore diet).

If the diagnosis of food intolerance is your goal by following this diet, then I'd recommend using a carnivore diet of mostly (organ) meats and gelatin or collagen - those foods are your safest options.

That leaves you with very little wiggling room though...

So why does that diet work?

The only food that almost no-one has an intrinsic food intolerance to is plain meat (preferably beef).

The problem with consuming just meat is that many people don't have sufficient stomach acid to optimally digest it - at least initially...

Contrary to popular assumption, most people's stomach acid is not acidic enough to properly break down foods. Meat is comparatively "heavy on the stomach", and will need lots of stomach acid to properly digest.[196]

Reducing stomach acid through medication can thus be very dangerous, putting you at risk for vitamin and mineral deficiencies.[192-195] 

When you age, less and less stomach acid is produced. That lower amount of stomach acid makes you unable to break down food properly. Due to the adaptation in your digestive system, getting on a carnivore diet often takes your body some adjustment time - even if you're young.

Some symptoms of having low stomach acid are having heartburn, bad breath, undigested foods in your stool, intestinal discomfort, diarrhea, and constipation.

Keep in mind that high stomach acid levels are especially important for digesting meat. You may want to add digestive enzymes to every meal if you're not used to eating meals with lots of meat.[197] 

(I'll give you several strategies later - including the enzymes -  to jump-start that process.)

Over the course of a few weeks, these adaptation symptoms to the carnivore diet should pass.

So what types of meat should you choose on a carnivore diet? Should you mix poultry with beef and pork?

Not at all...

Most people who spend longer periods of time on the carnivore diet deviate towards an emphasis on beef. 

Some peoiple even eat just beef.

I suggest people start with mostly beef when transitioning to a carnivore diet, and only testing other cuts once they're doing well on beef.

(Yes, I'm aware most people start their carnivore diet while eating all kinds of different animals).

Let me explain:

Fattier cuts of beef are amazing.

Ribeyes that have visible fat and ground beef from fattier parts of the animal are great options:


Ribeye: making *almost* anyone happy...

 

Now you understand why I don't recommend starting off with chicken or turkey in your diet: lean cuts won't fill you up enough (and pork has a sub-optimal fatty acid profile compared to meat). 

So no relying on chicken breasts...

Just think about the importance of fat: if you were living 100,000 years ago in the Ice Age, what type of meat would you prefer: rabbits that contain very little fat, or a mammoth that contains a ton?

What meat type would help you survive? 

The answer is easy: fatty cuts can have up to quadruple the number of calories compared to very lean meats.

There's also lots of direct evidence that it's impossible to survive on lean meats. There's even a medical term for what happens if you try to survive on lean meats alone: rabbit starvation.[60] 

Rabbit starvation occurs when you're consuming more than 35% of your calories from protein over longer periods of time. Lean meats contain almost exclusively protein.

Long-term consequence of rabbit starvation?

Liver failure, excess protein and ammonia in the blood, nausea, diarrhea (which is still very deadly in developing nations), and possibly death.[254] 

You'll have more hunger when consuming mostly protein, but eating more protein (if just rabbits or other lean animals are available) will slowly kill you.

By the way:

Don't worry about rabbit starvation if you're consuming a chicken breast once in a while--but do worry if you're only consuming lean meats...

And sure, you can include many other types of meat over time as well.

Goat, kangaroo, elk, lamb (which is really undervalued), bison, duck (if they're fat enough), or even insects.

Eggs are great too, or bacon - or both...


Heaven, or hell?

 

I know some people are tremendously afraid of eating fat on their meats--but excluding fat is one of the biggest carnivore diet mistakes you can make.

You're not going to thrive on a carnivore diet if you're eating lean beef.

Eat the fattest ribeye.

Consume a few eggs, including the egg yolks (if you tolerate eggs).

Don't be that idiot who consumes only egg whites. 95% of nutrients are found in the yolks, not the whites. 

Throw away whites before you throw away yolks (or send the yolks to me at least...)

I know many people have been indoctrinated in the 80s and 90s to eat chicken breasts and to remove fat from beef--that's a big mistake.

Why?

Well:

The carnivore diet's golden rule: eat beef until you're full.

If you're hungry all the time--and I'm not talking about cravings here--then you're not ingesting enough meat, or you're eating beef that's too lean.

Even women may need to consume up to 3 pounds of meat per day--men can go much higher than that number.

Over time, most people on the carnivore diet gravitate towards 2 meals a day. Initially, you probably still need 3 meals.

Let's now talk about how to optimally prepare meat. The topic of meat preparation is unfortunately not considered very often...

Contrary to what many proponents of the carnivore diet propose, I cannot recommend cooking meat at high temperatures all the time.

Let me explain:

Avoid charring your meats when preparing them. Charring meats, which happens by barbecuing for example, creates compounds that probably causes cancer.[268-271]


Barbecue: otherworldly taste,
but not recommended for optimal health... 

 

Let's look at some compounds created in meat when you prepare it at high temperatures. 

Under high temperatures or open flames, "heterocyclic amines" are created in meat. Other compounds called "advanced glycation end products" are also created - these substances are associated with heart disease, diabetes, and several types of cancer.

Another one?

"Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons" (PAHs). PAHs have been linked to heart and blood vessel diseases and cancer.[280; 281]

Rather than remembering these names, I'll simplify my message:

The fat that's attached to meat or other compounds such as proteins or creatine can burn

You don't want that meat to burn though. 

Those burned materials stay attached to the meat (that's why you've got black-looking pieces hanging off your barbecue meat sometimes).  You consume that burned material.

The problem gets worse though: meat that's well-done may already be problematic.

How to avoid burning meat?

First of all, the more saturated fats a meat contains, the more resistant that meat will be against degradation under high temperatures.

To understand the preventive role of fatty acids, let me give an analogy. Remember that coconut oil is safe to cook with under high heat, while oils containing lots of polyunsaturated fatty acids are not (olive oil, for example)?

The same is true for meat. 

(Shell-)fish that contains lots of polyunsaturated acids is therefore even more dangerous to heat up than meat.

Solution? Cook in beef tallow

(Coconut oil is a plant food, that some people don't tolerate well.)

So finally, I can give some non-nuanced black and white views: Less heat when preparing animal products is always better. Barbecuing or grilling is always sub-optimal.

Steaming is a great option that doesn't heat the proteins and fats too much.

For the same reason, I'm even very interested to see how people are doing on a mostly raw carnivore diet.

Why?

The structure of proteins is degraded if you cook meats really thorough or under higher temperatures. Degraded proteins equal fewer health effects from eating those beautiful ribeyes.

Unfortunately, no data is available on the health consequences of eating a raw carnivore diet (or high quantities of raw meat in general).

Infections or parasite problems are also a possible issue for people on such a raw diet - which is why I'm not recommending raw right now.

To avoid bacteria and parasites, I do recommend heating at least the outside of meat cuts to prevent problems.

Understanding how you should prepare meats also yields valuable contributions to understanding our ancestral past.

Again, remember: our brain evolution started 1 - 1.5 million years before hominins started heating their foods en masse.

Sure, heating may have huge advantages--but it also has disadvantages as the studies on heating foods thoroughly show. The disadvantage, of course, is the creation of cancer-causing chemicals and the degradation of the nutritional value of meat.

Raw is better for meats, if and only if you can avoid pathogens...

But let's move back to the basics. I was telling you about the staple foods of the carnivore diet.

Surprise, surprise:

Some other weird inconsistencies exist within the carnivore diet, as coffee and caffeine are (sometimes) condoned on this diet.

Don't get me wrong...

I freakin' love coffee (in the right circumstances). I also think coffee is a great tool for health if you use it correctly.

The problem with drinking coffee is that coffee comes from a plant - the coffee bean.

And of course, I get that you want to continue drinking coffee if you're already transitioning to a carnivore diet. Changing your diet and winding off coffee at the same time may be too hard on your body.

Condoning coffee on a carnivore diet is like making an exception for rib eye steaks on a vegan diet or being faithfully married while cheating "just once a week" - it's 100% consistent with just one exception.

(Keep in mind I'm 100% consistent in my life either - I probably don't even reach the 80% threshold upon closer analysis.)

Let's talk about that transition to a carnivore diet... 

One downside is that you'll almost certainly have an adaptation period when switching to the carnivore diet.[250-253]

Here's a list of symptoms you can experience if switching to this diet:

  • diarrhea (due to an absence of fiber), or a lack of toilet visits (as carnivore foods are almost all fully digested - there's no fiber moved through the bowels).
  • cravings (for carbohydrates, sugar, fruit, fiber, or added fatty acids such as MCTs)
  • gastric acid reflux (because stomach acid has to increase)
  • weakness, headaches, dizziness (because of adapting to using fats instead of carbs as fuel
  • fatigue (due to eating too little - you have to eat)
  • insomnia, poor mood, brain fog (same reason)
  • a dry mouth, or weird taste in your mouth (partially due to toxin release, partially due to the change in becoming a fat-burner)
  • higher overall stress levels (because of body fat and muscle needing to be consumed for energy)
  • losing weight quickly (which happen mostly due to water losses in the beginning)

 

Recognize these symptoms?

Sure...

The symptoms overlap with the "keto flu". The keto flu often appears when you're transitioning to a ketogenic diet.

For most people the symptoms of adapting to a carnivore diet last between a week and a month.

If you're used to a ketogenic diet, switching to a carnivore diet becomes easier (but not yet effortless!)

The main methods I recommend to quicken adaptation are to lower your exercise frequency, sleeping more, choosing to transition during a non-stressful period in your life, and consuming more salt. 

Yes, many people do well on increasing their salt intake on a carnivore diet. I've written an extensive blog post on salt (and sodium) before, in which I claim that hominins (and our primate ancestors) probably added salt to their diets for millions of years.

Also, make sure you're drinking enough water. 


Hangover? Just blame it on transitioning to
the carnivore diet. Best excuse EVER.

 

In addition to stimulating keto-flu like symptoms, bowel movements also need to adjust to a purely meat-based diet.

The bacteria in your colon which are fed fiber normally no longer receive their daily meal. Meat is primarily digested in the small intestine, which means that the bacteria in your colon will become "jobless".

These bacteria may even protest initially - until you've survived the first few weeks. 

Let me explain...

If you're transitioning from a Standard American Diet to a diet with lots of vegetables, the bacteria in your colon need some time to adapt to the new situation. The same is true when you remove all the fiber from your diet.


The small intestine work overtime on a carnivore diet,
while the large intestine becomes jobless - beware of revolts...

Should you season your carnivore diet foods? For the best results, I recommend avoiding seasoning your meat with herbs or spices in the beginning.

So no paprika or thyme with your beef.

Why?

With seasoning, you'll never be able to exclude food intolerances. 

In timehowever, you may want to re-introduce some spices and seasonings and observe how you respond to them. If you're doing well with these spices, then that's great - you can leave them in.

Bring in the bacon and eggs...

So that's it...

All the basics of the carnivore diet.

Last comment: if you want great recipes, look online.

I'm the worst cook in the world, so you should not follow my advice on that subject. I'm not literally the worst cook, but down there with the worst 10% cooks of all times.

I can boil or fry eggs, and barely create a ground beef recipe with some spices.

That's it.  

So I'm doing what I should be doing: I'm not giving advice on carnivore recipes. If you want advice on sous vide beef or reverse-seared rib eyes recipes, run for your life once I open my mouth.

(I do know sous vide cooking is not so smart because plastics end up in your food.)

But let's move on to a topic I am comfortable with: the (possibility of a) scientific justification of the carnivore diet.

I'll take you on a tour on different food intolerances... 

 

Return To Table Of Contents

5. SCIENCE-BACKED REASONS WHY A CARNIVORE DIET MAY WORK (OR NOT!)

In this section, I'll go over a few reasons why you'd want to consider a carnivore diet (or not)

I'll start with considering plants.

Almost everyone who spends some time reading about plants knows that they contain "anti-nutrients". Antinutrients are protection mechanisms in plants, that aim to prevent them from being eaten.

I'll consider several antinutrients, and tell you which problems they may cause. Some allergens that are not anti-nutrients are also considered.

Antinutrients have become infamous for lowering absorption of nutrients in foods, or wreaking havoc on your gut. And yet, some antinutrients have health benefits, so I'm not going to use that term frequently because the term can be deceptive.

There's also truth to the term "anti-nutrients", as many people who consume them in greater quantities through a plant-based diet end up with mineral deficiencies.

You may know that minerals such as zinc, copper, magnesium, and iron are essential to your health. Many people in modern society are either slightly or highly deficient in these minerals:

  • In a previous blog post on magnesium, I've claimed that 60-80% of people in developed countries are magnesium deficient. 
  • In my blog post about zinc, I make the case that zinc deficiencies are more prevalent than you would assume--unless you're eating lots of food that contain highly absorbable zinc, such as oysters and red meat.

A carnivore diet may prevent some mineral deficiencies because minerals in these foods are all highly absorbable.

In the next part of this section, I'll explore several compounds in plants that can have net-negative effects on your health. 

Do understand that these compounds don't have negative consequences on everyone's health... 

Again the carnivore diet may help you with intolerances because you're cutting problematic foods out for a while. You're then watching whether your health improves. If your health improves after cutting these compounds out, you know they were causing issues.

It's that simple...

Overall, the carnivore diet may work because it helps you with: 

  • nightshade intolerance.[117-120]

    Some people cannot tolerate nightshades. Paprika, chili, tomatoes, potatoes, eggplant, and bell peppers are examples of nightshades. 

    Common allergy symptoms in response to consuming nightshades are itchiness, a runny nose, joint pain, and breathing problems. More extreme symptoms include inflammation, swelling, and finally losing consciousness - fortunately, most people don't get these symptoms. 

    (Losing consciousness only happens in some people in response to consuming extremely hot peppers.) 

    Human studies do demonstrate that tomato allergies exist.[121] The compounds in nightshades should not be viewed as purely negative as they can prevent some types of cancer--but if you're intolerant the risks probably outweigh the benefits.[122]

    Nightshades can also help you burn fat, for example, which is a benefit. And yet, these very mundane nightshades do cause symptoms in some people:

    Potatoes, for example, contain certain "glycoalkaloids", which may damage the gut lining. 

    Unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately), most of the negative health effects nightshades can have only been established in animal or laboratory studies--not humans.

    The compounds found in nightshades are simply protective mechanisms of plants to avoid being eaten. Cooking lowers the number of glycoalkaloids but does not completely eliminate them.

    I've had minor responses to nightshades in the past, but the reaction is no longer present. 


    Peppers: friend or foe?

  • oxalate(s)

    "Oxalic acid" is found in high levels in many plant foods, such as spinach, beets, chard, cacao (and thus chocolate), kale, (sweet) potatoes, cacao, peanuts, and rhubarb. Tea is also high in oxalates.[125; 127]

    The problem of oxalic acid - or oxalates in general - is that they can make calcium in your blood ineffective by binding to it. You may thus have a very high calcium intake, but if that calcium is bound to oxalic acid that calcium won't be useful.[123; 124] 

    Not all minerals are affected by oxalic acid though--iron is not, for example.[126]

    Now, I'm not telling you to avoid all these plant foods forever because of their oxalates--you should be aware of and deal with its consequences instead. The main way to lower your consumption of oxalates is to cook your plant foods properly.

    Another method is to avoid foods that are very high in oxalates. Different types of plant foods also have very diverging oxalate levels. There can be a 5-fold difference in oxalate levels in different types of kale, for example. 

    Oxalates can increase inflammation in your body if you're intolerant to them. Inflammation can be a sign of having an immune reaction--inflammation is also frequently increased in many modern diseases such as diabetes or heart disease.

    Over time, consumption of high amounts of oxalates may increase your risk for getting kidney stones.[128-131] Your gut determines how well oxalates are absorbed.[132-135] 

    If you've got kidney stones then your gut is probably not working optimally: bacteria in the gut normally degrade oxalates--or you're ingesting way too many oxolates.

    An inability to tolerate oxalates may also occur because you've got a genetic susceptibility to respond to them.[136; 137]

    Overall, oxalates are thus not necessarily problematic--but an inability to manage them well is.

    Next:

  • tannins[167-170]

    I clearly remember a "contains tannins "disclaimer bottles of wine here in the EU. And yet, wine is not the only source of tannins: tea, grapes, unripe fruits, and chocolate are also common tannin sources.

    If you've ever had a "dry" feeling in the mouth after consuming red wine, tannins are responsible. The same is true for eating very dark chocolate with 85% or 99% pure cacao.

    Foods such as beans, legumes, grains, and certain vegetables contain tannins as well.

    Tannins may decrease digestion, appetite, and energy production in the body. Again, none of these plant compounds are entirely unhealthy--they just can be in some circumstances.

    In the correct amounts, tannins function as antioxidants. 

    Next, one of the antinutrients that have become very popular to remove from one's diet the last few years: 

  • lectins

    These lectins are another protective substance in many foods. Not just plants contain lectins--certain animal foods do so as well.

    Just as the oxalates and nightshades, lectins can cause inflammation. One main location where lectins can be problematic--if you're susceptible at least--is the gut. Lectins can even be transported to the brain, wreaking havoc there (in some people).[171; 177]

    Lectins are yet another case of the "dose makes the poison": in high dosages, lectins are almost certainly damaging to your health.[172] 

     
    In smaller dosages, a gut irritation is a frequently reported symptom.[173-176; 178; 179] Inflammation is another manifestation...

    The full list of symptoms of lectin intolerance is too long to discuss here. Symptoms include fatigue, brain fog, being poorly motivated, indigestion, skin problems, (joint) pain, and signs of having a slower metabolism.

    There are thus good reasons why people test for lectin insensitivity.

    Soaking, cooking, fermenting, or sprouting are common methods to remove lectins from foods. The problem with treating some food groups, such as beans or legumes, is that not all lectins are removed by soaking and cooking.

    If you've got issues with inflammation, unexplained health issues, autoimmune symptoms, or gut problems, I'd highly recommend cutting out all lectins for a while and observing how your body reacts.

    There's no risk in cutting lectins out short-term--there are risks by exposing yourself continually...

    Another anti-nutrient:
  • phytic acid

    Phytic acid is exclusively found in plant foods and yet another protective mechanism aimed at preventing them from being eaten - and thus their survival.

    In higher doses, phytic acid lowers the number of minerals you absorb from a meal.[146-149; 152] 

    Iron and zinc deficiencies are common in people living in developing nations because many people rely on a plant-based diet there. In these nations, phytic acid and other antinutrients are not correctly removed, and most of these people cannot compensate for that loss by including more animal foods into their diets.

    Unfortunately, most of the studies on phytic acid have been carried out in animals, not humans. Nevertheless, human studies do exist in which foods high in phytic acid are replaced by their low phytic acid counterparts.

    That replacement results in increased mineral absorption - you'll thus absorb zinc and magnesium properly.[151; 153]

    The best way to prevent meals from becoming too high in phytic acid content is to properly treat any grains, beans, nuts, seeds, or legumes before consumption. All these foods need to be soaked and/or sprouted and/or cooked before you can absorb their minerals in the first place.[150]


    Dark chocolate.: phytic acid, tannins, oxalates, and lectins all in one...


    Upside: you may get used to a diet that's higher in phytic acid over time--although I still will not recommend a predominantly plant-based diet as optimal.[154]

    I'm not treating the topic of how to soak, sprout, or cook foods properly in this guide--I just state that fact so that you understand the proper context of plant-based foods in a diet.

    Solution?

    Camille Julia has written an amazing guide on how to reduce plant protection mechanisms by soaking, sprouting, fermenting, and cooking.

    Just to be clear: phytic acid does not have exclusively negative effects to your health. In fact, phytic acid has many potential benefits, such as preventing cancer, stabilizing your blood sugar, protecting your nervous system, and more.[155-162; 164; 165] 

    The problem, however, is that many studies demonstrate these benefits of phytic acid in rats. Rats have a tremendously increased capacity to break down phytic acid compared to humans.[163] 

    Unfortunately, as is the case with many of these antinutrients, many more high-quality studies need to investigate their effects.

    Next:
  • FODMAPs

    I know.

    That's an insanely long abbreviation...

    FODMAPs stands for "Fermentable Oligo-, Di-, Mono-saccharides, And Polyols". 

    Yes, really.

    In plain English, these are a specific type of carbohydrates that may problematic for you to absorb. To be precise, FODMAP carbohydrates are not well absorbed in the small intestine, causing them to end up in your large intestine. 

    As a result of the fermentation process of these carbohydrates in the large intestine, large amounts of fluid is moved there. Poor digestion, bloat, flatulence, and diarrhea are frequent consequences.

    While earlier studies were skeptical of FODMAPs causing digestive issues (and more), recent studies are positive towards cutting out FODMAPs from the diet.[181-185] 

    Different types of FODMAPs exist, moreover, but I'm not explaining these in detail here. Just keep in mind that most FODMAPS are found in grains, numerous veggies (e.g. mushrooms, onions, leeks), pulses, lentils, beans, and certain fruits (e.g. berries, peach, nectarines, and apples).

    There's some overlap between foods that contain FODMAPs and foods that contain gluten, specifically grains.

    Foods that are low in FODMAPS are most drinks (coffee and tea), some veggies (examples: bell peppers, carrots, bok choy, cucumber, and tomatoes), meat and fish, fruits like oranges, rice and potatoes, some nuts and seeds, and cheese.

    Over the long-term, however, a low FODMAP diet can yield new problems, such as a less diverse gut microbiome and even lower ability to tolerate some other foods.

    Beware of your choices...

    Let's move to the following allergen:

  • nitrates.[303-308]

    These nitrates are mainly contained in processed meats. Vegetables also often contain nitrates, such as spinach. 

    Most nitrates people consume are sourced from vegetables. The nitrates in processed meats put you at higher risk for colon cancer. 

    As expected, nitrates don't just have negative effects. Nitrates have health benefits in certain instancessuch as increasing circulation.

    Another double-edged sword.

    Of course, if you eat a carnivore diet that's free of processed meat, then you'll automatically remove all nitrates from your diet.

    Let's move on to the following anti-nutrient - you've probably heard about this one:

  • gluten

    No compound has been demonized as much in the last decade as gluten. And yet, research that gluten is causing all kinds of issues runs very thin. 

    Let me explain:

    I no longer believe that gluten is a primal evil. And of course, some people cannot tolerate gluten at all - if you've got "celiac disease" you're one of them.

    In the last decades, however, many people considered themselves as having "non-celiac gluten sensitivity" - entailing that they have a sensitivity to gluten without having celiac disease.

    The latest research shows that gluten may not responsible for the "non-celiac gluten sensitivity" problem - other substances in grains probably lay at the root of the dilemma.[138-142] 

    So what's the likelihood that you're hit by this problem?

    About 1% of people in developed countries have celiac disease, but around 6-10% have intolerances to wheat and grains.

    The difference between people with celiac disease and their non-celiac gluten sensitivity counterparts is their response to gluten. If you've got non-celiac gluten sensitivity, "inflammatory bowel disease" may still result from eating certain grains, even though gluten is not the cause.[142]

    Different compounds in grains may cause problems in people who identify as having non-celiac gluten sensitivity.[143] It's not yet known which compound causes specific symptoms, and it's also very likely that people with non-celiac gluten sensitivity react to different compounds in grains in different ways.

    Example?

    If you have "non-celiac gluten sensitivity" you may be intolerant to FODMAPS or lectins. Because the ingestion of these compounds often overlaps, people may falsely believe they're sensitive to gluten even though other compounds in grains are the culprit.

    Lots of people have gut problems nowadays. Up to 10% of the global population has "irritable bowel syndrome", for example.

    That number is insane...

    Now, I consider it a great health strategy to cut out grains for a while, and test whether you're sensitive. I consider grains problematic for lots of people, even if you tolerate them.

    Compared to fruits, which are an ancestral carbohydrate source, grains have a much lower potassium content, for example. I, therefore, do not recommend making grains a staple of a diet - for most people.

    Some types of fruits and honey (in limited amounts) should almost always be preferred as a carbohydrate source.

    (For the critics: yes, I know honey contains no potassium.)


    Better be certain you can tolerate these beauties well before they become the basis of your diet.


    And you know what? Avoiding gluten or other problematic substances in plants is thus one reason many people try the carnivore diet.

    I'm not done yet though, two more options to go:

  • milk products that contain "lactose" and "casein".[186-188]

    Almost all mammals don't consume dairy after a weaning period, so human carnivores shouldn't consume dairy either, right?

    Not so quick...

    Remember that some versions of the carnivore diet do allow for dairy consumption. As a result, you may consume casein or lactose.

    Casein a protein contained in most dairy products (except whey protein, butter, and ghee). Lactose, secondly, is a carbohydrate that some people have allergic(-like) responses to. Whey protein, cheese, butter, and ghee are lactose free.

    Let's first consider lactose...

    A certain part of the human population is lactose intolerant, and cannot properly digest carbohydrates from milk. Estimates of lactose intolerance go up as high as 80%, which makes the inclusion of some dairy products into the carnivore diet problematic for many.

    Other people may just seem lactose intolerant - I was one of them. For years I thought I could not tolerate cow's milk. My problem, instead, was simply that my gut no longer produced "lactase", an enzyme that helps break down lactose.

    A few years of cutting out milk products had removed the lactase enzyme from my gut. Slowly increasing my milk product consumption, with one glass of kefir with each meal, and one glass of milk after a week or two, had the enzyme return.

    After three weeks I could fully digest milk again...

    Keep in mind that not all people will be able to re-learn to absorb milk after a period of absence. You may be one of the lucky ones--or not...

    By the way, lactose is also a FODMAP. Pain, bloating, nasal congestion, and nausea are all symptoms of lactose intolerance - which most people experience quickly after consuming milk products after a period of absence.

    If you've already got a gastrointestinal disease, then you're also at higher risk for lactose intolerance. Instead of cutting out all milk products, supplementing with the lactase enzyme (that helps absorb lactose) helps many people.

    Secondly, there's casein - milk's main protein.[189; 190]

    Two main types of casein exist: A1 and A2. Different cows produce different casein compositions of these types in their milk. In other words, cows can produce milk that's composed 100% of A1 or A2 milk, or a mix of these proteins.

    When I read studies on that casein difference a few years ago, not many of them supported that differences between these two protein forms exist. Current evidence is slowly accumulating, however, that A2 milk is better - which accords to the personal experience of many people (but not mine).

    Oh, by the way, one last thing: both lactose and casein are not antinutrients--just nutrients that are frequently poorly tolerated by many.

    Next, the plant compound everyone has been preaching you should get more instead of less of:

  • excess fiber.

    Believe it or not, but excess fiber can be really problematic for some people. Whether fiber is problematic depends on your personal circumstances.

    I, for one, do great on more fiber intake - you may or may not...

    Many gastrointestinal issues are caused by either a too low or too high fiber intake.[288] 

    I'm not dogmatic about fiber intake at all: do what works best for you. Lowering fiber intake works wonders for some people, and cutting out all fiber may too. You may also do great on more fiber...

    No one-size fits all can be found here, unfortunately...


Plants fight back, just as animals do...

 

Of course, many more antinutrients or allergens exist.

Examples are "trypsin inhibitors", "salicylate", (artificial or natural) "glutamate", and "saponins". I won't go into detail of all these compounds.

I won't discuss foods like soy and grains either - I don't think such foods are fit as a basis for human consumption.

Can you get away with consuming grains once in a while? Certainly. But if you haven't had (genetic) testing for foods like grains, I cannot put a straightforward recommendation to consume these foods...

So what should you be taking away from this section on the carnivore diet? What's the bottom line?

Well, plant foods can trigger many issues for people - some compounds in animal foods such as dairy can trigger issues as well. Again: they don't have to but they can.

The carnivore diet is the perfect means for testing whether you've got issues with plant foods.

Maybe the carnivore diet works for you because you're not ingesting any lectins, or gluten, or FODMAPs, or maybe a carnivore diet does not work.

Just one way to find out: test.

But there's another frequently made argument why people should transition towards a carnivore diet - which is what I'm going to discuss now.

Carnivore diet proponents claim that you'll be ingesting more nutrients on such a diet.

Examples of nutrients which are supplied in large amount by a carnivore diet - and thus reasons a carnivore diet will work are:

  • increasing the amount of highly-absorbable magnesium and zinc

    Sure, plant foods contain zinc and magnesium--the problem is that these forms of zinc and magnesium are more poorly absorbed by the body than animal foods.

    Why care?

    Well, about 25% of the world's population is deficient in zinc, and even 70-80% of people in developed countries have magnesium deficiencies - that's a lot.

    Both zinc and magnesium have enormous benefits for your health though - here's a shortlist:

    Zinc helps your sleep quality, thinking ability, resilience against stress, and skin quality.

    Magnesium averts depressions, helps you sleep deeper, boosts bone health, aids memory, increases the absorption of carbohydrates (sugars), and combats anxiety.

    The upside from consuming magnesium from animal foods is that it's well balanced with other minerals such as calcium and phosphorus. Plant foods often contain too much calcium on a relative basis. Ingesting proportionally more calcium than magnesium can make end up with a magnesium deficiency.

    Zinc, moreover, is well balanced with copper in animal foods (relying a lot on plants can put you at risk for a copper excess).

    Overall, the magnesium and zinc contribution of animal foods is thus promising. Read my blog posts zinc and magnesium for more details and references on my claims.

  • massively increasing your iron intake[309-313]

    There's still lots of debate around iron status in modern diets: some people think almost everyone has excessive iron levels, while others assume that iron deficiencies are widespread.

    (I'm oversimplifying here, as it matters where that iron is located, and in which form it is stored, for example).

    Suffice it to say that the iron you ingest through meat is highly absorbable. Plants and animals contain different forms of iron - only animal foods contain the highly absorbable "heme iron" form.

    Liver and clams contain even higher iron levels...

    Iron is highly essential for any basic functions in your body, such as creating energy and the immune system.

    But: iron from meat is a double-edged sword. Having excessive iron levels can contribute to diabetes, heart disease, and cancer.

    Genetics play a huge role in whether you've got deficient or excessive iron levels in your body.

    Being pale, often tired, or having headaches, skin problems, anxiety, or heart or breathing problems are all signs you're low on iron. Energy problems, depression, low libido, painful joints, organ damage (to your heart, liver, etcetera), are symptoms of having too much iron as well.

    Frequently donating blood is one of the best ways to lower your iron status. 

    Suffice it to say that a carnivore diet can be a great solution if you're deficient in iron. Eating lots of beef - if you digest it well - will immediately improve your iron status.

  • protein quality is very high.

    Protein quality in animal foods is much higher than in plant foods.[289; 290] 

    Combining several plant foods, however, does allow you to increase the protein quality of a meal - a technique most vegetarians and vegans are thoroughly aware of.

    Whether protein quality increases after going on a carnivore diet thus depends on the food (combinations) you were eating beforehand--but for most people it does.

  • increasing your high-quality fat consumption

    If you buy high-quality animal products such as grass-fed beef, you'll increase your consumption of high-quality fatty acids.

    Fats are great for hormonal health, help prevent cancer and heart disease, lower your risk for depression, and increases the absorption of certain vitamins (A, D3, E, and K - these vitamins are treated soon).[313-317]

    Your brain is also made up 60% of fats and cholesterol.

    The upside of consuming grass-fed beef and other animal products (again: shellfish) is that you'll automatically end up with a balanced fatty acid profile. One caveat: meat from feedlot animals contain fatty acid ratios that are almost always sub-optimal.

    Solution?

    Simple: go organic, and buy animals that have lived as much in their natural environment as possible.

  • ingesting lots of high-quality vitamins, such as A, B, D3, and K.

    The vitamin A from animal foods is much more absorbable than that of plant foods. Plants only contain vitamin A precursors, in the form of carotenes for example. 

    The ability of different people to convert those precursors into the actual animal form of vitamin A (called "retinol") differs. Without the animal form of vitamin A, you're thus more prone to be deficient.

    B vitamins? Sure, you can get these from plant foods, but organ meats and shellfish are still far superior forms of B vitamins. Yes, I know many types of B vitamin  exist, but I'd bore you to death by going through them all...

    Vitamin D3 cannot be found in any plant foods at all - unless you let the sun shine on mushrooms, and then consume them.

    Solution? 

    People living in northern latitudes have been getting vitamin D3 from animal fats for thousands of years.

    Then there's vitamin K, especially vitamin K2. Vitamin K2 cannot be found in any plant food either. Vitamin K2 is essential for your hormonal health, bone strength, and overall well-being. 

    To be honest, plant foods are generally a better source of vitamin E than animal foods, although grass-fed beef is a great vitamin E source as well - another indication that plants can have great health benefits...

    Overall, by including more animal foods in your diet - especially organ meats which contain much more vitamin A, B, D, E, and K - you'll increase the intake of most vitamins.

    (and yes, Vitamin C will be treated soon.)

  • getting lots of extra creatine, carnosine, and carnitine.

    You may not know these three substances, but they confer special benefits on your health. Animal foods contain creatine, carnosine, and carnitine, while plant foods do not.

    Let's consider these compounds one by one...

    First up: creatine.[318-323]

    Even in omnivore diets, you'll find about a gram of creatine. (Raw) meat and fish, however, contain much higher amounts of creatine compared to plant foods.

    At a very basic level, creatine increases energy production of your body's cells. Creatine works on a compound called "ATP", which is central to energy production in a cell.

    Creatine additionally increases your gym performance, by stimulating both strength, explosiveness, and (short)term endurance. But there's a surprise: creatine also improves your brain function, protects your nervous system, boosts mood, and improves your hormonal function.

    Creatine is thus a great compound for overall health.

    Not getting much creatine because you're not consuming many animal foods? Then supplement.

    Then there's carnosine.[324-333]

    Carnosine has anti-aging benefits, protects your brain and nervous system, aids in detox, and prevents several modern diseases.

    Meat is the best source of carnosine. Vegans and vegetarians probably have much lower levels of this compound because they simply don't ingest it.

    Unfortunately, most carnosine benefits have only been demonstrated in animal studies. Nevertheless, carnosine is yet another very promising compound that can only be consumed from animal foods.

    Again, if you're not eating many animal foods consider supplementation.

    Thirdly: carnitine.[334-

    Carnitine is an "amino acid", which is a building block of protein. 

    Benefits?

    Sure...

    Carnitine, yet again, helps your brain function, slows down aging, improves energy levels, and fertility. Helping you burn fat, and improving your mood are other perks.

    Surprise: carnitine is only found in animal foods...

    Now, you may think these benefits associated with creatine, carnosine, and carnitine are too good to be true.

    Many side-effects must exist when taking these compounds, right?

    Not at all. 

    Unless you really go overboard with lots of supplementation, you will not ingest too much. And you'll not overdose on these compounds by eating several pounds of beef per day.

    Only long-term supplementation carnitine may cause some problems in promoting atherosclerosis - a narrowing of the blood vessels - and may slow down thyroid function. The thyroid gland is located at the front of your neck and is integral to energy production.[342-344]

    But overall, 95% of research points to benefits of these compounds...

    Carnivore for the win, in this regard...

That's it: many reasons why a carnivore diet can work really well. 

I don't want to provide a one-sided view though.

In the following part of this section, I'll consider counterarguments against following a carnivore diet.

Ready?

Go... 

The carnivore diet may not work because:

  • conserved meats are different than meat from freshly-killed animals.

    If you're on the carnivore diet, avoid including meat cuts that contain lots of preservatives. Meat may contain sulfur dioxide, for example, or nitrates. 

    Processed meats such as hams, sausage, and bacon are often higher in nitrates.

    While nitrates lead to longer preservation of meats, they're not great or your health. Curing, smoking, or salting meats may increase your risk for several diseases such as stomach cancer. 

    If you're going on a carnivore diet, please don't opt for processed meats. 

  • you cannot handle low-carb diets for longer periods of time

    Believe it or not, I'm actually an opponent of using low-carb diets all the time. I've seen too many people get in trouble with trying to be in ketosis 24-7 for months or years at a time.

    Sure, low carb diets have their time and place, but forever low-carb diets can have negative health consequences. 

    What's more: your ancestors were also not on a zero carb diet, because freshly killed meat contains carbohydrates. 

    If evolution is a guideline towards how you should manage your health, then going without carbs is not the optimal choice. If evolution is not a guideline, then you'll have to look at studies on the comparison between lower and higher carbohydrate diets.

    While the topic of lower versus higher carbohydrate diets is extremely complex, I do think that ketogenic diets may lead to more muscle loss and an increase in thyroid problems down the road.[198-200]

    Even many previous ketosis proponents such as Dave Asprey now recommend to at least cycle in and out of ketosis to prevent creating health problems.

    Of course, low-carb diets also have benefits such as possibly helping you deal with diabetes.[200-204] 

    Conclusion: a straightforward recommendation to stay in ketosis all the time is not something I can support for everyone. But if you can handle ketosis all the time, then I'm very happy for you... 

  • you're missing out on certain nutrients such as vitamin C, manganese, and potassium

    First, the elephant in the room: vitamin C.

    Let's take a quick detour into history to consider vitamin C:

    A few hundred years ago, sailors to the East and West Indies discovered that the crew of a ship developed a condition called "scurvy" when not enough vitamin C is consumed. The solution was to provide citrus fruits to prevent scurvy.

    (I'm grossly oversimplifying the historical narrative here).


    Able to withstand this view, carnivores?


    Now the million (or billion) dollar question is: "will you end up with scurvy on a carnivore diet because you're not consuming any (citrus) fruits?"

    Answer: it depends...

    First of all, many people assume that animal foods don't contain vitamin C--the opposite is true.

    4 ounces of beef liver, for example, contains 35% of the recommended daily allowance of vitamin C. Other organs such as the tongue or adrenals also contain vitamin C.

    4 ounces (100 grams) of oysters give you 13% of your daily recommended allowance of vitamin C. Raw milk - if it's fresh - also contains that vitamin.

    Now, those numbers are not high--but carnivore diet proponents claim they don't need to be. It's very probable that on a lower-carb diet, you'll actually need less vitamin C.

    Am I comfortable with such a low vitamin C intake? No.

    Why?

    I'm not convinced that avoiding vitamin C consumption does not lead to problems down the road.

    Cooking by itself also lower the vitamin C content of food. Remember my story about widespread cooking being introduced only 800,000 years ago? Raw liver or milk, after they're heated, thus contain even less vitamin C.

    And contrary to many other animals, humans cannot synthesize vitamin C themselves anymore - you and I lost that ability in evolution. 

    Losing the ability to synthesize vitamin C in the body is extremely remarkable, as that loss entails that humans had plenty of vitamin C available during long stretches of time. Without plenty of available vitamin C, humans would not have survived if they had an inability to synthesize the vitamin.

    And yet, there's also evidence to the contrary: 

    Some cultures, such as the Intuit in Alaska and Canada, ate almost no plant food for most of the year and did not develop scurvy. Nonetheless, the Intuit do consume the entire animal and often eat their meats raw - upping their C intake.

    Make no mistake: vitamin C is essential to your health. Vitamin C keeps your skin looking nice (through stimulating collagen production), helps wounds heal, protects your brain function, and prevents some brain diseases.[205-207]

    Another problem is that you don't need much vitamin C to prevent scurvy.[208; 209] An optimal level of vitamin C is thus much higher than the amount required to prevent scurvy, and the level consumed on a carnivore diet.

    Not having scurvy does not entail that your body's vitamin C levels are optimal. I don't even think carnivores should settle for the minimal amount...

    So why are vitamin C needs purportedly lower on a carnivore diet?

    Well, the more glucose (or carbohydrates) you ingest, the more vitamin C you'll probably need.[213] Fortunately, you won't (directly) consume any glucose on a carnivore diet. 

    (Your body does convert protein into glucose, which is another possible issue).

    Example:

    Let's say you're consuming lots of carbohydrates. Higher vitamin C requirements are unproblematic when eating mostly fruits on a high carbohydrate diet - fruits themselves contain vitamin C.

    If you're heavily relying on grains in your diet, however, that vitamin C requirement may be problematic - grains may increase your body's need for vitamin C, without supplying much vitamin C of their own.

    Carnivore diet proponents may have a point in claiming that vitamin C is not necessary in the amounts commonly assumed. But am I willing to put out a straightforward recommendation stating that vitamin C does not really matter?

    No...

    Now, vitamin C is not the only nutrient you may become deficient in on a carnivore diet - there's also a mineral called "manganese".

    Manganese, a mineral, is not that heavily present in most (organ)meats, crustaceans (lobster, crab, shrimp), and (shell)fish).

    But: mussels and clams are sky-high in manganese. If you eat these foods twice a week, you'll be golden as a carnivore in the manganese department.

    There's another layer to my argument though:

    Phytic acid - an antinutrient which I've talked about earlier - inhibits manganese absorption. Due to manganese from plants being more poorly absorbed, you may need less of the mineral on a carnivore diet.

    Moving on:

    Calcium?

    The solution is simple: eat some bones, such as those found in sardines. Such fish bones are edible.

    For some reason, bone broth is not a good source of calcium, as the calcium from the bones does not leach into the broth.[214; 215] The only way to get lots of minerals in your bone broth is to add vegetables to the mix.

    Both low manganese and calcium levels are thus no valid counterarguments against the carnivore diet - only vitamin C is so far...

    Lastly, how about potassium?

    Potassium is kind of a problem - unless you consume higher quantities of organ meats.

    You may think: "great, I'll eat two pounds of beef liver a day, and my potassium intake will be golden".

    Big mistake.

    You cannot consume unlimited amounts of organ meats because you'll end up with an unbalanced nutritional profile.

    Liver contains a very high amount of copper and vitamin A, for example. Heart contains lots of copper as well. Too much copper can displace zinc in your body, a mineral that's very important for mental well-being, recovery, sleep, growth processes, and your overall thinking ability.

    I do think that potassium on a carnivore diet can be problematic. Some people on the carnivore diet supplement with potassium to keep their levels up - which is weird. If the carnivore diet were nutritionally fully sound, supplementation with potassium should not be needed.

    (One counterargument that carnivore diet proponents make is that more carbohydrates (from plant foods) increase the need for potassium and that therefore a carnivore diet requires you to consume less potassium. I cannot corroborate this claim scientifically, but based upon observations of carnivores in nature, the claim may be true.)

    So should supplementation be held against the carnivore diet?

    Not necessarily...

    A counterargument is that many diets force you to supplement. The Standard American Diet is far too low in magnesium, potassium, zinc, vitamin E, K2, and D3 (at higher latitudes), copper (from organ meats), high-quality vitamin A, and other nutrients.

    So I cannot hold a potassium deficiency against a carnivore diet per se, if so many other diets have you end up with nutritional deficiencies as well...

    Next counterargument against the carnivore diet:

  • you're eating meat from grain-fed conventional animals as opposed to 100% grass-fed organic beef (or other meat sources).

    Yes, I do believe there's a big difference between eating meat that is pasture raised versus conventionally fed.

    Conventionally grown meats have higher levels of fatty acids called "omega 6".[286] Those omega 6 fatty acids need to be balanced with omega 3s. In a traditional diet, the ratio between omega 6 and 3 is about 4:1.

    Grass-fed beef even contains higher levels of the most important antioxidant of your body, called glutathione.[286; 287] 

    Unfortunately, no high-quality studies can currently be found proving beyond a shadow of a doubt that organic meats are worth it (but the contrary cannot be proven either).

    I still do recommend buying pasture-raised meats and eggs, and to buy organic. Why? Because it can be reasonably expected that such foods lead to health improvements.

    Indications exist that organic meats contain lower levels of pesticides.[345; 346] Reducing the toxin load is often the main reason people eat organic in the first place.

    Of course, the greater safety of organic alternatives should already be proven for a long time, but most research money in medicine is allocated towards studying prescription medicines.

  • your will blood work deteriorate? High cholesterol or blood pressure levels often brought up as unwanted carnivore diet side-effects.

    Let's explore that claim...

    Should you worry about having higher cholesterol levels? I'm not convinced, although I do believe that high blood pressure is a good predictor of having blood vessel or heart disease.

    Why?

    Well, cholesterol is essential for you to live, your body produces it, and the form you produce is the one that's stored. Moreover, it's not cholesterol that's problematic, but carriers of cholesterol called "lipoproteins".

    Almost all the cholesterol you consume, additionally, is excreted again - eating tons of beef will thus not cause problems there.

    To be clear: I do think lipoprotein particles that carry cholesterol can be damaging, but, those particles have little to do with your diet.[347; 348]

    Again, blood pressure is a better predictor of heart disease than the more commonly focused on cholesterol levels, and blood pressure often declines on a diet that's lower in carbohydrates (compared to higher carb diet that like the Standard American Diet).[349-350]

    The counterargument against the carnivore diet regarding deteriorating blood panels does thus not hold. I'm not afraid that a carnivore diet decreases heart and blood vessel health.

    Next:

  • you may end up with colon cancer--or not!?[272-277]

    If you trust mainstream advice about eating red meat, you'd end up believing that meat causes cancer.

    Is that true?

    Let me answer that question indirectly:

    Only if you also believe that drinking a moderate amount of alcohol (as opposed to no alcohol) is healthy for you. 

    Both conclusions are based on research on associations, not causation.

    In other words, the link between (red) meat consumption and cancer has only been established in so-called "epidemiological studies". The link does seem to be firmly established in processed meats. 

    But red meat, in general, causing cancer? Even if red meat increased your risk, your risk would remain extremely low.[278] In other words, the association between red meat consumption and cancer is very weak.

    Additionally, even negative associations can sometimes be found sometimes with high red meat consumption and cancer.[279] 

    No worries here.

    What should worry you is using higher cooking temperatures - which I've mentioned before. 

    Now, I do want to be completely fair here. Fruit and vegetable consumption is associated with lowered colon cancer risks.[351-353]

    The protective effects of fruits and vegetables on the digestive system are another reason why I'm not convinced a 100% carnivore diet is the way to go (forever). Yes, the relationship is associative and not causal, but the effect is quite strong.

    Bottom line: eating just meat may not increase your colon cancer risk, but avoiding plant foods does remove some benefits you may have otherwise had.


  • the carnivore diet may simply help you succeed because you're cutting out almost all food groups.

    Restrictive diets often work because the fewer food choices you have, the less you tend to overeat.

    If I thus give you a diet on which you may only consume green vegetables and eggs, you'll lose a lot more weight than when you're following a diet on which no foods are restricted but have to count calories.

    The same may be true on a carnivore diet: if you've got just one (beef) food choice, or only a few (animal foods), then you're naturally going to consume less food compared to when you can choose from many different food types and combinations.


So many food choices: if you're full of one food,
the sight of another food makes you hungry again.

 

That's it: all the potential benefits and downsides of a carnivore diet...

Many other issues with the carnivore diet can possibly be found, such as the effects of more protein from meat on kidney function,[282] accelerated aging due to protein,[282; 283] or problems with specific building blocks in proteins called "amino acids".[285; 286]

I'm not going to treat all these options in great detail here. Suffice it to say that I'm not afraid that a carnivore diet will inhibit kidney function or quicken aging - if you use the diet correctly.

You thus have to consume bone broth, gelatin, or collagen, to keep your protein intake balanced.

Eating organ meats is also necessary for the best outcome.



(Nerd section: The reason I'm strongly recommending bone broth, gelatin, and collagen is to reduce homocysteine levels - and organ meats for their B vitamins have the same reason. Checking your homocysteine levels is not simple, and insurance often does not cover a lab test. One of the quickest ways to find out whether you're susceptible to the damaging effects of higher homocysteine levels - which may result in heart disease - is to do a genetic test. Magnesium, which I've recommended earlier, also brings down homocysteine. Eggs and liver are also important for choline sources, which can help lower homocysteine.

The topic of methylation is one very important reason I cannot recommend everyone to follow the carnivore diet for longer periods of time - just as iron status is.)



One last issue: proponents of the carnivore diet often claim that there's no proof that plant foods are essential in a human diet.

Well, let's assume that I create a diet on which just eggs and milk are allowed. In that case, there's no proof that meat is necessary in a diet either - I can simply conclude that eggs and milk are the only foods I'll ever need to consume to survive.

The problem in thinking that just one or a few foods as absolutely essential, and the exclusion of all other foods, is that it ignores the fact that human beings can thrive on many different foods.

Example:

Tubers are often a "fallback food", in times when higher-quality foods are unavailable. Does that mean that you should never consume tubers again?

No...

Another example:

You can also survive on beef, at the exclusion of shellfish. If you then conclude that shellfish are not absolutely essential, and therefore think that you don't have to consume them anymore, you're making a mistake...

Alternatively, you may also survive on pork at the exclusion of beef - does that entail that beef is not essential?

I hope not...

By the way, want to receive 10 practical tips for making your carnivore diet experience even better? These tips are not included in this full blog post:

 

Almost done...

One last section before the conclusion: my recommendations for going on the carnivore diet: 

 

Return To Table Of Contents

6. MY CARNIVORE DIET RECOMMENDATIONS

Finally...

My recommendations.

The first one: if you do choose to follow the carnivore diet, you'll do so at your own risk. I do think that the inclusion of plant foods into a diet is recommended for most people.

But: plant foods also bring me to the topic of food intolerances.

To me, there are to "brute facts" regarding the carnivore diet:

  1. The carnivore diet has given some people tremendous results in improving their health - results they do not have on other diets.
  2. The validity of the carnivore diet from either an evolutionary perspective or a modern scientific perspective is not completely sound.

Of course, these two brute facts contradict each other (but perhaps not directly).

So here's what I think:

The fact that many people thrive on a carnivore diet means that there's something to it.

Where I agree with carnivore diet proponents is that I would not recommend consuming grains, seeds, and legumes as staples of a diet for most people.

Where I disagree is the role of carbohydrates in health.

Fruits and tubers are probably the safest carbohydrate sources. To know whether you should add fruits or tubers (or other carbohydrates) to your diet, however, you'll have to test.

Apart from genetic testing, there's no way to immediately find out what you're intolerant to. Testing for food intolerance through an elimination diet is thus a highly recommended health strategy.

Bottom line: a carnivore diet can act as a foundational diet. If you do well on this diet, you may be able to slowly add foods back into your diet and see whether you have issues with them.

With lots of experimenting over the years I know which vegetables and fruits work best for me. Carrots, spinach, and oranges are my top-3 picks - I perfectly digest these.

I do very well on (sweet) potatoes and milk too. 

You may even add rice or (raw) honey as carb sources that are often safe, and test many other foods.

Many people on the carnivore diet are going to send me hate e-mails for me saying this, but:

After transitioning to an exclusive carnivore diet, I think that slowly adding plant foods that you tolerate over time will make your diet more balanced.

When re-introducing foods, don't assume that doing well after having no immediate (immune) response with a newly introduced food.

Some people have delayed responses to foods when they are (re)-introduced.[210-212] If you seem to tolerate re-introduced food that may be an illusion: the negative effect sometimes only comes after a period of time.

Example: 

Let's say I re-introduce nightshades into my carnivore diet: I'm adding some hot peppers to my ground beef. If I don't have a reaction after a few hours or one day, it doesn't mean I'm safe.

Negative responses to foods can sometimes take time. Nightshades may make your joints hurt the next day, or after that, for example.

And yet, in a sense, my argument in favor of plants should also be moderated:

People who have followed the carnivore diet for longer periods of time seem to be doing very well.

That's fascinating...

No-one on the carnivore diet has ended up with a vitamin C deficiency yet - although that fact has yet to be demonstrated in high-quality studies. 

(I'm not talking about just ten people here, hundreds if not thousands of individuals have tried the carnivore diet long-term.)

And because many different individuals have followed such a carnivore diet for a longer period of time, the diet also teaches you about the human diet in general.

A very primordial truth, such as "vitamin C is necessary for optimal health", may be fundamentally untrue in some circumstances (such as low-carb diets).

In the rest of this section, I'll give some recommendations that make your time on the carnivore diet easier...

So what are carnivore diet survival tools or supplements? I recommend the following:

Including these recommendations are part of my ethical obligations as a blogger...

  • Supplement your potassium levels.

    Here's the potassium product I recommend (it's dirt cheap):





    Take a few scoops with meals every day. 

    Warning: start supplementing very slowly with potassium, as this substance can lower your blood pressure extremely quickly.

    Don't take more than 2-3 scoops of this product per meal. Even though you may need much higher dosages of potassium for optimal levels, taking it through a potassium supplement can can be dangerous.

    A better route to circumvent potassium supplement is to slowly introduce some tolerated vegetables into your diet again.

  • Add high-quality salt to your meals.

    I'm recommending Murray River Gourmet Salt Flakes from Australia as the best salt option right now:



    Some individuals on the carnivore diet, however, do not add salt to their meals. Experiment what works best for you, but I'm strongly leaning towards adding salt.

    (my reasoning for this specific salt type is laid out in my blog post about the same topic - this salt has been tested twice in independent studies and is concluded to be lowest in toxic heavy metals. Of course, more qualities could be tested for (such as microplastics), but given the limited evidence available right now, this is the best option.)

  • Add bone broth to your diet, but only over time.

    Bone broth is not always benign - some people have immunological responses to consuming that food.

    The solution to that problem is to avoid using bone broth at the beginning of the carnivore diet, and only add it in later.

    Fortunately, if you're intolerant towards bone broth, the immune response is generally quick. Phrased differently, you'll feel the results the same day if you've got an immunological reaction from consuming bone broth.

    Before you add in bone broth, you can rely on consuming collagen or gelatin protein. Both proteins have many of the same benefits that bone broth has.

    (Note: I've written an extensive guide on bone broth, gelatin, and collagen).

    I recommend the following gelatin and collagen products:

    Aspen Naturals Grass Fed Beef Gelatin Powder:

    This gelatin comes from 100% grass-fed cows and does not contain any additives. Then there's Antler Farms Collagen Protein:

    This collagen is also sourced from 100% grass-fed cows, and free of pesticides and chemicals.

    Either choose gelatin or collagen: collagen is easier to digest, but gelatin is cheaper. If you're not consuming tons of bone broth, add 1 tablespoon of gelatin or collagen per pound of meat that you consume.

  • Next, there's "betaine HCL", which help you digest the proteins you're eating:


    Remember I told you that many people have too little stomach acid (instead of too much)? With too little stomach acid food won't be digested properly in the gut.

    Taking betaine HCL before your meals ensures that more stomach acid is produced so that you can properly digest all those carnivore meals.

  • You may initially also want to support your body's ability to break down fats.

    Ox bile and lipase can help in those instances.

    Many people are not accustomed to breaking down higher amounts of fat, especially when coming from a high carb diet.

  • Get a magnesium supplement. 

    Yes, I know, my magnesium recommendation is not just applicable to following a carnivore diet, but any other diet as well.

    And yet, getting enough magnesium has massive benefits as I've described earlier. Thus: get some magnesium in pill form, powder form (powder is much cheaper per dose).

  • Supplement with vitamin C, just to be 100% sure.

    I've got a huge moral responsibility as a blogger. I'm not willing to recommend a carnivore diet, and see people end up with health problems due to my recommendations.

    Thus: get vitamin C as an insurance policy. There's almost no downside in taking vitamin C, as it's a single ingredient product. Vitamin C is also dirt cheap...

    Don't take high amounts of vitamin C around workouts.

    Until conclusive research is out that vitamin C is not necessary on a ketogenic diet, I'll keep including this recommendation.

  • Other tools? The following ones aren't necessary, but they may help you in your journey.

    First, a slow cooker or pressure cooker for creating large batches of bone broth. 

    Secondly, you may want to add some canned fish - sticking to a carnivore diet can be hard if you're at work or traveling. Having a few cans of fish in your backpack easily solves that problem. 

    Get sardines, oysters, or clams.

    Simple...

Another recommendation is to slowly ease into the carnivore diet over a period of 2-3 months.[296]

And yet, I think this suggestion can yield a massive benefit for many people. 

How?

Assume that you're eating 3 meals a day - in that case:

  • For the first month, eat one carnivore meal, and keep your other two meals the same as before
  • In the second month, transition to two full carnivore meals.
  • During the third month, go full carnivore.

Of course, you may speed this process up to using more carnivore meals every 2 weeks instead of each month - up to you.

The benefit of that slow method is that your gut can slowly transition toward handling larger amounts of meat.

Most people automatically transition towards 2 meals a day once they're on the carnivore diet for a longer period of time. An alternative method of using this diet is to cut out the third meal of the day (that still contains plant foods) after a period of two months. 

To me, the transitioning period of a carnivore diet is one of the biggest problems that preclude many people from trying in the first place.

Digestive adaptation and the keto flu take many people by surprise.

After the transitioning period into a carnivore diet, make sure to stay on the diet for a month so that you may test your food intolerances.

But let's now consider the finishing touches...

First:

A frequent question: "should I measure ketone levels on a carnivore diet?"

Short answer: no.

Long answer: there's no reason to measure ketone levels, as you're often consuming lots of protein on a carnivore diet. Some of that protein is going to be converted into glycogen (a carbohydrate).

That glycogen is going to keep you out of ketosis.

Remember that the goal of the carnivore diet is not to be in ketosis--the goal is to improve your health. 

If your health is improving, it should be a sign that the carnivore diet is working. If your health is not improving after some time, then the diet may not be for you.

You may also think: "should everyone test a carnivore diet?"

My answer: no.

Believe it or not, but I think ketogenic or very low carb diets are more stressful than eating carbohydrates.

There's a great advantage to eating carbohydrates. The human body even has a preference for carbohydrates if both fats and carbohydrates are available.

You also need to actively deprive the body of carbohydrates for longer periods of time to be able to adapt to an exclusive fat and protein diet.

The sicker you are, the higher a toll the carnivore diet (or ketogenic diet) will take on your body. There's an exception to that rule though: if you're sick directly due to food intolerances, tying a carnivore diet will be more highly recommended.

Keep in mind that many people do best on a carnivore diet after 3-6 months. 

Just transitioning to being able to break down more fatty acids from meats takes 1-4 weeks. For that reason, I included many of the supplement to help you break down the meat before. 

I'm not giving a cut-off point of exactly when to determine you've been on the diet for long enough to assess the results. Why? Well, everyone's slightly different, lives in different environments, and has different lifestyles.

No one-size-fits all advice to be found here...

If you do test the carnivore diet, do so properly.

Lots of people write an online experience article in which they claim to follow the carnivore diet but then conclude after 14 days that the diet doesn't work.

These people often come from a Standard American Diet, and thus make a full switch to a diet that almost does not contain any carbohydrates.

The problem with that approach is that you need lots of time to fully adapt to ketosis. Again, you're probably not going to feel your best during the first few weeks.

A simple analogy is quitting smoking: even after quitting cigarettes for 2 weeks, you may not feel as good as before, as you'll still have huge cravings. But after 6 weeks or 12 weeks, there might be a noticeable difference.

But you would not conclude on the basis of quitting smoking for just two weeks that you'd have to go back to cigarettes because you're feeling worse now, right?

Don't make that same logical mistake with the carnivore diet.

Proponents of the carnivore diet - who are much more experienced with this diet than me - even claim that adaptation takes up to 6 months.

Hence: don't write an article on this diet, based on experience, after trying for just 2 weeks. That experience is invalid.

Conclusions like that are like saying "I tried strength training for 14 days, but I don't see much of a difference in the mirror, so strength training does not work for increasing muscle mass".

Big mistake...

One caveat: I do wonder whether individual experiences of people on the carnivore diet that are posted online are biased towards the positive.

Why?

If you're having a tremendously positive experience, you're probably more prone to publish that experience online. If you're having an experience that is not so well, you're less likely to post it.

Publication bias is an enormous problem in scientific studies, and it may also be for the carnivore diet. 

You may think: "should I stay on the carnivore diet forever?" 

I don't think so, but time will tell.

I can be wrong too (and I've been wrong many times in my life).

Here's my view:

If you do well on plants, their compounds probably have more health benefits than downsides. 

Certain compounds in plants are beneficial precisely because they cause stress on the body.[293] Phytochemicals that you ingest from eating spinach or berries, for example, make your liver work harder. As a result, your liver becomes healthier.

Of course, for some people, the stress of eating plant foods is too much, which is why I think the carnivore diet has a time and place...

So overall, I'm not willing to put out a straightforward recommendation out there to avoid all plant foods.

Of course, I'm very skeptical of the flipside of that argument as well: the recommendation to cut out all animal foods (from vegans).

Even though vegans are in good health in the short to mid-long-term, over time their health is far from optimal. 

And I admit: there are vegans who have decent health after following that diet for 1-2 years. 

The same may happen with the carnivore movement when all animal foods are cut out.

May I be proven wrong on that assertion?

Sure.

But again: only time will tell...

Lastly, you may be curious about my experience with a carnivore diet.

I've not (yet) followed a pure carnivore diet yet.

I have experienced with a diet that's much higher in meats than most people are willing to consume though. 

When I was still strength training 4-6 times a week, during 2005 - 2015, one of my favorite meals was an "all you can eat" 100% ground beef meal. 

I'd often consume 2.2 pounds of meat in one sitting, going up as high as 3.3 pounds. I intuitively felt that such an approach was very worthwhile for increasing strength and mass back then.

It was...

The more meat I consumed, the bigger my strength gains became.

Would I recommend such a regimen today?

Not at all - I no longer believe maximal strength or muscle development is a proper goal for us Homo sapiens, as brain development is our "main feature". 

Brains before brawn for me now...

 

Return To Table Of Contents

7. CONCLUSION: EXPERIMENT WISELY WITH THE CARNIVORE DIET

I'm anxiously waiting to observe where the carnivore diet develops in the coming years. I'd love to see high-quality studies investigating whether the claims of carnivore diet proponents can really hold true. 

So what's my conclusion?

I think there's a time and place for the carnivore diet for excluding food intolerance. If you've got issues there, getting on a carnivore diet can be strongly recommended to discover what's causing the distress. 

If you then find out you don't do well on plants, by all means, stay on the carnivore diet (at your own risk).

Am I fully convinced a carnivore diet is the way to go for everyone?

Not at all...

In fact, I've seen people go really fundamentalist on this diet.

"It's never just one deviation from the carnivore diet, you'll continue that pattern"

"A small mistake can set you back for weeks or months"

Such quotes make me think of the radically deceptive and pseudo-scientific Alcoholics Anonymous' statement: "one drink is too many and a thousand are not enough"

Why?

Let me explain:

If you've still got cravings for certain foods, and eating just one cheat meal sets you on a rampage consuming non-carnivore foods for days, then the carnivore diet is a really poor choice for you.

I do therefore not see the carnivore diet as the "best thing since sliced bread" (or was bread the original sin instead?)

A carnivore diet is a tool in a toolbox. You need to use the right tool for the right circumstance. You may even end up really loving the diet after some time, as many others do. 

And even though I'm critical of this carnivore diet, I cannot join the very negative sentiment of the dietary establishment against this diet either.

Saying there's no proof in favor of the carnivore diet, and strongly implying that the diet should thus be avoided is by all is completely deceptive.

Once upon a time, there was no proof humans should fly. Following the logic of the carnivore diet's opponents, your forefathers 3-4 generations ago should not even have tried - there was no proof humans could fly back then.

When you were still crawling, no proof existed that you could walk either. And yet, you tried and learned to walk anyway.

Of course, if do you go on a carnivore diet, you're doing so in the absence of proof, and there are certain risks involved.

The first air flights were risky for humans, and there's also a certain risk involved with trying a carnivore diet (because you're among the first to test it).

Try at your own risk - only one way to find out whether the diet works (dramatically well) for you.

Lots of people have good results on this diet - entailing that it's just a fad diet it was made out to be.

And even if so, there's truth in every fad diet...

 

The future is for the daring, not the people who blindly believe dogma.

Sure, taking some risks in life is dangerous, but not thinking for yourself and following what others prescribe you to do is even more dangerous.

Try a carnivore diet (and for God's sake, execute properly).

If you get great results, that's amazing. If you get sub-optimal results, learn, and switch back to what you were doing before.

It's that simple...

Maybe you need a somewhat altered carnivore diet, with meat and fruits, to make up for the possible deficiencies on this diet.

Try. Think for yourself. Reject dogma...

Fortune favors the bold - even in science.

You deserve the best...

Oh yeah, dinner is ready:

Or should I say breakfast?



Author: Bart Wolbers. Bart finished degrees in Physical Therapy, Philosophy (BA and MA), Philosophy of Science and Technology (MSc: Cum Laude), and Clinical Health Science (MSc).



 

Read my other blog posts:

Why Everything You've Heard About Salt Is Wrong (Seriously) And How To Easily Manage Your Sodium Intake

Zinc: Forgotten Mineral? Best Zinc Foods, Supplements, And Secrets

Rethinking Magnesium: Why You're Deficient And Need To Supplement (Quick Fix)

Vitamin K: Why You're Deficient (And What To Do About It)

The Ultimate Bone Broth, Gelatin, and Collagen Protein Guide (2018)

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