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Carnivore Diet- Sustainable Ancestral Diet or Dangerous Fad?

Chris
Posted by: Chris August 22, 2018

We will be adding more to this article in the future so make sure to check back in or follow us on social media to stay up to date. There is more and more information coming out every day as more people learn about the diet and try it for themselves. I will be trying this diet again this winter and Thaddeus is planning on doing the same. 

Imagine a diet where you only ate things that for many years were considered bad for you. Things like bacon, steaks, ribs, butter and burgers have been demonized for quite a while now for many different reasons.

What if someone told you that you could eat all those things, skip the veggies and still be healthy?

That's what many people are saying about the carnivore diet.

I'm typing away in between bites of a large ribeye and washing it down with some home-made bone broth. It's been a little tough to get used to but surprisingly not as much as I thought.

Carnivore Diet aka Zero Carb Diet

I've been seeing more and more talk about the carnivore diet and all the benefits people have gained from it so I knew I needed to investigate further.

Proponents of this diet have made some pretty amazing claims about the benefits that they've received by going on this diet. Some are a little hard to believe but because I love experimenting, I decided to dive into it and see what I could find out and even try the diet out for myself. I'll try to dig into the science behind this and also try it out myself for a few months while undergoing testing throughout the experiment.

What is the Carnivore Diet?

If there is a diet that is the antithesis of the vegan diet, then the Carnivore diet is it.  As for anyone who has not heard of the carnivore diet, well it is exactly what it sounds like, a diet consisting of meat and water.  What about vegetables you may ask, well those are reserved for omnivorous and vegetarian/vegan diets.

Just like any diet approach, there are variables that can be tweaked on carnivore.  With Paleo you will hear zealots argue about legumes, some vegetarians will choose to eat poultry or dairy, the vegan community may not agree on honey, either way, you get the point; there are those 100% committed to the rules and others who see the strategy as a blueprint that can be adjusted for individual needs.  I have met carnivore purists who adhere to a diet of only meat and water, others who allow for dairy and even some that will pull in plant-based foods like coffee and/or plant adaptogen supplements.  For research and understanding, I have gone through periods of both strict adherence as well as allowing for some individualized leniency.  Personally, I have found value in the carnivore diet approach, with little to no subjective effect when deviating from strict adherence – intermittently I allowed for coffee and a few supplements that are plant-based.

Many people start this diet and stick to just a couple of things like ground beef and steak and have seen amazing results, but I'm going to incorporate a few other things that should help to optimize this diet.

Since I'm trying to perform at the absolute best and want to give my body and mind the best chance for success I'll be adding in many different animal products to give myself a more well rounded and ancestrally accurate type of diet (where meat is concerned). I'll be including meat from various sources including farm raised (grass-fed), wild game and also seafood. I'll also be including things like organ meat and bone broth to increase the number of nutrients that I am getting from my food.

So why start a diet in the first place that seems so extreme?  There are a whole host of reasons, but let’s start with something that provides visual feedback…weight loss!  Many Americans and other parts of the world that have adopted American food and lifestyle struggle with weight management, this focus is important not just for aesthetics but also to address the multitude to health issues that correlate with being overweight.  If you have seen the social media posts of people using the carnivore diet, you may wonder how anyone can possibly lose weight eating that much fat, protein and red meat.  While there are a lot of reasons that this seemingly counter-intuitive approach facilitates weight loss, we will limit our attention to a couple of reasons that are fairly easy concepts to understand.

Weight loss

Almost everyone has heard about insulin whether in the context of diabetes or maybe even performance enhancement. We know that insulin plays a huge role in our physiological health, but we also know that too much insulin can wreak havoc on our health.  Through diabetes research, we better understand how carbohydrates can potentiate the secretion of insulin, a hormone that signals the body to store available blood sugar as fat and glycogen.  If we reduce the volume and frequency of carbohydrates in the diet, we subsequently reduce the circulating blood glucose and insulin that can result in increased fat stores. 

Different macronutrients cause different levels of satiety after ingested, protein being the king of satiety [r]. If a diet or type of food improves the length of time in which one is satisfied and not hungry, we can then assume the person will eat less and are less likely to give into cravings.  Don’t get me wrong, you can out eat a good diet approach, but it takes focused effort to eat excessive calories if you are sticking to the macros guidelines – there are a small number of individuals with genetic and hormone imbalances that can allow people to overeat even on a highly satiating diet [r].

Lower Inflammation

Let’s not stop with the benefits, next up is inflammation and how it is affected by the carnivore approach.  As previously mentioned around heart health, excess sugar can cause an inflammatory response that can affect the gut, nervous system and multiple other tissues in the body.  Since the carbohydrate intake is so low on a carnivore diet, there is also a higher potential to dip in and out of ketosis.  The ketones produced during ketosis provide an anti-inflammatory effect, of which science does not fully understand, but no need to wait for science to explain before taking control of your own health.  Since I am not a doctor nor is this article written to treat disease, I will not dive into the proven benefits for individuals suffering from epilepsy, Parkinson’s and many other neurological diseases, but if you or someone you know suffers from a neurological disease it may benefit to look into carnivore or at least a ketogenic diet[r].

Testosterone boost

What about testosterone?  Men and women alike now better understand the importance of optimizing this hormone that seems to have the properties of the Fountain of Youth.   Since testosterone is made in the body from cholesterol and saturated fat, removing or reducing these fats can result in sub-optimal testosterone levels[r].  Testosterone helps maintain/increase muscle mass, ensure a healthy libido, promotes longevity, blood sugar control and a host of other positive impacts.  No one, man or woman, can neglect the importance of this marker on their health if their focus is to optimize overall wellness.

Better digestive health

Possible Negatives

Digestive Issues

One of the first things that people ask when I mention trying out this diet is whether the lack of fiber caused constipation or other digestive issues and that was one of my concerns going into this experiment. I felt pretty confident after talking to a few other people that if I did have any issues then they would only last a week at most. Come to find out, I didn't experience any negative issues with my digestion at all.

Heart Attack Risk

Will all of this fat and protein cause a heart attack?  This is a concern mostly resulting from misinformation from the low-fat high-carb era, but does have some validity.  If you have had your 23andMe done and found that you are the lucky winner of the APOE4 variant, then a diet higher in saturated fat may not be best for you as it could result if an unsafe increase in LDL cholesterol.  On the flipside, there is a high likelihood that this approach can reverse plaque buildup in the heart/arteries of individuals who do not have the genetic hurdle previously mentioned.  Interestingly, Dr. Rocky Patel implemented the CarbNite diet strategy (not carnivore but it is high protein, high fat and low carb) popularized by physicist John Keifer, and found that both he and his patients had statistically favorable results with reducing built up arterial plaque [r].  Another interesting nugget of information is that excess glucose can cause an inflammatory response in the body and when paired with high cholesterol and blood triglycerides, the result can be the accumulation of arterial plaque; if you simply remove or reduce the variable causing the inflammatory response (sugar in this case), you may encourage the body to clean up the plaque as well as the cholesterol and triglyceride markers that are out of whack.

Environmental Impact

One concern that is important to me as a co-custodian of this earth is the sustainability of a high amount of meat consumption.  Unfortunately, we do not have any data to show how our ecosystem is affected by large swaths of people relying heavily or solely on meat, but we can at least look make good guestimates on the impact of our choices.  Similar to the argument against vegans and monocropping, probably the most important concept is – how is our food cared for prior to human consumption [r].  Monocropping and massive livestock feedlots are terrible for the environment and for our bodies.  On an organic, biodynamic farm where the livestock and vegetation are effectively rotated in such a way that the farm is seemingly mimicking a natural lifecycle, we are then promoting a practice that will symbiotically work with the natural rhythms of the earth.  This relationship with the earth will allow us to build the infrastructure needed to facilitate a productive environment that will give back to the earth in the form of soil nutrients, improvements in air quality and other environmental variables as well it will provide the nutritional support for all individuals, regardless of their diet strategy.  There are a lot of people on both sides of this argument with great points, but I have personally found a lot of value in Robb Wolf’s view.  I would highly suggest checking out a few of Robb’s podcasts on the subject where he passionately discusses the nuances and unknowns.

Cancer Risks

Another curveball that might derail preparations to start a carnivore diet is the misinformation around cancer that stemmed from the china study.  While meat is not inherently carcinogenic, the proponents of the china study would likely argue otherwise.  Below is a few of the shortcomings associated with the china study:

  • The claims are not fully supported by the data collected during the study
  • There was a full population of people involved whose diet was high in fat and protein – they were assessed and determined to be in good health
  • It was an epidemiological study – these do not determine causation, only correlation and furthermore does not account for the multiple other variables that may have also trended in populations with less than favorable health assessments
  • High blood glucose showed a significantly significant correlation with cancer – guess what has little to no carbohydrates in it….MEAT

I would definitely look at Denise Minger’s article debunking the China Study if this peaks you interest.  China Study aside, it is probably a good idea to select for meats that were raised ethically and naturally, as there is evidence to support the differences of nutritional quality and toxin load depending on how the animal was cared for.  If you are interested in the misinformation and propaganda around meat or want to understand more about ancestral diets and health, Nina Teicholz wrote an excellent resource titled The Big Fat Surprise.   

Not Enough Nutrients

Nutrient intake and variety is also a concern, one that was the first to pop into my mind when I heard about carnivore.  Where will I get my vitamin C from if I don’t eat any citrus fruits?  One of the first things to take into account is not just getting enough of the right nutrients, but also being able to absorb them.  Plants contain compounds referred to anti-nutrients, which affects the absorption of nutrients [r], so one argument would be to eliminate plants or at least the ones with the highest level of nutrient robbing compounds – check out The Plant Paradox by Dr. Steven Gundry for more.  We must also account for bioavailability of the nutrients consumed because this can vary greatly when comparing animal vs. plant sources.  It is well supported that the animal forms for many nutrients seem to be more favorably absorbed and used in the body, Omega 3s and Vitamin A for example.  Next, we have to think about the RDA (Recommended Daily Allowance) for nutrients and how they were determined.  Many of the reference points for nutrients detailed on the RDA(s) were developed in the context of an agricultural based diet, which means that some of the recommendations for nutrients that facilitate carbohydrate metabolism are either skewed or are completely irrelevant in this context.  To close the loop on the previous comment regarding vitamin C, glucose impairs the metabolism of this highly regarded vitamin, uric acid provides a sparring effect and there are several other factors at play provoking one to think “maybe we should go back to the drawing board on these RDA(s).”

While carnivore is not a panacea, it will provide benefit to many.  If you know how to effectively implement dietary changes, analyze the outcome of those changes and pivot accordingly, carnivore is an excellent option.  If you choose to give carnivore a try, just like anything, make sure to research in advance, carefully prep to ensure adherence and most of all enjoy the learning process.  Good luck to you and your nutritional endeavors, and on that note, I am going to finish up sizzling the ribeye and venison marinating in front of me.

My Experience With the Carnivore Diet

carnivore diet transformation before after zero carb

Before I get into my experience with this way of eating, let me give you some background.

For many years I've been experimenting with all types of diets. Well, almost all types..

I've never tried a vegan or vegetarian type diet because, well, I like meat too much. I also believe that there are many advantages to eating close to what my ancestors would have typically eaten for hundreds and even thousands of years and last time I checked there wasn't any record of western and northern Europeans eating a primarily plant-based diet.

I'll start by listing what I typically ate. Then I'll talk about how I felt while on the diet. This includes energy levels, cognitive function, etc. I'll then go into the body composition and then finally my results from the blood tests that I ran. Recently I was asked what my workout routine looked like while on this diet so I will add a section about that as well.

What I Ate

I still did an intermittent fast 2 or 3 times a week. The benefits of IF are too good to cut out completely so I still utilized it as part of my routine.

carnivore diet bacon eggs breakfast zero carb    liverwurst summer sausage bone broth carnivore diet zero carb

On days that I didn’t fast, I usually started off with bacon and eggs or sometimes leftover ribeye from the night before. Here is a list of the primary foods that I ate with the things I ate more of at the top of the list. Keep in mind that all of the products were grass-fed 99% of the time. I know that looking at this list you're going to assume that I spent a fortune on groceries, but I really didn't. I did most of my shopping at either a local farm around here or when there was a good sale at Earthfare I would take a trip up to Indy and stock up on TONS of meat. I bought so much each time that I had to start calling in my order before I left home so that they could have that hour to get it all cut and packaged for me. I was really lucky that a few times I caught ribeye, strip, or filets on sale for 6.99- 9.99 a pound! I did order some steaks from US Wellness Meats a few times but they are a little more pricey.

  • Ribeye
  • New York Strip
  • Filet
  • Venison
  • Bone Broth
  • Liverwurst and summer sausage from US Wellness Meats
  • Grass Fed Beef Sticks
  • Ground beef
  • Salmon
  • Oysters

carnivore diet lunch dinner liverwurst bone broth steak ribeye

How I Felt

To be honest, the first week of the diet was tough. I was tired, moody, experienced brain fog and struggled with headaches and quite a few cravings. I almost felt as if I was getting sick. If you've ever experimented with a ketogenic diet then these symptoms might sound familiar. What I was experiencing was my body being completely confused. I wasn't on a ketogenic diet before starting this experiment because I wanted to experience the full effect of what someone coming from a typical (although very clean) diet would experience. Because of this, my body was used to using quite a bit of carbs as fuel. Once I started this diet I was essentially depriving my body of the fuel that it was accustomed to running on. 

Once I got past the first-week things really started to improve.

Energy levels were much higher than normal and the brain fog completely cleared. My ability to focus and my memory increased Well above normal levels. The cognitive benefits seemed to taper off after a few weeks but that was probably because it became the new normal.

What The Data Showed

For the first month I tracked my ketones and glucose pretty regularly. I was really surprised that my ketones were as high as they were because of the large amount of protein that I was consuming. My ranges were normally anywhere from .5 all the way up to 3.0! I think this had to do with the large amounts of fat I was eating along with the longer than usual periods of time in between meals. In the beginning, I usually only at once or twice a day because I just wasn't hungry. After a month I had to start to force myself to eat past the point of being full because I was dropping weight way too fast. When I started, according to my FitBit Body Scale, I weighed 195.2lbs with a body fat % of 20.15% and a body mass index of 25.77. Keep in mind that these scales aren't very accurate most of the time but they provide a good insight when using them consistently and under the same conditions.

Within 10 days on the diet my numbers were 189.8lbs, 20.11%, and 25.05 BMI. Keep in mind that I hurt my back right after starting the diet so I wasn't working out AT ALL, and wasn't even moving much for the first month so these numbers are from diet alone. By the end of the first month, I was at 185.56lbs, 19.41%, and 24.49 BMI. 

By the end of the third month, I was at 172.61lbs, 14.87% and 22.78 BMI according to my scale. Its been almost 3 months since I finished this experiment and am still consuming most of my calories in the form of animal products but do have plant-based foods sometimes. Right now my scale is telling me that I am at 170lbs, 22.44 BMI and 14.84% BF. I leveled out quite a bit and am very happy where I am at right now when it comes to my weight. Now I am working on increasing lean muscle mass and keeping my body fat % around the same. 

 

 Carnivore diet blood labs zero carb met grassfedCarnivore diet blood labs zero carb met grassfed

As you can see from the lab results above, many biomarkers improved significantly, most notably my testosterone. There are a few things that didn't improve and I will be watching these things closely in the future. I used the Ultimate test from Inside Tracker. You can get a sweet discount by using the code PRIMALHACKER for your own testing.

 

Workout Routine

My workout routine was pretty much the same the whole time. I would usually only workout 3 to 4 times a week and most of them were at home using just a few pieces of equipment like kettlebells, steel maces and a pull-up bar. 

I did practice what is called "greasing the groove" on a daily basis. If you don't know what this is, I'll give you a little description.

Greasing the groove is a term coined by Pavel Tsatsouline, who is considered the father of the kettlebell in the west. According to Pavel, "Strength is a skill," and like any skill, it needs to be practiced daily to really get good at it. Basically, instead of lifting heavy weights which cause tiny tears in your muscles which cause them to adapt, repair and become stronger, you use lighter weight and reps but do them much more often than you would a normal workout. This trains your muscles to fire more efficiently and "greases the groove."

The way I take advantage of this is by setting up a series of basically If This Then That (IFTTT) scenarios. For example, when I walk into my office, I automatically do two pull-ups on the pull-up bar above my desk and when I go outside I do 10 kettlebell swings. When I take a break every 30-60 minutes, I do 10 pushups and when I go to the bathroom I do 10 squats. There are many other things I do throughout the day but these are the most common. 

One day a week I would go to a gym close by that has an ARX machine. If you don't know what an ARX machine is you should really check it out. 

ARX leg press workout exercise

The rest of the days were just simple workouts at home using my pull-up bar, kettlebells, steel maces and whatever else I have around. These workouts lasted anywhere from 30-60 minutes and consisted of whatever I felt like doing at the time.  Here is a YouTube video showing the exercises I used most often during the diet.  I also did some functional movement and climbing a few times a week.

 

Sustainable?

There still aren't any long-term studies to prove or disprove this type of diet but many people have had greats results with this way of eating for long periods of time so for some people, it may be a good choice. We're all different so just because I did well on it doesn't mean that you will. Please consult your doctor before making any major changes to your diet.

From an ancestral perspective, I do think I will experiment with this diet for at least a few months every winter since this is when my ancestors would have eaten mainly things they could hunt or fish. We'll be adding to this article as we experiment more and come across more research.

Have you tried out an all meat diet? Let us know about your experience!

 

 

 

About the Author


Chris

Chris began his journey outdoors foraging medicinal and edible plants, hiking, hunting and camping in the woods around his childhood home in central Indiana. After spending a few years inside a windowless office he knew he needed to be outside and started working outside as an ironworker building tall commercial buildings all around the Midwest.

After a serious accident that resulted in numerous injuries to internal organs and trauma to his brain he began to study and research ways to heal himself and make sure his body and mind was operating at peak levels. After experimenting on himself and helping family and friends to do the same he realized that optimal health and performance through biohacking and ancestral health was one of his biggest passions and decided design his life around this. PrimalHacker is the combination of those two passions.

Chris loves spending time in the woods with his four boys, foraging, practicing martial arts and exploring ways to improve all aspects of health and performance. He is a certified Bulletproof Coach from the first ever class of coaches and a certified holistic health practitioner.


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