Feast On Meat. Enjoy Life. Repeat When Hungry.

This is a new version of my Nutrition 101 post which I wrote a couple of months back. My views on nutrition are always evolving, and from time to time I try to write them down, as this helps me focus. I first thought about naming the post “Nutrition 102” but then I realized that I really want this to communicate how strongly I feel that meat is the basis of our diet, so I chose a variation of Michael Pollan’s classic phrase “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants”. I have a lot of respect for Michael, and his recommendation is technically in line with the axioms I post here, but I do think that putting it on its head is better for most people, as strange as it sounds. Of course we both agree on minimizing ultra-processed food products (that’s what he means by “Eat FOOD”), so there is some overlap.

TL;DR (Abstract)

When looking at everything we know about human nutrition without the plant-based bias, we see that animal foods are the proper base for the human diet, and plant foods can only be seen as supplemental at best, if not detrimental. In what can only be described as the biggest scam in modern times, plant-based ideology has made us believe that plants are healthy and animal foods are not, when actually the reverse is correct. This is self-evident when looking at several lines of evidence, including evolutionary history, comparative anatomy and metabolism as well as the historical record of the religiously motivated plant-based movement. I think it is obvious that humans can thrive on a diet of infrequent, big meals of mostly meat. It may be entirely possible for many to also thrive on diets containing more plant foods and/or carbohydrate, but there are good arguments to think that the meat-based approach, if done properly, could be easier, healthier and also more beneficial for all the animals as well as the environment.

Introduction

I am driven by evidence. I’ve always been a science geek. I’m a big fan of Richard Feynman, Carl Sagan, Neil deGrasse Tyson, and many other scientists who all have one thing in common: They promote(d) the scientific method. Unfortunately in the field of nutrition, and also to a significant degree in medicine, the scientific method is often not applicable. At its core the scientific method relies on experiments which can be conducted in principle by anybody, and which will either be compatible with a given hypothesis or contradict it. This is how scientific theories emerge: Someone formulates a hypothesis, this hypothesis makes a certain prediction, various experiments are conducted, and hopefully none of the experiments contradict the hypothesis, instead all confirm the prediction made. As time goes on, more experiments are done, and the longer the hypothesis survives uncontradicted, the higher our confidence in its validity.

In nutrition it is very hard to do the experiments which would be needed to establish hypotheses like “saturated fat clogs arteries”, “sugar causes diabetes”, “meat causes cancer”, “too much salt is bad for you” and so on. Such statements are usually agreed upon by committees, based on weak statistical data from epidemiological studies combined with mechanistical randomized controlled trials which focus on isolated parts of the supposed phenomenon, looking at surrogate endpoints rather than the actual ones. For example, for “saturated fat clogs arteries” rather than setting up a proper experiment where we give one random group of people more saturated fat over decades, and another one less, nutritional “scientists” will just rely on big heaps of statistical data gathered from food questionnaires and death certificates (real endpoints, but not a proper experiment) and mouse studies looking at markers like LDL cholesterol which in turn is only linked to the actual outcome (cardiovascular disease) through weak epidemiology.

Here’s what Richard Feynman himself said about nutritional science on a BBC programme in the 1980s:

“Because of the success of science there is a kind of a…I think a kind of pseudoscience, social science is an example of a science which is not a science. They don’t do scientific…they follow the forms…you gather data, you do so and so and so forth but they don’t get any laws, they haven’t found anything, they haven’t got anywhere yet, maybe someday they will but it’s not very well developed, but what happens is…even on a more mundane level we get experts on everything. They sound like a sort of scientific experts. They are not scientists. They sit at the typewriter and make up something like: “food grown with fertilizer that’s organic is better for you than food that’s grown with fertilizer that’s inorganic”. Maybe true but it hasn’t been demonstrated one way or the other but they sit there on the typewriter and make up all that stuff as if its science and then become experts on food, organic foods and so on. There is all kind of myths and pseudoscience all over the place. Now’ I might be quite wrong, maybe they do know all these things but I don’t think I’m wrong. You see, I have the advantage of having found out how hard it is to know something, how careful you have to be about checking the experiments, how easy it is to make mistakes and fool yourself. I know what it means to know something and therefore I can’t…I see how they get their information and I can’t believe that they know it. They haven’t done the work necessary, haven’t done the checks necessary, haven’t done the care necessary. I have a great suspicion that they don’t know that this stuff is…and they are intimidating people by it. I think so. I don’t know the world very well…that’s what I think”

Richard Feynman

The point is that since the science of nutrition is in such a horrible state, I have decided to find a line of argumentation which works without long lists of referenced studies. That would just be a case of cherry-picking anyway. Instead I will formulate a list of observations about human nutrition, followed by some axioms that I feel comfortable basing my dietary decisions on.

Of course my observations and axioms still need to be compatible with robust study findings, which to my knowledge they are. They should also be consistent with what we know from evolutionary biology, archeology, anthropology, biology, anatomy and so forth.

Observation: Animal foods are nutritionally complete.

There are many nutrients humans need to thrive. Most people focus only on vitamins and minerals, but there is a longer list of nutrients we call “essential”, which includes vitamins, minerals, some amino acids and some fatty acids. But even that is not the whole picture. As it turns out, many other nutrients are what we call “conditionally essential”, meaning that depending on what is happening in the body (exercise, pregnancy, breast-feeding, sickness) and how much of the essential nutrients we eat, other nutrients which our body can in principle make from the essential nutrients may temporarily become essential, because we need more than we can make. Examples for this would be many of the non-essential amino acids and compounds like carnitine, carnosine and creatine.

With all of that said, one key point is that none of these vital nutrients are only found in plants (in fact some are only found in animal foods), meaning that except for rare medical conditions there is never, ever a need to eat plant foods in order to achieve optimal nutrition. This should be a huge surprise for many people, since the common assumption is that plants are healthy, and meat is bad. This is simply not true.

There are of course many chemical compounds that are only found in plants and which some nutritionists claim are beneficial for us, most notably anti-oxidants and polyphenols. But that is simply not true, or to put it differently: That claim has never been robustly demonstrated to be correct.

One interesting nutrient is vitamin B12. It is only made by bacteria, and humans need to eat it. Animal foods contain trace amounts, which is sufficient for us as long as we eat enough of them. No plant foods contain B12.

Observation: Plant foods are nutritionaLlY deficient.

As we have seen, there is one nutrient which plants do not contain at all: vitamin B12. Is that all that plants lack? No, that is only the tip of the iceberg. Of course there are all the conditionally essential nutrients like carnosine, which are only found in animal foods. Then we have the issue of bioavailability. Although plants contain plenty of essential trace elements like potassium, calcium, iron and zink, they also contain compounds which prevent our digestive system from absorbing them. This is because the goal of plants, with the exception of fruit to some extent, is to not be eaten. Spinach is a good example. It used to be recommended because it contains a lot of iron. Today we know that most iron in plant foods is poorly absorbed, compared to heme-iron, which is the typical form of iron found in animal foods.

The other big problem is that when it comes to vitamins, not only do plants contain less of the B-vitamins, they also contain practically none of the fat-soluable vitamins. For some of those vitamins there are precursors in certain plant foods which we can convert to the actual vitamins, the most well-known of which is beta-carotene, which we can convert to vitamin A. But this conversion is more or less effective from person to person. The same goes for short-chain n-3 acids, which we can in theory convert to EPA and DHA.

Now you’re probably thinking “That’s all very interesting, but what about vitamin C”? Yes, at first glance plants seem to be the only source of this essential vitamin. But as a matter of fact, fresh meat, in particular liver, but also muscle meat, contains some vitamin C. Much less than you would get from plants, but when scientists looked closely at the metabolic pathways involving vitamin C, they discovered that glucose and vitamin C compete for the same receptor on cell membranes. This means that when you eat a lot of glucose (carbs), you may need much more vitamin C, or seen from the other perspective: When you eat mostly meat, the little vitamin C contained in the (rare) steak may be sufficient. And indeed, there are no reports of scurvy (the condition resulting from a lack of vitamin C) in the carnivore community.

OBSERVATION: Plant foods have drug-like effects.

It seems like at least for humans, animal foods are simply providing nutrition, while plants, even though they also provide some nutrition, act more like drugs. Of course there is a big difference between a strawberry and a pharmaceutical drug, but remember that most pharmaceutical drugs are derived from plants. Here the most well known example is probably Aspirin, which is acetylsalicylic acid, which was derived from tree bark, which was traditionally chewed on to relieve pain.

Processing plays a huge role here. Depending on how a plant food is processed, those effects can be reduced or enhanced. Most whole plants, again with the exception of fruit, can be toxic for us unless the proper processing is applied. A very good example for this are kidney beans. Eat them raw and you might die. Soak, rinse and cook them, and most people can tolerate them reasonably well. But even then most plant foods (including said kidney beans) can cause gastrointestinal problems like bloating, gas and irritable bowel syndrome. By irritating the gut lining, plant foods can change the permeability, causing plant compounds to enter the circulation, in turn causing all kinds of problems.

And this, together with the nutritional deficiency, is the problem with the plant-based diet. In order to make it nutritionally complete you have to combine a variety of whole plant foods applying minimal processing (to preserve the desired nutrients), but you would have to process them much more to eliminate all the anti-nutrients. And you will still always have to supplement, at the very least with B12. How could this ever have been an appropriate diet for our species?

Observation: We Have a Canine-like Digestive System

Comparing the digestive system of humans to that of animals like dogs, cats, cows and gorillas is quite revealing. From that list our closest genetic relative is the gorilla, so one would expect that our digestive system is most similar to that of gorillas. But surprisingly, it isn’t. Gorillas are hind gut fermenters and spend most of their life eating plant matter which gets fermented by microbes in their gut, creating short chain fatty acids, which are the primary fuel for gorillas.

Humans on the other hand have a much smaller large intestine and colon, a low stomach pH, as well as other features which are much more similar to a dog’s digestive system and point to an adaptation to digesting meat. And not only small portions of meat along with a big salad. Just like dogs, our GI tract is optimally suited for eating a huge amount of meat in one sitting. That is why we have a gall bladder, which fills up between meals and then releases a big amount of bile when we eat a meal, to increase the absorption of fat.

Observation: Hunter Gatherers EAT twice as much protein as we do, Preferably From Animal Sources.

Traditional hunter-gatherer societies have been studied extensively, and they consistently eat more protein than people in modernized societies do. They eat about 25% protein on average, while modern diets average at about 14%. Those hunter-gatherer diets vary a lot in terms of composition – some eat more animal foods, some less, some more plants, some less. But all of them eat a substantial amount of animal foods when they are available.

As an interesting side note, to my knowledge there are no, nor have there ever been any hunter-gatherer cultures which thrive on salads. The whole practice of eating salads (leafy greens) seems to be a very new addition to our diet which probably originated from the plant-based/vegan movement which I address later in the text. Needless to say that there is no reason to assume that one needs to eat plant leaves to be healthy.

Observation: Humans Do Not Need To Eat Fiber.

There is a nice study that demonstrates that contrary to popular belief, increasing the amount of fiber in the diet does not improve constipation. Paul Mason talks about it, you can find his lectures on YouTube if you’re interested.

But in the spirit of not focusing on studies too much, think about it: Fiber is indigestible plant matter. It is a very important nutrient for species which derive their energy from fermenting fiber in the gut. The prime example for that would be ruminant animals like cattle and sheep. As we have seen, the human digestive system is totally different. We do have a large intestine, and it is true that when we eat fiber, we ferment some of it there and derive a small amount of short chain fatty acid from that process. Proponents of plant-based diets claim that this feeds the cells of the gut lining and is therefore essential.

I don’t think that’s correct. We have to make a distinction here: For people who eat mostly starchy plant foods, fiber may indeed be beneficial. Fiber seems to act like an antidote to the sugar and starch consumed, and on a high-carb diet the liver does not produce a lot of ketone bodies, which might indeed mean that those people need the SCFAs generated from the fermentation of fiber, to feed the gut lining. But those who are on a mostly carnivorous diet enter a state called ketosis, which means that the liver produces ketone bodies, which feed the gut lining “from the inside”. On a keto diet there is by definition no need for a carb antidote.

This means that fiber may be beneficial when you eat a lot of starch, but it could be detrimental when you’re not. You may ask yourself, why detrimental? Turns out that fiber is, for many people, one of the many plant anti-nutrients which irritate the GI system. This is why even those who recommend a high-fiber diet advise against increasing the amount too much in too short a timeframe.

One other aspect of fiber is the claim that we need to eat it in order to poop. Advocates of plant-based diets claim that meat “rots in the colon”, and that fiber is necessary for “moving things along”. That is nonsensical. First of all, meat is absorbed almost completely in the small intestine. If you eat a large amount of meat, then it will be moved more slowly “automatically”, controlled by nutrient sensors in the intestinal wall, to allow for maximum absorption. This fact is easily demonstrated by people who had their large intestine removed, having a bag attached to the small intestine. The fact that if these people eat only meat almost nothing comes out of their small intestine doesn’t mean that the meat is somehow rotting away in there because of a lack of movement. It means that since meat consists entirely of nutrients we need, it is simply all absorbed.

Ok, then you might ask yourself, how, or rather what, do people poop on an entirely carnivorous diet? The answer is simple: We excrete dead bacteria and intestinal cells. Turns out that you don’t need to eat fiber to feed the microbiota in the large intestine, it is always there and feeds on the small amount of matter that enters the large intestine. Carnivorous humans typically have regular bowel movements, just not as frequently and voluminous as plant eaters. In fact, I would stipulate that they are more regular than plant-eaters precisely because they don’t eat so much indigestible plant matter which is simply transported out the other end.

We’re still not done with fiber, there is one last claim that people make: Fiber is necessary for satiation. This is a big pet peeve of mine. Unfortunately people seem to be conflating satiety, satiation and stomach distension. The latter is simply the sensation of your stomach being filled completely. If you are regularly eating huge salads, this is invariably a sensation that you get, and which you will probably miss at first when you eat a big carnivorous meal like a steak instead. It takes a while for your salad to move into and through your small intestine. Great! But after that, at least if the salad contained only low-calorie food like beans, peas, corn and low-fat dressing, you will be hungry again. So you can eat another salad, and another one. If you only eat those kinds of meals, this will maximize the bloating as well as the number of times you go to the toilet per day. What carnivorous meals offer in contrast is satiety. Both carnivorous meals and huge salads give you satiation, which is the feeling of not wanting/needing to eat shortly after the meal. But satiety is a longer-absence of hunger, which is one of the greatest benefits of carnivorous meals.

What if you combine a big steak and a large salad? I suspect that this is a bad idea, because in order for the steak to be absorbed it needs to pass slowly through the small intestine, but the fiber from the salad speeds things up. This is pure speculation, but in my opinion this could be the cause for undigested meat/protein reaching the large intestine and causing problems. If you still want your salad on a carnivorous diet (unlikely), you should probably build your meals so that you don’t combine a lot of meat with a lot of salad.

Observation: Humans didn’t eat three meals a day Plus Snacks

Have you heard about breakfast being the most important meal of the day? Eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince and so forth. That is nonsense. If we look at eating habits throughout the ages and across all societies, it becomes obvious that homo sapiens does not have a genetic predisposition for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Especially breakfast is a curious practice. Prehistoric people most likely didn’t eat breakfast, having no refrigerator, no kitchen, not even a house. Most likely the thing you did after waking up was to be active and get some food, eating it in the middle of the day or later. In fact, dinner is probably the most common meal time overall.

Snacking is also a very new addition to our diet. Of course prehistoric people would have eaten fruit or honey as they came across these foods, or they might have taken some dried foods on a hike. But as we’ve seen, our digestive system is much better suited to processing sparse big meals rather than a continuous supply of food. Ruminant animals are much different, they must eat constantly to keep the microbes happy.

Axiom: Humans are facultative carnivores.

Based on all these observations we can now postulate the first axiom: Humans thrive on largely animal food based diets. That’s what the term “facultative carnivore” means – humans are of course omnivores, meaning that we can digest a variety of foods, including animals and plants. But we seem to be part of a subset of omnivores which, when given the choice, gravitates towards animal based foods when they get the chance. Those are the foods which provide optimal nutrition while causing no gastrointestinal problems.

Another interesting term is “hyper-carnivore”. Humans fit that description as well: We thrive when we get at least 70% of our nutrition from animal foods. Of course there are people who also do very well on a lower percentage, but as a rule of thumb, the more high-quality animal foods we eat, the easier it becomes to achieve nutritional completeness. The less animal foods we eat, the harder it becomes to thrive, documented by the fact that no vegan hunter/gatherer societies have ever been found.

Axiom: The OPTIMAL fuel for humans is fat.

People often claim that carbohydrates are the “preferred” fuel for the body. Do you know what is even more preferred? Alcohol. As soon as we ingest alcohol, our liver essentially puts most other tasks on hold and tries to get rid of it by converting it into other nutrients which we can metabolize for energy. Does that mean that we should switch to an alcohol-based diet? Of course not.

Then why do people recommend a carb-based diet? The answer, in my opinion, is multifactorial. I suspect that it is a combination of tradition, plant-based myths and lobbying that led to this belief. Veganism is a relatively new movement which has its roots in the 7th day adventist church, which, after one of its prominent figures (Ellen G. White) had a vision, proclaimed that all meat was sinful. That happened in the early 19th century and since then, generations after generations of nutritionists and doctors slowly absorbed this idea that meat is generally bad for us and is best avoided or at least reduced in the diet, and plants are inherently healthful and always preferable to animal foods.

Add to that the fact that in the 1970s the USA commodified the production of corn and soy, high fructose corn syrup was invented, and vegetable oil production was increased. There was, unfortunately, a confluence of factors, which then led to the USA recommending a high-carb diet in 1980 as well as villifying saturated fat and cholesterol, and the foods containing it, which were foods which had previously been regarded as the healthiest foods on the planet: Beef, eggs, high-fat dairy. Ever since the public all over the world has slowly been shifting away from these foods and towards a diet of ultra-processed convenience foods, culminating in abominations like the vegan Whole Foods donut, Beyond Meat and the Impossible Burger.

But I digress. Coming back to why people think that carbohydrates are the preferred fuel, I think it is due to the fact that when we are on a high-carb diet, whenever we eat the carbs, similar to the process I outlined with alcohol, the body reduces fat metabolism. The naive thinking goes like “hey, whenever I eat carbs, the body immediately uses them, they must be just what it needed”. Combine that with the fact that when the body is used to eating carbs all the time, which is the case in our plant-biased world, whenever it runs out of carbs it enters a state of withdrawal, which has been described as “hangriness”. Athletes also find that on a high-carb diet they need to be careful to always keep their carb tanks full. That’s because these tanks are relatively tiny compared to the vast amount of fat cells we carry under our skin and around our organs. Whenever we run out of carbs (or more precisely: when we lower liver glycogen storage below a certain threshold), our body has an energy crisis and tries to shift to burning primarily fat. We always burn both carbs and fat, but when we run low on carbs, it takes some time to mobilize the fat and to begin burning it in greater amounts, especially for people who are always keeping their glucose tanks full.

Which brings me to the actual preferred fuel of the body: fat. Think about it: Why would the body store it in vast amounts, for times in need, if it was bad for us to burn it? The obvious advantage of fat as a storage form of energy is that compared to carbs, it is much more efficient in terms of amount of energy per weight. But it is also a cleaner burning fuel, and most importantly, like mentioned before: In the absence of carbohydrate, the liver generates ketone bodies from fat. People with epilepsy may put their seizures into remission on a ketogenic diet, which is possible because on a ketogenic diet the brain shifts mosts of its metabolism to burning ketones, and the seizures seem to be related to a malfunctioning glucose metabolism. Other tissues of the body also appear to run better on ketones, including the heart as well as the previously mentioned cells of the gut lining.

But can athletes perform equally well on fat than they do on carbs? Yes and no. I’m not the world’s foremost expert on sports nutrition, but my take on this is simple: If you are trying to break world records, carbs MAY give you an edge, or put another way: Carbs may make it easier to achieve those goals. But – and that’s a big but – this may come at a price. It should go without saying that performing at this level is not exactly healthy. If an athlete settles for “very good in their age group”, I think that it’s entirely possible, in any sport, to achieve these goals on a ketogenic diet, and there are many athletes who are continually proving that. There are quite a few reports of high-carb marathoners who became type 2 diabetics in their 40s, which is hardly surprising given the fact that they kept overloading their glucose metabolism over decades.

So why isn’t everybody eating mostly meat? I think that’s mostly because of the stigma that meat carries in our increasingly plant-biased society, and because such a diet is considered to be extraordinarily dangerous, stupid and “faddy” by most people who are just casually stumbling upon it. But maybe this short-ish text has at least made you a little bit curious about carnivory, and hopefully also a little bit doubtful of the plant-based propaganda in the media.

Axiom: We Prefer “few sparse big” meals over “many frequent small” meals

This should be clear from what we discussed earlier. One big determinant of how easy it is for an individual to eat fewer, but bigger meals is the amount of carbohydrate they eat. Exercise also plays into this, so I should say that the more carbs someone eats, and the less that persons compensates for those carbs with vigorous exercise, the more their metabolism will be dependent on a steady supply of carbs, and the harder it will be for them to eat fewer meals.

Other than that, I have made the experience that the body gets used to new meal patterns relatively easily. If you make a change, be prepared for intense feelings of hunger at the time where you used to eat, but also know that these “hunger pangs” will subside, and your body will adapt to the new timing.

Meal size is also something the body becomes accustomed to. So if you try to eat bigger meals, you might at first have problems eating so much. This usually changes quickly, so hang in there.

Guideline: Eat Fatty Ruminant Meat as a foundation

So what should one eat, according to all I’ve said? Fatty ruminant meat is the simple and obvious answer. Thousands of carnivores are doing that already. Some of them are certain that this is all you need – I am not so sure. It might be true. Especially when we look at hunter/gatherer cultures, it becomes evident that many thrive on a mixed diet. But the fatty meat is the foundational food which should always be the basis.

As a matter of fact, you can and should eat various animal foods in the beginning, should you choose to give this a try, and find out what you feel best with. Milk and other forms of dairy can be problematic for some people, either because of lactose intolerance or because if you overconsume it, the amount of carbs will prevent ketosis. For some people dairy, or cheese in particular, is a trigger for overeating. Most people who claim to have been successful on a carnivorous diet say that they feel best on a diet of primarily fatty ruminant meat, so don’t be surprised if that’s what you end up eating the most.

Guideline: Optionally supplement with properly processed plant foods

As a general rule of thumb I’d say that the more plant food you add, the more difficult the diet becomes to manage. You will have to find out what’s right for you through experimentation. You have the basic choice between starchy plants and low-starch plants, and depending on that your diet will be ketogenic, low-carb or moderate or even high carb. For all of those modalities there are examples of healthy populations (most notably the Kitavans for high-carb), again, you have to find out for yourself.

I’m a big fan of Penn Jillette’s book “Presto!”, where he described how he lost 100 pounds on a plant-based diet. He claims that the reason it worked was because it was extreme. And indeed, it started with two weeks of eating just plain potatoes. I think that while the plant-based diet will probably fail him in the end, the extreme approach is very effective, if only to reset your perception of what is “normal” or “extreme”. So if you choose to try eating meat-based, one useful approach could be to make it just steak in the beginning and then, after a couple of weeks, experiment with adding more types of food rather than starting with a bunch of new foods, which also makes the diet more complicated to implement.

Tip: If it only tastes good with sauces or spices, yoU’re Better Off Not Eating It

This may sound either trivial or much too restrictive for you, but I think it is a powerful tool for keeping you grounded. This applies to whole foods. Think about it: Does a salad taste good without any dressing? Maybe the tomatoes and gucumbers, but what about the leaves? Kale?

Cooking meals from a dozen ingredients is a relatively modern concept. Especially in the plant-based/vegan community spices, sauces and food-combining are generally overused. Even on a meat-based diet they are a bad thing in that they lead to overconsumption. They simply increase the palatability of the meals.

So no more sauces or spices forever? No, I think that you can always make exceptions, it is up to you. Just be aware of the problem, and at least for me it has been very helpful to make most of my meals spice/sauce free. People give me strange looks when I eat sardines out of a tin for lunch, or just six hard-boiled eggs. But if you really think about it, chances are that it will be more nutritious, more satiating and also cheaper than what they will eat in the cafeteria.

Tip: Meat is best digested on an empty stomach

This is just a suspicion I have, so take it with a grain of salt. You probably heard that regardless of which diet you’re on, you should always drink a lot of water. That’s a topic for another day, but regardless of your preference there, if you’re eager to try the carnivorous diet, you might want to make sure that when you eat a huge meal of meat, you eat it on an empty stomach. Also wait a little while, at least an hour, before drinking something again. The reason for this is simple. In order to digest a lot of meat properly, your body needs to secrete a lot of stomach acid, and your gall bladder needs to release a lot of bile. If you drink a lot of water before the meal and it’s still in the stomach, the acid will be diluted and it will take much longer to prepare the meal for entering the small intestine. The volume will also probably be higher, diluting the bile downstream. Likewise, if you drink something after the meal, you disturb your stomach, again diluting the acid.

So if you have heard carnivores say that they can eat so much meat without feeling bloated, remember that timing fluid intake properly around the meal might be important.

Afterthoughts

Just in case you were wondering, meat is also not so bad for the planet as vegans often claim. Pastures and forests sequester carbon, and if we converted some of our plant-crop fields back to those alternatives, we would help reverse climate change. Don’t buy the statistics thrown around by vegans, like the perpetual myth that animal agriculture causes more greenhouse gas emissions than transportation, the opposite is actually true. If you’re interested in the actual numbers, look for Frank Mitloehner on YouTube, or look up the figures on the governmental pages directly.

Also, if you happen to be vegan primarily to fight against the suffering of animals, it may interest you to know that especially eating grass-fed ruminants is more beneficial than eating plant-based. Why? Think about all the animals, big and small, which are harmed while raising a cow on a pasture. Now imagine all the animals, big and small, that are harmed on a big field of corn. Insects, rodents, birds – not only are they decimated while harvesting the plants, but also throughout the entire lifecycle, either manually by hunting them down, or through the use of pesticides. In the end nobody sees any of that suffering on their plate, but at least as far as I am concerned, I would rather kill one cow (and that killing happens in a much less cruel way than what you would see in propaganda movies by animal rights activist organizations), than a thousand other sentient creatures.

NUTRITION 101

Here’s my most concise definition of what it means to eat healthfully.

Eat animal foods and properly prepared starchy whole plant foods. Anything else is optional. Given sufficient animal foods, even the starchy plant foods are optional.

Ok, I know – you don’t believe me. You think that this is laughably simplistic. But I have been thinking long and hard about this, weighing the evidence from countless books, studies, talks and presentations. Have a look at the following sections, where I flesh out the concept a little bit more. I’ll be getting into the weeds a little bit here and there, but it’s largely all common sense stuff. That’s also why I didn’t bother to provide references for anything. As Carl Sagan said: “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence”. Well, my claims may run counter to the currently established dogma in the field of nutrition, but at the core they are hardly extraordinary. Did the child need to provide references when pointing out that the emperor was naked?

What about leafy greens, vegetables and fruit?

To make a (very) long story short, during the last 150 years nutrition has slowly but steadily been put “on its head” by a powerful, religiously motivated movement which we today call Veganism. Although only a very tiny part of the population, globally or in any particular country, identify as vegans, their influence has been very strong, particularly in the US.

In essence they swapped plant foods and animal foods. Prior to this coup it was well known that animal foods are the most nutritious, while plant foods are inherently inferior. This didn’t sit well with the 7th Day Adventist Church, which preached that eating meat was sinful. So they chose to promote plants, especially cereals, whole grains, vegetables and fruit as the actual health foods and demonised meat and, by extension, all animal food. Today their influence reaches far and wide, influencing national guidelines as well as best-selling books on nutrition. Since this has been going on for several generations, the misinformation is now fully integrated in common knowledge – everybody “knows” that broccoli is more healthy than steak. But is it really?

Animal foods are nutritionally complete (plants are not)

Animal foods contain all the nutrients we need. This includes all essential nutrients as well as those which are sometimes called “conditionally essential”, meaning that although the body can manufacture them from other (essential) nutrients, we are much better off eating them instead of manufacturing them. Some animal foods are more nutrient-rich than others, for example liver is more nutritious than steak, eggs are more nutritious than chicken breast. But in general, someone eating only a variety of animal foods and no plants, they would get all the nutrients they need, whereas someone eating only a variety of plant foods and no animals would develop nutritional deficiencies. Vegans will object, but while it is true that if you combine the foods really well you can get most of what you need, some supplementation will still be necessary (B12, EPA, DHA), and achieving this perfect mix of nutrients is quite laborious and expensive.

Plants contain a lot of nutrients we do not need

The most useful nutrients which plants contain and animal foods do not (with the exception of dairy and honey) are starch and sugar, which we can use for energy. This is why properly prepared starchy plant foods like grains, legumes and tubers as well as fruit are staples in (pre-)historic hunter-gatherer diets.

But what about the vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients and polyphenols which plants contain and animal foods do not? This is the main nutritional argument in favour of plants over animal foods. As it turns out, there are no good reasons to assume that humans benefit from these compounds. Vitamins and minerals are great, but animal foods contain those as well. Fresh meat even contains vitamin C, a vitamin previously thought only to occur in plants. The benefits of phytonutrients and polyphenols have not been demonstrated conclusively. 

Plants contain potent anti-nutrients

Oxalate, gluten, lectins, phytic acid … plants, with the exception of fruit, contain many nutrients which are harmful to humans. Some of them can be neutralised or reduced by proper preparation, like soaking grains in water or often simply by cooking. But considering that those techniques are relatively recent acquisitions in our evolutionary history, it makes no sense to assume that our health is based on consuming foods like kale and broccoli. Those foods would have been hard to find in our environment in meaningful quantities, hard to chew, difficult or even impossible to digest, and overall not a positive contribution to our health.

So plants are off the table?

No, the key takeaway is that plants are optional and meat is the base of healthy nutrition:

  • Perverted common wisdom: Plant foods are the foundation of a healthy diet
  • Actual reality: Animal foods are the foundation of a healthy diet

Vegan influence is trying to convince you that since meat is evil, you have to eat a lot of different plants to somehow replace all the nutrition you lost by cutting out or reducing animal foods. When you decide to ignore this plant-based influence and base your diet on meat, you can still eat some vegetables and fruit along with the meat. But keep in mind that those foods are very recent additions to our diet and may have a negative impact. Some people have no problems with a diet that contains some animal foods and starch and a lot of vegetables and fruit. Others do best with mostly animal foods and a little bit of vegetables or fruit. Yet others do best with no plant foods at all. Remember that this is all consistent with the fact that animal foods are the most nutritious food there is.

If you have never tried a largely meat-based diet and you’re struggling with obesity, diabetes or metabolic syndrome, or you have allergies or digestive problems, consider giving it a try for a couple of weeks and see how you feel. It might change your life! Even if you don’t stay 100% carnivorous (few people do), maybe you’ll improve simply by realising that your previous notion of plants being healthy and meat being dangerous was completely wrong. And that means that you’ll not only be able to consume foods like steak, eggs, butter and cheese with more confidence and no feeling of guilt, but you also won’t feel too bad for not “eating your greens”.

So what is off the table?

You shouldn’t eat processed food on a daily basis, especially food combining flour, sugar and seed oils. This simply follows from the one rule laid out above, since this combination is almost opposite to the template of animal foods and whole starchy plant foods. Some people avoid these foods completely and almost religiously. I don’t, in fact I eat them regularly. It’s a matter of quantity and frequency. As long as my diet is 80-90% “clean”, I can get away with the occasional transgression, and this makes the diet much more doable.

Another thing to keep in mind is to avoid, on a meal by meal basis, combining fat and carbs in almost equal ratio. So any given meal should be either fat based (typically carnivorous, fatty meat with some optional vegetables) or starch based (some lean meat with potatoes, rice, bread, vegetables).

But What About The EnviRonment?

If you care about the environment, your number one priority should be to reduce the consumption of fossil fuels. Global warming, plastics, pesticides … those are all downstream of fossil fuel. You may have heard stories about meat, especially beef, being the biggest offender in all of agriculture when it comes to greenhouse gases. Not true. In fact, a local grass-fed cow is not only carbon neutral, but carbon negative, meaning that it helps to fight global warming! This is because every carbon atom that the cow emits in the form of carbon dioxide or methane was previously absorbed from the atmosphere by the grass. So the cycle is neutral, and can even be negative depending on what else is fed to the cows. Water consumption is another big argument by Vegans, but that’s a non-issue as well since most of that water is rain water falling on the grass. It’s not drinking water. Lastly, in comparison to plant-crop production, pastures with grazing cows prevent top soil erosion and require no fertilizer or pesticides.

But What aBout Animal Welfare?

As much as Vegans hate to hear it, animals die for our food production regardless of what we eat. Take wheat as an example – not only are many animals displaced and killed when a patch of grassland is converted to wheat crops, but countless insects and rodents die from the pesticides, plus all the small animals which die during harvesting.

Of course we should all strive to minimize needless animal suffering in animal food production … but the right way to do it is not to eliminate animal agriculture, but to optimize it. Eliminating it would have all sorts of negative consequences, both for the planet because of topsoil erosion and for us, because of malnutrition.

How can we optimize it? We should eat big ruminant animals which are raised in their natural environment, which is grazing on grassland or in forests. We can supplement that with pigs and chicken/eggs, but the bigger the animal, the less have to die to produce the same amount of food. Interestingly red meat from ruminants has been shown to be the most nutritious for humans, which, as a bonus argument, is confirmed by most cave paintings which don’t depict humans hunting broccoli or tofudebeasts, but antilopes, buffaloes and elephants/mammoth.

Fat + Carbs = Diabesity

Does it matter where we get our energy from? “A calorie is a calorie”, many experts say, and the food industry has been happily endorsing that mantra for decades. Doesn’t matter whether you are eating broccoli, chocolate, bread or beef … it’s all just calories. Or is it?

No. You know that what you eat has huge implications. Why else would we be so particular about the foods we eat? The body is a biochemical laboratory, constantly metabolizing (burning) food for energy. The metabolic pathways for our major energy-yielding macro-nutrients (fat, carbohydrate and protein) are very different. When you eat 1,000 calories of either sugar or fat, while the amount of energy is the same, different chemicals are produced while metabolizing the food, and different configurations of various hormones and enzymes ensue.

Since of the three macro-nutrients protein is primarily used as building material, we can focus on the two remaining macronutrients, fat and carbohydrate. We are left with three basic strategies:

Fat Based Diet (Low-Carb)

This is the primal/keto/carnivore approach. The body optimizes its metabolic pathways for burning fat, including the production of ketones. This strategy is well suited for body-fat loss and lean body maintenance. People on this diet will tend to eat fewer meals, since the body is used to accessing its fat stores efficiently when there is no food “coming in”.

Typical meal options using whole foods: Steak/fish/eggs and vegetables/low-sugar fruit.

Carb Based Diet (Low-Fat)

This is the typical plant-based/vegan approach. Little or no meat is consumed, or at best only lean meat, and as little fat as possible. While this is certainly compatible with optimizing body composition, it is more difficult to maintain for most people, and prone to developing deficiencies. On this diet people will gravitate towards eating more frequently throughout the day, since the body is not used to burning fat efficiently. As soon as the carbs from the last meal are used up, without ketones in the system to fuel the brain it senses an energy crisis, prompting its “user” to eat again.

Typical meal options using whole foods: Salad with low-fat dressing and bread, oatmeal, cereal, fruit salads or smoothies.

The ”Balanced” Diet (Moderate-Fat, Moderate-Carbs)

This is the standard “Western” Diet. While some people might be able to stay lean on a “balanced” mix of carbs and fat, most people will find it difficult not to overeat calories, since mixing carbs and fat not only maximizes the energy content of food, but also makes them hyper-palatable. Some research also hints towards unfavorable effects on blood lipids when saturated fats are consumed in a high-carb setting.

Typical meal options using processed foods: Burgers and chips/fries, pasta and cheese, donuts, cakes, ice cream, pizza, chocolate, peanut butter and jelly sandwich

Typical meal options using whole foods: Fatty meat/fish/eggs and (sweet) potatoes, nuts and (dried) fruit

So are carbs evil?

Yes, if you eat them with a lot of fat.

So is fat evil?

Yes, if you eat it with a lot of carbs.

But saturated fat is surely always evil?

No. When you eat saturated fat, what happens to it depends heavily on two factors: whether you are overeating, and the presence of carbs. If you are not overeating and few carbs are present, the saturated fat you eat will swiftly be burned for energy by the body, no harm done. On the other hand, when you overeat and mix saturated fat and carbs, it may linger in the blood stream and cause undesirable effects. So: Steak and butter is ok, but not if you add a big baked potato.

Isn’t it enough to cut out sugar?

No. Granted, a no-sugar diet avoids many bad foods. But if it still contains carbs and fat, the body is probably still confused. The food sends mixed signals. Carbs are like rocket fuel for the body. Even complex starches are eventually broken down to glucose, which must be burned for energy immediately. Simultaneously you are giving the body slow-burning fat.

So what do I do if I currently eat a 50:50 diet?

The worst you could do would be to eat more fat on top. Fat is healthy only if you make it the main source of energy in the diet by simultaneously cutting out carbs. The second worst thing you could do is to eat more “healthy” carbs on top. The key is to pick one major source of calories – either fat or carbs – and then to implement your diet using foods rich in protein and micro-nutrients.

How does this principle of not mixing fat and carbs align with evolution?

Quite well! Think about the kind of foods which were available to humans hundreds of thousands of years ago: Whole plants and animals, basically. What do all of them have in common?

None of them are mixtures of fat and carbs. Most plants contain almost exclusively carbohydrate, except for nuts, seeds and some special types of fruit like avocados and olives, which contain predominantly fat. Meat, fish, eggs and other animal foods are basically protein and fat without any carbohydrate. Milk is an exception, since it contains a mix of carbs and fat. It exists specifically for the purpose of supporting growing babies, so it is the one whole food that is not appropriate for our purposes. But that is in line with evolution, since humans have been eating milk for a very short time, even today there are many populations which are predominantly lactose intolerant. We can still eat high-fat or high-protein dairy though, in which the lactose has been largely removed.

So does that mean that I have to be either carnivore or vegan?

No. Granted, fat and meat are a natural match, as are carbs and plants. But it is possible to do a fat-based vegan diet, based largely on nuts, coconut, olives and avocados. The other extreme, a carbs-based carnivore diet, is of course not possible. Maybe if you ate only skim milk and whey protein … which is hardly sustainable.

Of course various combinations of animal and plant foods are possible. Fatty meat and vegetables is very popular, on the carbs-heavy side one could eat lean meat, vegetables and pasta or rice, which is the basic blueprint of “clean eating”.

With the focus on fat vs. carbs, is protein irrelevant?

Not at all. In fact, protein is absolutely crucial. In order to thrive, we have to continuously eat at least as much protein as the body is breaking down. On a fat-based diet we need to eat even more protein, since the body uses some of it to generate glucose through a process called gluconeogenesis. Age is also a factor: the older we are, the more protein we should eat, since the body breaks down more tissue and struggles more to replace it.

One useful rule of thumb is to eat at least 2 grams of protein per kg of your ideal body weight each day.

Ha! Gotcha! Why not just eat the carbs rather than getting them via gluconeogenesis?

Not so fast. Remember that the context for gluconeogenesis is a fat-based diet. Such a diet works only well when the body can burn its fat stores efficiently. In order for that to happen, carbohydrate intake needs to be very low. This causes insulin levels to drop, and glucagon levels to rise. And only this rise in glucagon enables the liver to produce ketones and fine-tune blood sugar by producing glucose from protein exactly when needed, and in the amounts required.

But glucose is the preferred fuel for the body!

Yes and no. Yes, the body preferentially burns glucose rather than fat. But why? Maybe another nutrient serves as a good illustration: alcohol. Turns out that the body burns alcohol even before glucose. Does that mean that we are meant to run on alcohol? No, it means that alcohol is a poison, and the body tries to get rid of it as fast as possible. It is similar with glucose. It is a poison if present for too long, and in high concentrations.

“Preferred” is not a good criterion for choosing what to eat. We should rather ask ourselves which macronutrient our body uses to store energy. That is the energy source our body uses as a default when we, for whatever reason, don’t eat for a while. And this default fuel, fat, is what we should probably prefer to eat.

In the end, which is superior – fat or carbs?

That depends on who you ask. The jury is still out. But having tried both, I prefer the fat-based approach. The big drawback is the social pressure you face for not eating carbs and skipping meals. But the improved satiety and digestion are huge advantages. If you add exercise to the mix, you can get away with some transgressions – for me mainly chocolate and fruit, occasionally. I gave the plant/carbs based approach a chance a few months ago, but I finally gave up. I actually like the foods a lot – muesli, plant milks, fruit, beans, bread, whole-wheat pasta, tomatoes … taste-wise it was not a problem at all. Digestion was horrible though, and I felt hungry all the time. On the other hand, when I eat mostly meat everything is easy and awesome without much optimization at all.

An All Meat Diet -Why Not?

Today I came across this news article:

Please do not try to survive on an all-meat diet

It made me a little bit angry. Before I tell you why, let me point out that I am currently not on a 100% meat diet, and while I won’t rule out the possibility completely, it is unlikely that I will go on such a diet in the foreseeable future. I am however on a diet heavy in (red) meat, and I’ve read many, many articles, studies, blog posts and tweets on the topic. I’ve heard vegans bash the diet, carnivores recommend the diet for all sorts of reasons including some miraculous claims, I’ve heard mainstream scientists advising against it, and I’ve heard just normal people ridiculing it, demonizing it or praising it.

TL;DR: A 100% meat diet could be perfectly fine, there’s no reason why it by definition can’t work or would make you sick. That doesn’t mean that everybody should be on it. Some people might thrive on a diet low in meat, others might do best on a primal style diet which is high in meat but also includes some vegetables and fruit.

Let’s go through my biggest beefs (silly pun intended) with the article one by one.

 […] the proponents of the carnivore diet, including Shawn Baker, a former orthopedic surgeon […] [who] had his medical license revoked in 2017 in part for “incompetence to practice as a licensee”.

This is a good example of a combination of an ad hominem attack and quote mining. Yes, Dr. Baker had his license revoked, but the reason was that he wanted to suggest to some of his patients that instead of having their arthritic joints replaced, they might consider changing their diet first. His employer (a hospital) saw that as a conflict of interest (surgery is much more lucrative than nutrition counselling), so they found a way to strip him of his medical license in order to lay him off more easily. This is quite different from him being just an “incompetent” doctor. In fact, he is about to get his license back, and his competence as an orthopedic surgeon is not really in dispute. In any case, all of that has nothing to do with anything he says on the topic of nutrition.

Mikhaila Peterson has absolutely no scientific or medical qualifications, and while her father may be a psychologist, he has no training in nutrition.

Those two prominent advocates of the carnivore diet indeed have no training in nutrition. Which does (or at least should) not mean that they cannot speak on the topic. As long as they don’t claim to be certified nutritionists or dieticians (which they never did), nothing is wrong with them promoting any type of diet.

You need 13 vitamins in order to live, and though you can actually get most of them from eating a variety of meats, you’re going to miss out on some crucial ones if you totally forego flora. Folate, along with vitamins C and E, pretty much only come from veggies, mostly green leafy ones and citrus.

No. Dating back to Steffanson’s  famous experiment, it has been well documented that people can survive and even thrive in good health on a carnivorous diet without eating any plants. Fresh meat actually contains some vitamin C and the amount the body needs goes down when no carbohydrate is ingested. Vitamin E is an antioxidant first and foremost, and although to my knowledge no studies exist on it, the demand also seems to go down on carnivorous diet. Baker speculates that without the constant intake of plant foods the body makes more of its endogenous anti-oxidants like glutathione. None of this is proven scientifically, but as I already mentioned, none of the proponents of carnivory claim that it is.

This is why sailors used to get scurvy—not enough vitamin C in their largely fish- and other-meat-based diets.

These sailors actually got scurvy because they ate neither veggies/fruits nor fresh meat. They ate mostly dried meat (which actually contains no vitamin C) instead of fresh meat, hence the scurvy.

Plus, if you don’t get enough vitamin E your body can’t use vitamin K as well […]

No scientific study is provided to back up this claim, and since we need vitamin K for example to optimize calcium usage in bone and teeth growth and that is not an issue for people on the carnivorous diet (rather the reverse), we can at least speculate that on such diets the body may need less vitamin E. Since it is an anti-oxidant, and a 100% meat diet is by definition low in oxidative stress, this does not seem all that implausible.

And then there’s the issue of fiber. Meat has no fiber, yet we know that fiber is crucial to a healthy diet.

Ah, abeautiful example of an “just so” argument. In fact we don’t know at all whether fiber is needed or even useful in general. There are many studies which show a benefit with increased fiber intake for some hard outcomes, but it always depends on what people eat with the fiber. It appears like fiber acts as an antidote to processed food. For example, if you eat nothing but low-fiber cereal and skim milk, you might be more prone to diabetes and metabolic syndrome than if you eat high-fiber cereal. But what about people who eat no junk food at all? I don’t know any high-quality studies which show benefits of fiber in that type of situation. On the other hand there are studies which show that fiber causes digestive problems in many people, aggravating conditions like diverticulitis, Crohn’s disease and IBS. Which makes sense – when someone has a sick colon, increasing the amount of indigestible plant matter which gets passed through the colon can easily irritate the colon further. A 100% meat diet on the other hand contains no fiber at all, and virtually all the food is digested and absorbed in the small intestine. Which is why such a diet is recommended before colonoscopies and other similar procedures.

The Inuit stay healthy because they eat a wide variety of meats, most of which fad-dieters are not consuming. They stave off scurvy by feasting on collagen-rich, vitamin-C-dense whale skin and other fresh, uncooked meats.

Notice the revealing choice of words “fad-dieters”. The author clearly thinks that an all meat diet is a fad, and cannot resist this bias from showing in this article. First, although many outspoken carnivores say that they’re eating mostly beef, and Mikhaila Peterson pretty much eats 100% beef, many do mix it up. And none of them say that people should eat 100% beef. Also, the author now contradicts herself, establishing that some animal based foods in fact contain enough vitamin C to prevent scurvy. Uncooked meat is the solution to that, which carnivores typically consume – pretty much all of them like their steaks at least medium (rare).

And the flesh [the Inuit] consume often isn’t mostly protein—it’s about 50 percent fat, much of which is of the healthier, unsaturated variety. The meat you buy in a grocery store is largely saturated fat, since that’s the kind that develops on animals who get little exercise and eat mostly corn.

Sigh. No, and no. First, people on a carnivorous diet do prefer the fattier cuts of meat. This makes sense, because a diet which is too high in protein (over 50% of calories) is not sustainable. The meat they typically recommend is rib eye steak, pork chops, or ground beef, which is all reasonably high in fat. Second, virtually all the meat you can buy, independently of whether it is grass-fed, grass-finished or grain-finished, is mostly unsaturated fat. Google that for yourself if you don’t believe me. Dietary fat which is predominantly saturated is either butter or coconut/palm oil. All other sources of fat are predominantly unsaturated, including beef, pork, poultry and fish.

You could, arguably, take supplements for all of the deficiencies that eating only farm-raised animals brings on.

Arguably, supplements are recommended for most diets. They are essential for vegan diets, but on any other diet some people say they are beneficial, some say they are not. It is kind of unfair to single out the carnivorous diet and suggest that it in particular requires supplementation. A few paragraphs above, the author managed to name three nutrients that might be a reason for concern, which really aren’t.

Eating lots of red meat has long been linked to colorectal cancer, along with pancreatic and prostate cancers to a lesser degree. The World Health Organization report on red meats supported that link and backed it up with evidence that, when cooked at temperatures exceeding 300°F, flesh produces certain chemicals that are carcinogenic.

Yes, the red meat “controversy”. Georgia Ede shows beautifully how little cause for concern there is, and how much manipulation and unwarranted conclusions the WHO/IARC drew to arrive at the message which, sadly, has pervaded our society. In fact the (in)famous report showed a tiny increase in relative risk for red mead and colon cancer, which is little more than statistical noise. And that’s not just a rationalization put forth by meat lovers to justify their “unhealthy” habit. If we took every association with a relative risk increase around 20% seriously, we would really run out of food – practically everything would be off the table.

Animal meat also tends to push the balance of our good and bad cholesterol (called HDL and LDL, respectively) toward the bad end. You want more HDL and less LDL, along with low levels of triglycerides. Fatty red meats do the opposite: they raise your LDL and triglycerides while lowering your HDL.

If you replace bread and pasta with any type of meat, studies show that you will actually achieve what the author herself knows is favorable: HDL goes up, triglycerides go down. It has been known for at least a decade that any low-carb diet will have this beneficial effect on blood lipids. LDL does stay high on a largely meat based diet, but this is not necessarily a bad thing – in fact, there are many studies which show that higher LDL is associated with reduced mortality, as long as other, more important markers, like the HDL/triglyceride ratio, are favorable.

What annoys me the most about the current discussions on nutrition is that people can write such blatantly false statements and get away with it without any major outcry.

Again, you could try to combat this by eating less red meat and opting for healthier options, like lean poultry and fish, both of which have more nutrients than beef and seem to generally be better for you. Organ meats from all sorts of animals have plenty of vitamins, which can also help supplement your diet in small quantities. But if all you ever eat is meat, eating just fish and chicken could get pretty monotonous.

Poultry and fish are not “automatically” healthier than red meat, they do not have “more” nutrients. They do have slightly different nutrients compared to red meat, and people might simply prefer poultry or fish over beef. Obviously a 100% meat based diet is going to be monotonous compared to a “balanced” diet, which is why it is not for everyone. Personally I really like beef (steak) the most, but if for someone else pork chops, chicken breasts or salmon is preferrable, then that is fine as well.

This is, most likely, why you lose weight on any diet. Give someone rules that alter their eating habits, especially really strict ones that make it hard to find random things to snack on throughout the day, and they’ll probably end up consuming less overall. Protein is an especially satiating food, so the calories per meal will be much lower than any in which you consume carbs.

Yes, and this effect of intuitive/automatic caloric reduction is portrayed as a bad thing by the author, but it actually isn’t. Think about it: If you are overweight, it is because you are eating too much. And the reason for that is that whatever you are eating is not providing enough satiation – at the end of the day you might be satisfied, but you needed to eat too many calories. Which means that whatever you are eating is not optimal for you. Another diet, which – by whatever means – leads to you being satisfied with fewer calories, might be more optimal. This is why carnivorous diets work for many people – they contain more protein, which is more satiating, which leads to a lower caloric intake naturally, without any additional hunger.

If you’re looking to lose weight, cutting calories is obviously a good thing, but you need to do it in a sustainable way. […] . Nutritionists instead advise that you pick a way of eating that you can maintain for life.

No, cutting calories is not obviously a good thing – you need to find a way to cut the hunger as well. Only that makes it sustainable. The author is correct in pointing out that whatever diet you choose, you should be comfortable maintaining it for life. Carnivory may not be ideal in that regard, but most people manage to do well on a “80% carnivorous” diet which follows a primal template where you eat primarily meat, plus some vegetables and some fruit. Which is what many carnivores recommend as well – very few of them say that only 100% meat works for everybody.

Pretty much any extreme diet is going to be problematic. Fruit may be good for you, but if all you ever ate was fruit you’d end up with serious nutritional deficiencies. Even vegans, who generally still eat a diverse group of foods, have trouble getting certain nutrients like vitamin B12, which our bodies aren’t very good at absorbing from plant sources.

Finally a paragraph which is mostly correct, except that I am sure that there are some people for whom an extreme diet might be ideal. Penn Jillette comes to mind – he thrives on an extreme vegan diet. And Dr. Shawn Baker obviously thrives on a 99% beef diet. Mikhaila Peterson thrives on a 100% beef diet. It’s all fine, as long as nobody pushes their extreme diet onto others.

It’s not flashy, but panels of experts consistently recommend consuming a wide variety of foods, all in moderation. And yes, that can include meat. But you should sneak yourself a few veggies in there when you can.

Well, some people can surely eat “everything in moderation”. Others end up with such severe arthritis on a “balanced” diet that they need to have their hip and ankle joint replaced at the age of 17 (Mikhaila Peterson). I can only say that if these people then end up eating only beef and feeling fine, just accept that as a testament to how different we all are, even though we are all the same species.

How Much Protein Should You Eat?

TL;DR: At least 2g per kg of your desired weight, every day, mostly from animal sources.

This is a really old question that never really goes away. There are many different answers, and depending on which philosophy you follow, which agendas you have, and which books you read, you can end up with very different recommendations. There are some authors who recommend a really low intake of protein, about 10% of total calories. Those recommendations are well below the RDA (recommended daily allowance) issued by the U.S. government, which is 0.8g per kg of “reference body weight”. At the high end of the spectrum you have the body building community, traditionally recommending intakes well above 2g per kg.

So there is this wide range of intakes which people can survive on, ranging between about 5-50% of calories from protein. What is ideal? Does it depend on your goals, your age, your gender? The average intake in modern “westernized” societies is around 14-15%. The average intake in modern hunter-gatherer populations is about 25%.

My suggestion: >30% protein, or >2g per kg of desired body weight, mostly from animal sources!

I’m a big fan of Ted Naiman, who has recently given a great talk on protein intake. He goes through various arguments for and against high protein intake, and basically shows that a) higher protein intakes (above 30%) are not unhealthy and b) improved body composition (more muscle, less body fat) may be easier to achieve on such higher intakes. This is in line with most of the literature I’ve read and agree with. The take-away message is: It’s better to eat too much protein than too little.

There are many books and studies which I could refer you to, but I’ve settled on just linking to this well-respected (and often cited) paper:

Evidence-Based Recommendations for Optimal Dietary Protein Intake in Older People: A Position Paper From the PROT-AGE Study Group

The paper recommends a lower limit of 1.2g per kg of body weight for active people, and 1.5g for those who suffer from acute or chronic disease. That is at least 50% above the RDA (0.8g per kg).

Advantages of Higher Protein Intake From Animal Foods

  • Increased satiety (you stay fuller longer)
  • Positive nitrogen balance (minimal muscle loss, maximum muscle gain)
  • Delicious meals (meat, fish and eggs should be the center-piece)
  • Improved digestion (less bulky plant-matter, more nutrient-dense food)
  • “Automatic low-carb” (more meat/fish means less carb-heavy plant food, if total calories stay the same)

So What Does This Mean Practically?

The easiest way to implement this principle is to incrementally change your diet, replacing low-protein/high-carb foods with high-protein/low-carb animal foods. Like I outlined a while ago in my post about changing one’s diet one swap at a time.

For example, If you really like salads, add a nice serving of meat and in exchange, have less or no bread with the salad. Maybe add eggs and reduce beans/corn.

Extreme Example: Cake vs. High-Protein Yogurt

As a treat, I used to have cheesecake. As it turns out, a little bit of full-fat yogurt, some salt and vanilla whey protein powder emulates the taste nicely. I add some frozen blueberries, and that combination is really, really satisfying and tastes like a combination of blueberry cheesecake and ice cream. According to Cronometer, one serving of Baskin Robbins blueberry cheese cake ice-cream is 273 Calories, with 7% protein, 46% carbs (28g sugar) and 48% fat. This is the worst combination possible: low-protein (5g) plus a 50:50 mix of carbs/sugar and fat.

Here’s my combination of yogurt, salt, protein-powder and blueberries: 31% protein, 18% carbs and 51% fat. 11g of sugar. 21g of protein. So compared to the ice-cream, on an equal-calories basis it contains only 30% of the sugar and carbs, but 4 times more protein. And almost the same amount of fat.

Why Not Use Plant-Based Sources Of Protein?

Typical plant-based sources of protein include low-starch vegetables like broccoli or even kale, and beans/legumes. These foods come with big disadvantages:

  • Low-Starch vegetables surely contain a lot of protein in terms of percent of total calories, but you would have to eat several pounds to get meaningful absolute amounts of protein.
  • Beans/legumes contain a decent amount of protein per calorie, but also a lot of energy in the form of carbohydrates.
  • Both contain a lot of fiber and anti-nutrients which can cause gastro-intestinal distress in many people.
  • The protein in plants is generally less bio-available than that in animals, the human body typically absorbs only 70% of  it. So you would have to eat even more of these sources.

This does not mean you have to stop eating those foods – you just don’t need to eat them for the protein.

 

 

 

 

 

Optimize Your Diet One Swap At A Time!

Last week I wrote about how a meat-based diet works, and why it may be a very efficient and healthy strategy for people who are struggling with weight loss. But how to start? Making a huge change in one’s diet is difficult – lots of habits to change, social pressures, worries about whether it’s the right thing to do … there are many obstacles which make it unlikely that a sudden, big intervention will lead to meaningful long-term changes.

Most people eat a small number of foods most of the time. It is those staple meals you should try to focus on. If you manage to eat really healthy 80% of the time, you can relax a bit on the remaining 20%. So let’s see how you could improve those meals one step at a time.

Make Small Healthy Swaps!

Following those simple rules you can make small tweaks (“swaps”) to your meals which will incrementally improve your diet:

  • Replace a part of the meal which is mostly “empty” calories with meat or other animal products. Or just remove it.
  • The relative amount of protein (% of calories) of the meal must increase.
  • The total number of calories of the meal should not increase.
  • The “deliciousness” of the meal should not decrease.

For example, next time you make sandwiches maybe use half as much bread (half as many sandwiches) or thinner slices of bread, but add more ham and maybe an egg, maybe use home-made mayo instead of margarine. Calories stay the same, empty calories from the bread are being replaced with more satiating calories from the meat and the eggs, and along for the ride come nutrients that our body craves and would not get from bread or vegetables. The sandwiches are still as tasty or even tastier, and much more nutritious!

The main goal physiologically is to increase the nutrient density of the meal, which is measured by putting the amount of nutrients (vitamins, minerals, protein) in relation to the amount of energy (calories).

Why Does This Work For Weight Loss And Body Composition?

By optimizing the meals, the body gets more nutrition and thus stays fuller longer. Studies suggest that protein is the most satiating macro-nutrient. If you do it correctly and choose the right foods – some experimentation might be needed – then you end up with a win-win situation: You eat more delicious meals, are less hungry between meals, and if you are also active or exercise a lot, your body has more raw material (micro-nutrients and protein) to repair and improve your body.

Suggestions For Foods To Swap Out (Remove/Reduce Amount)

  • Bread (including whole-grain)
  • Pasta (including whole-grain)
  • Rice (including brown/whole-grain)
  • Cereal (including … you know the deal)
  • Potatoes (including sweet)
  • Oils (especially industrial seed oils, but also olive/coconut)
  • Cake / Pastry
  • Chocolate (especially sweet non-dark)
  • Candy / Sugary Drinks / Juice
  • Low-Fat Dairy
  • Nut/Soy “milks”

Example Foods To Swap In (Introduce/Increase Amount)

  • Meat in all forms (including processed, but “whole” is better)
  • Fish
  • Cheese (focus on higher-protein types)
  • Full-Fat Dairy
  • Eggs
  • Seafood
  • Bacon (avoid high-fat, or keep amount small)
  • Protein Powder (egg/whey/casein based)
  • Protein Bars (depending on how well you tolerate them – beware of sugar alcohols)
  • Water / Diet Drinks

Some Bad Choices For Swapping In

These are foods which some people might be tempted to use as replacements, but are actually as bad as the foods that get replaced, or they are at best neutral and don’t contribute to satiety as much as the other foods above. That doesn’t mean you should never eat them! It just means that they are less obvious choices as replacements, and you should be careful when using them. Reducing the amount works for many people, and/or combining them with the safer choices above.

  • Butter (except in small amounts for frying or as a condiment like garlic butter)
  • Heavy Cream (unless in small amounts and/or paired with protein)
  • Other Oils/Fat (empty calories / no protein, even if animal-based or “extra virgin”)
  • Whole Grains/Fiber (adds little nutrition / protein, leads to bloating in some people)
  • Low-Starch Vegetables (add them on top if you can digest them well, but they add little satiety / protein)
  • Fruit (much sugar, little satiety / protein)
  • Nuts (too many calories, small effect on satiety)

 

In Defense Of Meat-Based Diets

I previously talked about how to thrive on a vegan diet.  But the opposite approach – a diet heavy in meat – may actually turn out to be best for me, or indeed many people. In this post I will try to outline what I am doing right now, and touch briefly on most of the arguments pro/con a meat based diet, which will then be discussed in much greater detail in future posts.

Disclaimer: This is what I eat – it is not medical advice for you. You can – and should – decide yourself what you eat. For the last 10 years I’ve been reading close to 50 books on the topic, watching countless presentations by experts, examining studies and meta-analyses, listening to podcasts … I’ve considered the opinions of mainstream authors and scientists, naturopaths (ugh), vegans, paleos, doctors, psychologists … to quote one of my favorite TV personas: “It’s a jungle out there!”. I don’t expect you to trust me on anything that I write, except for one thing: Every sentence is not just an opinion I adopted because I saw some isolated headline on the news, but instead the result of this vast process of gathering information and comparing different sources.

Take what you want from this, with a bucket of salt, do your own investigation and then decide what to do. It is your health that’s on the line. Especially if you have a couple of pounds to lose and you’ve never tried a diet like this before, you may want to consider giving it a try.

TL;DR: Meat is perfectly healthy food which humans are “designed” to eat.  In the last 50+ years meat – and animal-based food in general – has been maligned by the media, and science unfortunately took a huge step in the wrong direction in the 1950s with blaming saturated fat and cholesterol for many of the modern chronic diseases. As a result, the mainstream advice for healthy nutrition (a diet based on grains/carbs with some meat, vegetables and fruit) may be the opposite of what is actually healthy.

What Does “Meat-Based” Mean?

There are people who eat 100% meat and nothing else (except salt). The most common labels for this type of diet are “carnivore” or “carnivory”. I define my “meat-based diet” as one where the vast majority of calories (like 80%) comes from meat or other animal products.

Why “Meat-Based” and not “Animal-Based”?

Healthy vegan diets are typically also called “plant-based” – shouldn’t I call my diet “animal-based”? Perhaps, but most people find that for various reasons, having to do with nutrition, satiety and environmental concerns, the staple food on such a diet is red meat from ruminants (cow, bison, sheep). So “meat-based” is a better description of what people eat mostly on such a diet. For vegans, “grain/legume/tuber-based” would be most accurate, or “avocado/nut-based” if they’re doing some form ketogenic diet.

What are the Goals of the Diet?

In a nutshell:

  • Eating to satiety (no hunger pangs or blood sugar crashes)
  • Enjoying the food (delicious meals)
  • Optimal body composition (“look good naked”)
  • Optimal athletic performance (metabolic flexibility, fat-burning)
  • Overall health and longevity (nutritious diet, avoid anti-nutrients)
  • Protect the environment (sustainable (animal-)agriculture)
  • Avoid orthorexia (keep it simple)

Which Foods are “Allowed”?

I think that for any eating pattern to be sustainable it must allow room for exceptions. So instead of outlawing and demonizing certain foods, I will simply list the foods the diet ideally/typically consists of:

  • Red meat from ruminants (cows, bison, sheep)
  • Eggs
  • Dairy (Cheese, Yogurt, Cream, Butter)
  • Fish
  • Poultry
  • Seafood
  • Other red meat
  • Vegetables and mushrooms (low-starch/sugar)
  • Nuts
  • Fruit (low-glycemic like berries and citrus, or very small portions)
  • Salt (liberally)

This list is loosely in descending order of caloric contribution to the diet. This may vary from person to person, for example some people might hate red meat, but love poulty. Some might have allergies or other problems with specific foods. Any combination is fine, provided that 70-80% of the calories are coming from animal food. There is no restriction on salt.

Which Foods are “Forbidden”?

These are foods which are best avoided or at least minimized:

  • Processed food products
  • Grains
  • Sugar
  • Industrial seed oils

Do I Track What I Eat?

Yes, but only occasionally. Every once in a while I will try to track a complete day of eating on Cronometer and check if what I’m eating is in line with what I would intuitively expect.

Are There “Cheat” Days or Meals?

Yes. Sometimes I eat whatever I want, like cake, or ice cream, or even ultra-processed food products. I don’t consider them to be “cheats” though, as long as they don’t undermine the goals of the diet in the long term. This is a “slippery slope” though – some people might do better avoiding these exceptions completely. What definitely doesn’t work for me is the concept of a weekly cheat day. A chocolate sundae every month might be a good solution for some people. If nothing else, consider these exceptions an antidote to orthorexia.

How Could Someone Transition Into This Diet?

Either change everything at once (difficult, but fast), or make simple swaps that reduce carbs and increase protein and fat:

  • Two slices of bread + two slices of ham
    => one slice of bread + two slices of ham + 1 slice of cheese
  • A sandwich or a burger
    => eat everything except the bread, or order without the bread so to waste no food
  • Steak, vegetables and a boiled potato
    => Steak, vegetables, garlic butter + avocado
  • Carb rich cereal bar
    => low-carb protein bar
  • Grain based breakfast
    => eggs and bacon or left-over steak
  • French fries on the side
    => low-carb veggies or salads on the side
  • Bread on the side
    => extra meat or cheese
  • Cake for dessert
    => Berries for dessert
  • Ice cream
    => (full-fat) yogurt without added sugar + berries

In each case you are not necessarily trading a deadly poison for a perfectly healthy food, but you are improving things however slightly, increasing your intake of protein from meat and decreasing your intake of empty calories, particularly from carbohydrate, which your body has no choice but to immediately burn for enery or store as fat. Total energy stays roughly the same, and satiety increases, since protein is ultimately the most satiating macro-nutrient.

What Are The “Macros” On This Diet?

Many people think of diets in terms of macro-nutrient distribution – as you may know, there are basically three macros: Carbs, Protein and Fat. Technically those all provide energy (calories). However, protein is special because the body uses it primarily as a  structural material.

Since one of the goals of the diet is to optimize athletic performance and body composition, it aims for a much higher protein intake than the average in western populations of about 14-15% of total calories. A better way to quantify intake is in relation to body weight. I aim for about 1.5-2g per kg of desired body weight, while the common recommendation is 0.8g per kg. This puts me at around 30-40% of total calories, or twice as much as the average intake. The bulk of my calories come from fat – that follows automatically from the selection of foods preferred on the diet, which are all low in carbohydrate. So a typical macro distribution might be 30% protein, 60% fat, 10% carbs. Higher carb percentages are possible by focusing on very lean cuts of meat, but may negatively affect satiety in some people. Typically, the leaner one gets, the more one craves fat in the diet.

Won’t the Animal Protein Damage Your Kidneys?

No. Many studies show that protein intake even higher than 30% does not affect the kidneys.

What About Calories?

Good Question. I do track calories from time to time. I don’t think that there is any magical benefit on this diet when it comes to calories – if you eat more than you expend, you will gain weight, if you eat less, you’ll lose weight. But since it is impossible to accurately track intake and expenditure, I prefer not to care too much about those numbers. Ultimately it’s your body composition – measured by DEXA, impedance scale or waist circumference – which will show whether you are eating the proper amount of food.

Is This A Ketogenic Diet?

At its core the diet is ketogenic in nature, since meat contains virtually no carbohydrates. But the diet is also heavy in protein and technically the remaining 20% of calories could come from carbs (vegetables and fruit), which means that ketosis is not guaranteed on this diet – it is not the goal. Another way of putting it is that this diet does not rely on dietary carbohydrate to feed the brain or other cells which may require glucose – instead, it aims to optimize metabolic flexibility so that those needs can be met by using fat, ketones or gluconeogenesis.

So It’s a High-Fat Diet – Does That Mean Adding Butter And Oil To Every Meal?

No, not at all – in fact rather the opposite! Butter, oil and cream are mostly empty calories and should be used sparingly. I use butter (ghee, to be precise) when I cook steak, to get a better sear and because I like the taste. But on this diet I try to get the fat (which is necessary as an energy source) mainly from meat, cheese and fish. I find that much more satiating and rewarding, and it also makes the diet much less “greasy” and more tolerable for people who can’t stomach oils and fats.

Won’t (Red) Meat Increase Your Risk Of Cancer?

No. There is this persistent myth that meat causes cancer, but it is not supported by the best available scientific evidence. There are some studies which incriminate meat, but there are many others which exonerate it, and many of the incriminating studies can be shown to be seriously flawed. In my opinion, which is shared by more and more researchers, meat is not a problem – but sugar and industrial seed oils may be.

Won’t the Lack of Fiber Cause Colon Cancer?

No. Again, there is much discussion and misinformation in the media. A lot of flawed science exists which goes back to the beginning of the 20th century and people like Dennis Burkett or Harvey Kellogg, who were pushing a fiber-rich diet for various unscientific reasons. Fiber may actually be an anti-nutrient in many cases, causing problems like bloating, flatulence, IBS and aggravating serious conditions like Crohns Disease or diverticulitis.

But Don’t You Get Constipated On A Diet Low In Veggies And Fruit?

No. People on 100% meat diets commonly report no constipation. This makes sense, since meat is almost completely digested in the small intestine and doesn’t even make it to the colon. The human digestive system is very similar to that of dogs, which also thrive on a fiber free diet. As an interesting side note, dogs also tend to become diabetic if fed a diet higher in carbs and fiber (some dog foods contain potatoes and legumes).

My first hand experience, which is consistent with other meat-eaters, is that increasing veggies and fruit intake leads to bloating and having to go to the toilet more frequently and unpredictably/explosively, while removing them entirely leads to completely “regular”, but less frequent (a good thing) bowel movements. Ok, maybe that was a case of “too much information”, but frankly, it makes quite a difference in one’s every day life, so it is important to speak about.

But The Saturated Fat and Cholesterol Will Clog Your Arteries?

No. This myth is the most pervasive of all – the biggest scientific mistake in the field of modern nutritional science. Fortunately it is also the one which by now (2018) is mostly on its way out, with articles about the health benefits of high-fat dairy and animal products coming out on an almost weekly basis.

Shouldn’t We Eat As Little Salt As Possible Though?

No. 5-10 grams per day is perfectly fine, more if you’re doing a lot of sports in warm weather. Especially on a diet which is low in carbs, ensuring proper salt intake is important. Eat too little salt, and you won’t feel good in terms of mood and energy – on any diet.

What about Vitamins and Minerals?

Not a problem. Since the diet allows for vegetables and fruit and because, despite misinformation to the contrary, meat does contain a decent amount of minerals and vitamins, I typically get plenty of everything. Some minerals will be lower – for example, potassium or manganese. Feel free to use supplements (for example vitamin D), but there are people who thrive on a 100% meat diet which is technically deficient in some vitamins or minerals. The fact that people thrive anyway suggests that the vitamin/mineral requirements change when you are on a largely meat-based diet. It may even be the case that when you eat only meat, requirements change completely, but that is a highly speculative hypothesis.

Why Meat – Can’t You Get Everything From Plants?

The obvious nutrient not found in plants is vitamin B12. Other than that, there are a number of nutrients which are not officially listed as essential (because our body can make them from other nutrients) which are only available in animal based foods. Carnitine is one obvious example. Another big topic is bio-availability. Nutrients in plants often come along with anti-nutrients which block absorption, or the plants might only provide a precursor of the actual nutrient which then has to be converted in the human body, which may or may not work efficiently. Example: vitamin A (beta-carotene).

What About Ethical Concerns?

This is the main concerns that many vegans have. Some of them argue based on nutrition, but when push comes to shove, what motivates them most is avoiding the suffering of sentient animals. That is why I argue for eating mostly ruminant meat, eggs and dairy: Cows and chicken can be grown responsibly, with minimal suffering, and they are also the key to sustainable agriculture.

What About The Environment?

Sustainable agriculture is largely about protecting the topsoil. The only way to do this are perennial plants – like grass. Only they have roots deep enough to ensure that the soil stays healthy. Ruminant animals live in harmony with grass, chicken as well. Now, if you also take into account that much more land supporting pastures exists on our planet than the small amount which is suitable for the monocrops required to feed the world the vegan way, it becomes clear that a meat-based diet is completely sustainable. Or at least, every bit as much as the opposite.