This is a follow-up to my last post. I detailed in it the history of the human diet. You may recall the importance meat has played throughout our history. At one point, humans were predominately meat eaters and by definition hypercarnivore. As we began to consume plants we needed to find ways to process them to make them less toxic. A dying art that has contributed to chronic disease. Since we found shortcuts many of the harmful toxins are not removed such as phytates, oxalates, and lectins. Now we are being told to eat primarily a plant-based diet which goes against all of human history. With that is now an emerging new trend, carnivore. I want to break this down and why it is not as crazy as it sounds.
Why the trend?
The trend started awhile back with the Paleo diet. Of course, the Paleo diet has been around for a very long time and has gone by different names. But it became popular starting in the 2000s. The Paleo diet is supposed to mimic our hunter-gatherer ancestors who ate primarily meat with some foraging on the side. There are different variations of it. Some have it as more plant-based which I disagree with and I think the data does too. Some include dairy because certain groups today use it like the Maasai. It can be incredibly beneficial if you are not sensitive to it.
Part of the reason the Paleo diet gained so much traction is they called into question the mainstream narrative on fats and grains. People who started eating this way found their health problems went away. They were bloating less. Digestion improved. Brain fog disappeared and energy returned. This led many researchers to understand why. They soon discovered and in some cases, rediscovered, that many plant foods are harmful to us. When we remove them, we feel better. And what was more fringe came to the forefront such as leaky gut syndrome which is all but accepted now. The microbiome is another big one that is still gaining needed attention.
But for many this was not enough. They were still sick. They felt better, but not all the way. Some thought the diet failed them and tried something else. Others chose to go a more radical route, carnivore.
First came Keto. When it became popular, many found it to be very helpful. Keto is when you drop carbs low enough that body switches to burning fat as fuel. Fat is turned into acetyl-CoA which combines with oxaloacetate to enter the Krebs cycle where we get our ATP, the body’s energy source. In keto, the amount of acetyl-CoA exceeds oxaloacetate. The body converts the excess into ketones, another fuel source and where keto or ketosis gets its name. Keto helps many lose excess weight, reverse insulin resistance, improve mental clarity, and many other things.
If you have been watching the trend, keto came up after Paleo. Everyone started writing books on it. However, again many didn’t have a full resolution of symptoms. So what was the next step? Completely eliminate all potential sources of toxins and sensitivities, enter carnivore.
I first came across it with Dr. Jordan Peterson and his daughter Mikhaila Peterson who both recovered from chronic illnesses being carnivore. That peaked my interest though I still saw it as extreme. However, when I opened myself up to it and listened to one of the most prominent carnivore advocates, Dr. Paul Saladino, I found what he said very intriguing. I knew much of what he was talking about. I knew about the dangers of nightshades and lectins as many people I treat are sensitive to them. What seemed like a fad was quickly becoming understandable. So I decided to try it for myself and it serves as an important caveat.
My Personal Experience
I started with pure carnivore and then after 2 weeks I included dairy as it usually is not an issue for me. I know many advocates say no dairy, but I thought it would help. After 1 month I transitioned to animal-based which I continued for 6 months. Animal-based is similar but includes fruit. Noticeable improvements included clarity, less fatigue, and certain skin issues healed. I also had less headaches. Though they were still there. These were not migraines but more the tension/stress type. Overall, I felt much better! It was kind of amazing. Of course it got boring at times especially early on when I was strict. But I couldn’t deny the results. But I still had the headaches to deal with which were often frustrating and painful.
I ultimately ended up stopping. Just was getting fed up with the headaches. I couldn’t figure them out. Neither could a doctor friend of mine. Something else had to be going on and I couldn’t put my finger on for awhile. Like many I kind of threw in the towel, I didn’t know what to do. I was still mostly Paleo/animal-based with times where I was less, started to include things like white rice and corn. It was not until I saw someone else, my mentor Dr. Gangemi, that we figured out it was a particular issue that needed certain supplementation. Yes, even doctors need to see someone even multiple people. Actually more than not it is helpful because they have an outside perspective. Either way, the supplementation helped balance part of my nervous system leading me to get back to the diet.
Why is this important? Not everything can be fixed with diet changes, though it is a big hitter. Part of people’s issues are due to other things going on not being solved by the diet. Infections and heavy metal toxicities being among the common ones. If you are stuck you definitely want to find a competent practitioner to help you figure it out. Nonetheless, do not let this deter you from the diet. It doesn’t mean the diet is not good. It does not mean carnivore does not have its place. It does. And for many its very beneficial. Just means the picture is bigger than just diet.
Benefits of Carnivore
Again, please don’t misunderstand me. I don’t want you to come away with carnivore is not a good option. It absolutely can be! There are many benefits to eating a carnivore diet. There are some drawbacks too. A lot of those can be solved with eating a mostly carnivore diet which is often called carnivore-ish or animal-based. Really it depends on the person, what they can handle and still be healthy, and what works for their lifestyle. So what are some of the benefits?
Like with keto and Paleo, many report weight loss, increased energy, improved clarity and focus, and less prone to illness. Amazing benefits all of us want! Others report that they sunburn less and tan better. Improved hormone production and libido. Their performance at the gym improves. Others have noticed blood flow improved to the point that they can see visible pulses. Others still have had chronic issues go completely away such as autoimmune diseases, migraines, PMS, and prostate problems. There are many others. But I wanted to touch on one that is personal to me, many have seen infertility go away and they were able to conceive. What a blessing that can be! My wife and I know it all too well.
So how can this seemingly extreme diet provide so many benefits? Like I already mentioned it removes a ton of foods that can be inflammatory and can cause many adverse reactions. Plants cannot run away so they create toxins to deter anything that would harm it. The leaves, stems, seeds, and roots tend to be the worst parts. Fruit tend to be the safest. Some plants are worse than others. So there is a fair bit of trial and error. But when you drastically remove all of them, you often feel better. Well once you are past any keto flu symptoms if you are not prepared for them or used to going keto. Balancing electrolytes is crucial for that.
Furthermore, you receive a lot of nutrients. This is a very nutrient-dense diet. Pound for pound, meat especially organ meats have more nutrients compared to any plant. Firstly, you get a huge amount of bioavailable protein. We need a lot of protein and our society is severely lacking in it. Plant-based proteins do not count, they are not even close. Your body does not absorb them well at all. Secondly, there is a huge amount of vitamins and minerals. Liver is truly nature’s multivitamin.
First is socially. It is a bit weird to say the least. Many will feel the social pressure and it can be overwhelming especially at special events like birthdays. There are work arounds so you can still enjoy a night out with friends or family. Of course, it is easier if you are able to be flexible without it effecting your health.
Second is the possibility of some nutrient deficiencies. Most of these are solved by including the whole animal and eating nose to tail. That being said, magnesium can be hard. Mineral water and if you can have dairy can help with this. Some choose to supplement. It is can be difficult since the availability of vitamins and minerals has decreased in our soils and thereby our plants. All the more reason to eat more animal-based because they are so-nutrient dense.
Outside of that it mainly comes down to cravings and want for foods you used to eat. That often goes away in time. And hopefully the benefits outweigh any of the potential cravings. But that is about it when it comes to drawbacks.
This is not meant to be a comprehensive look but an overview of the current trend. There is so much more to it. I will include some extra resources below. The point is, it is not just a fad but has good reasons for it. Carnivore can be and has been very helpful for many people. I have noticed many benefits from it as well as eating a more carnivore-ish diet. So before you outright dismiss it, give it a shot. Learn about it and see if it is right for you.
I have a love for learning so from time to time I will post many of things I am reading or learning from. So my hope is these will help and spark a love for learning for others too!
- Carnivore Cure by Judy Cho, also has a great podcast.
- Carnivore Code by Paul Saladino, great book I mentioned earlier.
- Peak Human Podcast, one of my favorite podcasts.
- Ken Berry, MD YouTube Channel, lots of useful information here.
- Fundamental Health Podcast, very informative also by Saladino.