Last week we recorded the MEAT Podcast, with Dr Paul Mason (MD), a Metabolic Specialist, who while he won’t publicly claim he is a carnivore, if you scratch below the surface, he largely is (episode available next Monday – super interesting).
Most of you know I love meat, but I have also publicly stated many times (including in my book), that I believe people should eat less meat (but better quality). So, this growing movement of carnivores is making me both curious and a touch uncomfortable.
Of all the trends that buck conventional nutrition advice, the carnivore diet may seem like the most radical one yet. It’s one thing to recommend cutting carbs (the ketogenic diet) or eating only plant foods (the vegan diet), but to suggest that animal foods are all you need to be healthy, and that vegetables can actually be detrimental to health is a giant punch in the face to everything we were taught in school and all the recent nutrition and health headlines.
After all, everyone knows that meat is dangerous, especially if you eat a lot of it… right? And that you need at least five servings of fruits and vegetables per day… Or do you?
So, I reverted to a resource I know and trust (one of the Sports Scientists at onnit.com) who recently investigated the carnivore diet down to the marrow and found out what happens to your body when you consume animals and nothing else.
Animals with big teeth and short digestive tracts are meant to eat meat. But what about people? We’re omnivores. Is an all-animal diet even possible for us?
According to Brian St. Pierre, R.D., Director of Performance Nutrition at Precision Nutrition, an education and consulting company (precisionnutrition.com), plant foods aren’t absolutely required in the human diet. “What do we actually need to live? We need protein, fat, and vitamins and minerals in certain amounts,” says St. Pierre. Animal foods—and meat, specifically—can arguably cover those needs. That certainly doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t eat plants, but, from a nutrition standpoint, it isn’t vital that we do, at least for short-term health.
The thing is, though, aside from some isolated tribal people in far corners of the world (such as the Innuits of arctic regions), few people have ever tried to live on animals alone. Those who have did so simply because no other sources of food were available. However, the carnivore diet (also called a zero-carb diet) has recently caught fire. And people are following it by choice!
Why? For many of the same reasons people try a ketogenic diet: weight loss, clearer thinking, fewer digestive problems, lower inflammation, increased testosterone and a simple approach to eating that lets them consume foods they enjoy. It may also offer performance benefits. Though scrapping all plant foods seems like a severe step, it instantly removes nearly all of the allergens and antinutrients that some people find cause health problems and discomfort, and, as with ketogenic diets, the lack of carbs alone can offer a range of advantages.
With his appearance on the Joe Rogan Experience podcast in late 2017, and his promotion through the website nequalsmany.com and Instagram (@shawnbaker1967), Shawn Baker is the most famous proponent of the carnivore diet. An orthopaedic surgeon and lifelong drug-free athlete, Baker is in his 50s, ripped, and a physical marvel, having recently set two indoor rowing world records. He claims to have eaten only animal products—limiting himself mainly to rib-eye steaks—for more than a year, while suffering no ill health effects and watching his gains in the gym soar.
Reasons the Carnivore Diet Might Still Be Totally F@#$ing Crazy
Perhaps the carnivore diet isn’t as ridiculous as it may at first sound. Nevertheless, there are some compelling reasons to not try it—or at least not follow it for very long.
It’s safe to say that, if everyone adopted this diet, the world would run out of animals pretty fast. Supporting sustainable farming practices and eating locally is a noble, smart way to improve the welfare of animals and reduce pollutants, but drastically increasing the demand for meat would undoubtedly have a detrimental effect on the planet—at least while conventional farming methods remain pervasive.
Vegetables Are Still Good
Carnivore dieters blame digestive problems on plants. Grains, legumes, and nuts are indeed sources of phytic acid, an antinutrient that can prevent the body’s absorption of iron and zinc. But according to St. Pierre, the negative impact it has on your nutrition is minimal. “The data on phytic acid, lectins, and tryptin inhibitors is nowhere near as bad as people like to make it out to be,” says St. Pierre. Plants have innate defence systems to discourage predators from eating them, but that doesn’t mean they can’t or shouldn’t be eaten. Similarly, “a lobster has a shell and claws to defend itself, but that doesn’t mean you can’t eat it,” says St. Pierre.
Also, the way we prepare food reduces the potency of the antinutrients within it. When bread is baked with yeast, the phytic acid content in the grains dissipates. Levels are also low in sprouted-grain and sourdough bread. “At the same time,” says St. Pierre, “in reasonable amounts, phytic acid also has some potential health benefits, one of them being anti-cancer, and it can chelate heavy metals.” One such heavy metal, iron, can be toxic in high amounts. And you risk getting such amounts on an all-meat diet.
This isn’t to say that some people aren’t especially sensitive to certain plant foods. If you know one that bothers you, don’t eat it. But it’s probably best not to weed out every bit of vegetation in your diet based on a reaction to one or two types.
The planet isn’t the only thing that could suffer if you go all meat, all the time. You may end up hating life, no matter how cool the idea of eating burgers and bacon all day sounds to you now. A strict animal diet means no beer, no avocado on toast… and, in fact, no bread at all. You can bend the rules and have your cheat days, but then you’re not really doing the diet, are you?
If it was choice between vegan and carnivore, I would choose the latter. But since it’s not, I am sticking with my belief i.e. a largely wholefoods diet, including sustainably raised meat, is the right approach to optimal health for the vast majority of us (and the planet).
Until next week, stay healthy