Paleobird's Adventures in Carnivorousness
When I consider making a change in the way I eat, I really do the research from many sources.
The first thing I realized is there are as many different factions of carnivores as there are paleo/Primals. Saying that all carnivores believe or do <xyz> would be like saying all Primals are VLC or all Primals eat lots of potatoes.
There was a dude named Owsley “The Bear” Stanley whose major claim to fame was being sound man and purveyor of LSD for The Grateful Dead. He ate a completely carnivorous diet for something like fifty years until his death in a car crash. Knowing how to cook LSD does not qualify someone to dispense nutritional advice but his experiences are interesting. Remaining robustly healthy in spite of the party lifestyle of being on the road with the Dead is also an accomplishment. Some carnivore web sites, however, worship at the alter of the Holy Bear a bit too much for me.
The Bear has some interesting insights but on other things he gets it wrong, i.e. he says that you should avoid salt at all costs. So, I pick a bit of wisdom here and there from his writings but don’t take them as gospel.
Other web sites such as Zeroing In On Health (ZIOH) base some of their WOE on the writings of Arctic explorers such as Steffanson who spent time with the Inuit before European dietary influences.
These are also interesting sources of info but open to a lot of European interpretation and bias. For example, the ZIOH leader interprets Steffanson writing about Eskimos giving liver to their dogs to mean that they felt it was not fit for humans. This is handy to justify the fact that he (Mr. ZIOH), doesn’t like liver. The Eskimos’ actions could be interpreted to mean the exact opposite. In a world where the health of dogs could mean life or death for people, giving the dogs the most highly prized part of the kill would make sense.
The leader of the ZIOH website is, quite frankly , rather a d*ickhead, IMO. (Carnivorousness seems to attract strong personalities for better or worse.) Seeing as how it’s his blog, I guess he can act any way he wants.
His personal experiences as a marathon runner who consistently places in the top ten in his age group on a diet of mostly pemmican are interesting. His personal biases are expressed as if they were gospel truth however.
Another example is his contention that grass fed meat is a rip off with zero health benefits. He keeps citing this one beef industry funded study as “proof” and gets all bent if anybody questions his position referring to caring about the conditions an animal lives in as “emotional” arguments as if that invalidates them. (It’s interesting to note, however, that, since he has signed a sponsorship agreement with US Wellness Meats, he has softened his “Yay, Walmart Beef!” rhetoric a bit to saying that this is an individual decision.)
There is another site called Dirty Carnivore, making a play off the dietary purity advocated by ZIOH by saying that they admit to being less than perfectly “clean” carnivores. Their approach is pretty balanced, including a bit of vegetation for flavor and variety.
The only thing that bugged me about the DC site was that a few of its most active posters are also avidly into raw carnivorousness. I love a good steak tartare or sashimi. But the zealotry around raw carnivorousness can be very similar to raw veganism.
They got all offended that Wrangham’s book, “Catching Fire : How Cooking Made Us Human”, was brought up. Wrangham speculates that harnessing fire could have been what led to our sudden (in evolutionary terms) increase in brain size. Wrangham was not saying that cooked meat is better, just that it gives the body more net calories after digestion, a biological fact not in dispute.
The DC posters however, took Wrangham’s work as some sort of an indictment of their lifestyle and started manning the battlements. Silly.
Another fine point on which various carnivorous resources don’t agree is the inclusion of things that are not in the biological sense animal or plant. These are sea veggies which are algae and mushrooms which are fungi. Some carnivores draw the line between meat and non meat while others draw it between plant and non plant.
There is also some dissension about dairy products with some saying that the lactose carbs are too high and others saying that the carbs from animal products don’t count.
There are even some strict ZCers who think that eggs are too high in carbs. That, IMO, is off the deep end of silly.
Note: the people who refer to themselves as ZC are fully aware that it is impossible to be fully zero carb as even meat has some carbs. They are using the term ZC to differentiate it from the other plans that call themselves “low-carb” but could have anything from 5-50% carbs. ZC generally sets a limit of 5% of daily calories. Some say, as long as you are only eating animal products, don’t even bother counting.
So, at the end of the day, I don’t really feel comfortable that any one carnivorous guru or website has got all the answers. Since they can’t all agree on anything I’m left picking and choosing my sources and doing what feels intuitively right to me.
Main arguments often made against carnivorousness:
1) But you need veggies for fiber
2) But you will be nutritionally deficient without veggies
3) All meat all the time would get boring as all heck
On #1, I think there is enough evidence to show that fiber is not the panacea that it is marketed as and can be harmful in excess. (See “Fiber Menace” by Konstantin Manastrysky.) On a ketogenic protocol, my digestive system has been thanking me for backing off of the large amount of veggies.
On #2, The nutritional stats on many plant foods such as spinach look really good on paper but not all that nutrition is available to our bodies. Because much plant matter passes on through we don’t get to use all of that.
Also plants contain anti-nutrients that bind to some of the other nutrition we take in and keep us from getting at it too. Hmmm.
On #3, No argument at all. The leader of ZIOH eats nothing but pemmican, beef muscle meat and water but I’m not going there. The DC site advocates what it calls a “meat centered” diet. This makes more sense to me.
Points on which the carnivorous diet makes a lot of sense to me:
1)We’re still eating all those wonderful phytonutrients. We’re just letting the animals process them into food for us first. They do it much more efficiently than we ever could.
2)The logical extension of the anti-nutrient argument made by paleo against grains also applies to veggies to a lesser degree. Grains are clearly not worth the cost benefit tradeoff. So where to draw the line?
3)IMO, there is a lot of social conditioning that goes into health conscious people professing to luuuurve their veggies and saying they could never give them up. We happily bite into a raw broccoli stalk dipped in yoghurt dressing but is it really the broccoli or might the dressing with a spoon be even better? I can, as a good cook, *make* any vegetable sit down, shut up, and taste good. With enough cream sauce, melted butter, salt, and spices, sawdust would probably taste good too. Just as we left behind the social conditioning that bread is the staff of life, perhaps we can leave behind the health food social conditioning that veggies are so essential. Personally, if I never eat kale again, it will be too soon.
Places where the carnivorous diet philosophy is weak, IMO :
1)It’s impossible to overeat on animal products. The contention is that it is only the carbs in your diet that are causing you to overeat. Hmmm.
2)If you eat excess protein *in the absence of carbs*, it will get excreted, not stored. Hmmmm.
Not sure if that if either of these holds true or not. But then one wouldn’t know until one tried.
So the carnivorous diet I would construct for myself would be “dirty” not pure. Meat centered buy not exclusively meat. Of all the experts, it comes closest to what Nora is saying in "Primal Body, Primal Mind".
I would include the not “strictly plant” plants because I love shrooms and seaweed salad.
Dairy would definitely be in as well. You can pry my mascarpone from my cold dead hands.
Some plants that are high in fat would still be in such as avocados, coconut products, and an occasional splurge on macadamia nuts.
Things like onion and garlic are included as condiments. And I’m not giving up my Mexican salsas.
A seasonal splurge such as home grown berries or a peach picked off my neighbor’s tree would be fine too (Dr. Georgia Ede on her website Diagnosis Diet : Where Nutrition Meets Common Sense (Nutrition Science Meets Common Sense | Dr. Georgia Ede | Diagnosis: Diet) has some very interesting things to say about the relative safety of fruits vs veggies in our diets.
If there is any vegetation not listed above that I actually like in its natural condition (not just as a dip or butter delivery device) then I will have some. The only ones that come to mind, no matter how hard I think, are bell peppers and maybe asparagus. Nah! I can take or leave the asparagus. Bell peppers are more of a condiment/decoration.
As you may know I have been eating on a ketogenic protocol for some time with great success in controlling my epilepsy. Constantly trying to shoehorn a bunch of veggies into the daily diet because some little maternal voice in your head tells you you *need* lots of veggies to be healthy, can be difficult.
And before someone comes in and starts telling me about how I have disordered eating and this is SO limited, no, I am eating what I like and what I know is good for me. On this plan, they are one and the same.