Marks Daily Apple
Serving up health and fitness insights (daily, of course) with a side of irreverence.
13 Jan

What About a Zero Carb Diet?

no veggies 1Zero carb is getting (relatively) popular. A handful of valued MDA forum members eat little-to-no-carb, and several others probably imagine it’s ideal even if they don’t personally follow it. I wanted to address this because there seems to be some confusion as to how a zero carb eating plan relates to the Primal Blueprint eating plan. To begin with: I think zero carb can be a viable option for some, but highly impractical for most. If one had access to and ate different animals, all range fed and without pollutants, and if one ate all offal (and stomach contents) it’s possible to approach zero carb… but again highly impractical. If you really, really love meat and fat and offal, and get genuine enjoyment from eating nothing but meat and fat and offal, have at it. On the other hand, if you are looking for a wider variety – and gustatory enjoyment – of the foods you eat, zero carb may be unenjoyable, impractical, unnecessary, and at worst (if not done just right) downright dangerous.

Let’s take a look at just a few of the reasons why vegetables are a part of The Primal Blueprint:

First, it’s highly unlikely that early man would have consciously avoided edible, available vegetation. We already know that current hunter-gatherers take advantage of anything edible within reach – plant or animal. We are adaptive capitalists, ready and willing to exploit any situation to our advantage. Humans are survivors and they’ll eat whatever is available. If you subscribe to the “out of Africa” model of human evolution – as do most anthropologists – the bulk of our evolution took place in the lush, fertile Africa grasslands where both game and vegetation were plentiful. Grok wasn’t throwing together multicolored salads every day at noon, but the precedent for plant consumption is there. The opportunity certainly was.

People have ranged far and wide across the globe, living in a variety of environments and ecosystems, each with different sources of food. Looking at the fossil records, it’s difficult to pinpoint the exact Paleolithic diet (whatever that means), seeing as how vegetable matter degrades and bone endures. But it’s safe to say that meat and fat have always been preferred by man, and our ancestors’ adoption of a meat and fat-heavy diet necessitated and prompted (in the cycle of positive feedback between culture and physiology that so often describes evolution) the smaller guts and bigger brains we enjoy today. Many like to take this point combined with examples of people surviving on animals alone as proof that vegetables should be restricted or avoided entirely. As I see it, when a carnivorous-predominant group does arise, like the Inuit, it is only out of necessity. They are an exception to the rule. The Inuit survived in a barren, arid environment by eating whatever was available: marine animals, fat, blubber, organs, and fish. It wasn’t by choice. They weren’t turning their noses up at bushels of berries and teeming fields of wild cabbage; the opportunity simply wasn’t there. In every other case, humans will eat both plants and animals if they are given the chance, and plant matter is mostly available all over the world, depending on the season.

The Inuit do, though, show us that an-all meat, zero carb diet has the potential to be healthy. It might even be desirable for certain people if (here comes the tricky part), as I said, they use organic range-fed whole animals – muscle meat, fat, organs, offal, stomach contents – to get the whole spectrum of fat-soluble nutrients and vitamins. All those thriving near-carnivorous traditional groups the zero carb crowd likes to throw around weren’t buying tubes of 80/20 Walmart beef and nothing else; they were eating spoiled organs, consuming stomach contents, fermenting full-fat dairy, drinking fish liver shooters, gnawing on still-beating bison heart, and feasting on a “guts and grease” diet. Stefansson’s oft-cited all-meat diet experiment wasn’t just muscle and fat; it was fried liver and brains, fish, and a whole host of animal products. As for the ground beef and water diets that seem popular in some ZC circles? You’re fooling yourself if you think that’s an optimum diet for health and longevity, and I’m not sure if some favorable lab numbers garnered after six months of eating nothing but burger mean much at all. Better than the standard American diet of chips, sodas, cookies, and rancid fats on top of the same burger meat? Maybe. Optimum? Not a chance. Let’s see what happens in thirty years. Staunch ZCer Danny Roddy’s strangely scurvy-esque symptoms following a purely pemmican diet should give you pause.

That sort of fear of macronutrients is silly and potentially dangerous. Avoiding grass-fed beef liver because it contains a few grams of carbohydrates is crazy (or did you conveniently forget that crucial aspect of the Inuit and Plains Native diets – organ meats?). Eschewing pastured eggs and all their yolky goodness because of a fraction of a gram of carbohydrates? Madness. Now, avoiding all carbs because you feel better without them? I can get behind that. Trying to maximize fat loss by going zero carb for short periods of time? Worth trying. Trying to prove your glucose-freebasing marathoner friends wrong by beating them on a ultra-low carb diet? I love a good self-experiment; do it! A complete zero carb diet is possible to get right, albeit a bit impractical and unwieldy for most people (if you think sourcing grass-fed beef is tough, trying finding a steady supply of pastured thyroid glands, kidneys, livers, brains, tripe, and heart!), but so is an omnivorous one. Which would you prefer? Which would enhance your quality of life? As long as you’re avoiding grains, legumes, sugar, and industrial vegetable oils, these are the important questions to dwell on.

But what of vegetables? Is there anything inherent to be feared? Most plants are, at the worst, harmless. Others, like the seeds of wheat and barley and legumes, really don’t want to be eaten and can cause problems. These guys employ various anti-nutrients, chemical defenses like lectins and gluten to prevent and dissuade consumption. Certain animal and insect species have developed tolerances, but we generally have not. It is necessary for proper health that we humans “deprive” ourselves of these foods. I get that. And people sensitive to nightshades should avoid them, just as the lactose intolerant should probably avoid even raw dairy, and people with a severe shellfish allergy should avoid shrimp. This is basic stuff. But to posit that humans are somehow wholly intolerant of all vegetables and fruits is nonsense. Leafy greens like spinach and kale, carrots, asparagus, broccoli, squash, even the occasional sweet potato – some people would have you believe these are poison. Unnecessary? Perhaps. Dangerous? No, and especially when eaten with plenty of fat, vegetables are excellent vehicles for delivering beneficial nutrients, vitamins, and minerals to the people consuming them (read a few of our Smart Fuel posts on vegetables for more info on this point). Leafy greens, for example, are great sources of magnesium and calcium. Sardines and mackerel are good sources, too, but do they negate the utility (or deliciousness) of a plate of kale, sauteed in garlic butter and topped with lemon juice? This, to me, isn’t a point not to be taken lightly.

There’s more to this picture. As long as you’re going to be cooking your meat there are good reasons to eat your steak with a side of veggies. A researcher named Joseph Kanner has spent a career looking at how the potential nastiness of cooked meats – oxidized fats, for instance – are neutralized in the “bioreactor” of the stomach with the inclusion of antioxidants from vegetables, red wine, and tea. Does this mean vegetables are required for safe consumption of cooked meat? Probably not, but unless you’re eating all your meat and offal raw, ultra-slow-cooked, or super rare, you may want to include a small salad, a bit of broccoli, or a glass of wine with that ribeye. Plant-based antioxidants (flavonoids, carotenoids, and other phytonutrients) in general provide a good line of defense against stress, inflammation, and the ravages of aging in the context of the former two conditions. A perfect zero carber who closely watches meat sources, gets plenty of sleep, good Primal exercise, and leads a low-stress existence is probably fine without piles of vegetables, but the average person who stumbles upon the PB and needs to drop a few dozen pounds, kick a few prescription meds, and maintain on inconsistent sleep? A Big Ass Salad (BAS) for lunch and some berries for breakfast (along with near carnivorous eating otherwise) will go a long way toward healing them – and they’d definitely be a huge improvement over what they were previously eating.

And this gets me to my final main point on the importance of plants. The Primal Blueprint eating plan supports vegetation in large part because it’s meant to be a sustainable regimen – for life. Our supportive stance on vegetation is meant to include, rather than preclude. I’m trying to positively modify as many individual eating habits as I can in my short time on this planet. My work is my work, but I’m passionate about it, and I don’t want to be a starving diet guru with an incredibly loyal but miniscule cadre of die-hard followers. I want to affect people on a huge scale. I refuse to water my message down (“drink diet sodas and avoid saturated fat”), but if including lots of vegetables attracts more people without detracting from the nutritional merits of the lifestyle, I’m going to keep doing it. I’m talking about the people who need our help the most. They are our parents, our friends, our neighbors, and they stand to gain the most from adopting a Primal eating plan. Excluding vegetables right off the bat would only turn people away and relegate us to “fad diet” status immediately. It’s already an uphill battle, folks, and we don’t need any more roadblocks. Please, though, don’t read this as some sort of vague admission that vegetables aren’t a critical part of a healthy eating plan. I only mean to note this added importance that veggies bring to the PB.

Before I wrap this up, let me speak specifically to how this relates to the official Primal Blueprint Food Pyramid – which is founded on vegetables, and to a lesser extent, fruits. Vegetation gets prime seating at the base as it makes up the bulk of an average PB meal, with meat and other animal products following up immediately after. When you take a look at the average Primal eater’s caloric daily breakdown though, fat and meat take the lion’s share. And when we publish a PB recipe, more often than not it features animal flesh proudly and prominently. Vegetation represents the foundation of the pyramid graphic but not the bulk of the caloric reality, which might seem designed to mislead.

It’s not, though. For one thing, the sheer volume of raw vegetation is immense. Three cups of raw spinach quickly become less than a cup’s worth when exposed to butter and a heated surface. A few cups of buttered broccoli might displace enough three-dimensional space to fill a plate, but it won’t fill you up; the ten ounces of steak to the left will take care of that. In that sense, vegetation can and often does form the foundation of a Primal eating strategy, calories notwithstanding, but it’s not a ton of calories derived from plants. That would take kilos of greens and pounds of carrots, and we aren’t lowland gorillas with immense fermentation chambers in our protruding guts. To really get a sense of how many or how few vegetables and fruits the PB prescribes, though, look to the Carbohydrate Curve: it’s totally open-ended. At the height, it’s 150 g/day of carbs, from vegetables and fruits and natural starches. Athletes can even extend that and go a bit higher, depending on activity level and glycogen needs. It goes as low as zero carb, which I characterize as an “excellent catalyst for rapid weight loss.” You’ll also note that while I don’t recommend it for prolonged periods, it’s not because I fear ketosis, or that excluding plant foods will kill you; it’s because I can’t support the “unnecessary deprivation of plant foods.”

In the end, the PB comes down to maximizing quality of life. I want to enjoy every bite of every meal. I want to stay out of the rest home, avoid hospital stays, and stay active into my twilight years. Hell, I want my twilight years to be inundated with beams of radiant light. I don’t want my life to be a heavily regimented procession of pills and white coats. I want to have my sensible vices, like wine or dark chocolate. I want to eat vegetables because I enjoy them – not because I’m under the assumption that they’re magic. I have the means and the wherewithal to eat a complete, totally ideal carnivorous diet, but I prefer variety. I like my steak and my eggs (a gram of carbs doesn’t scare me) and my asparagus.

Let me know what you think PBers, ZCers and everyone else. Thank for reading!

You want comments? We got comments:

Imagine you’re George Clooney. Take a moment to admire your grooming and wit. Okay, now imagine someone walks up to you and asks, “What’s your name?” You say, “I’m George Clooney.” Or maybe you say, “I’m the Clooninator!” You don’t say “I’m George of George Clooney Sells Movies Blog” and you certainly don’t say, “I’m Clooney Weight Loss Plan”. So while spam is technically meat, it ain’t anywhere near Primal. Please nickname yourself something your friends would call you.

  1. I am with you Mark…I couldn’t see giving up my pure love of fruits and vegetables. Zero Carb seems pretty radical but if it works for someone…give ‘er hell!

    Mike Cheliak wrote on January 13th, 2010
  2. Hi Mark,

    I’m really enjoying your posts, and have been playing/experimenting with macro-nutrient variation for years. Currently, I’m sub 30g carbs per day and 90% primal.

    On a regular basis, clients tell me that they heard the latest diet did this, or that, is good, is bad, etc. My dietary philosophy is centered around whole foods. With the plethora of “diets” out there, people are confused and even scarred to eat! That is why the PB/paleo way makes so much to me…it’s completely instinctual.
    Some of my clients are more willing to add in the proper saturated fats, but nearly all welcome and understand the difference eating clean/organic/ wholesome/complete food makes.

    Be Well,

    Maximillian Barry, CPT

    Max Barry wrote on January 13th, 2010
  3. I am so happy to see this post. There is a bit of an extremist attitude permeating the forums lately. The all meat diet, don’t eat fruit crowd are giving unhealthy advise. Thanks Mark, once again the voice of reason. I personally couldn’t go a single day without a big salad and other veggies.

    kjake55 wrote on January 13th, 2010
    • what scares me, is that may no longer BE any paleo-valid vegetables available. All vegetables you can buy have been ruthlessly bred to forms which favor, a higher income for the farmer.

      Another thing is that most of the perception of the carbs content of veggies, is based on an EXTREMELY small amount of testing. No one can make any money by doing such testing, so we’re still working with these single data points which were funded by USDA a rather long time ago. If you think that Burpee and their cousins have not been busy bringing to market new varieties of vegetable seed – well, maybe you should keep up with the trade press of FARMERS. The seed companies will only develop things that their customers want. Farmers (like most everyone else) are very strongly focused on income.

      Just think about the example of “sweet onions”. Texas 1015 onions are 8% fructose by weight.

      Farmers want sweet crop cultivars in their fields for the same reason that car manufacturers (in the old days) wanted assembly lines turning out “muscle cars”: because, notwithstanding whatever politically-correct people TELL an interviewer, muscle-cars were what they actually willing to sign checks for.

      FArmers are like vehicle manufacturers…. they wake up each morning in fear and trembling of being able to meet their payroll. They have no choice but to sow the stuff that people will ACTUALLY put into a supermarket cart.

      Fruits in particular, in the last coupla decades have been ruthlessly turned into bags of sugar, by our highly-efficient (and highly-responsive to the requests of THEIR customers: the farmers) horticultural scientists. READ the trade organs of the Ag Experiment stations of this land, my friends!

      Alan wrote on April 10th, 2010
      • A worthwhile and astute comment. I also wonder if the selective breeding of animals has affected their ‘nutrient content’.

        Tim Wheaton wrote on April 25th, 2011
  4. I have just started eating more veggies, I was very heavy on the protein/fat. I finally figured out the trick to salads, because I don’t like cutting up all the stuff each time. I was lazy. So now I cut up a bunch of stuff before hand and eat it through the days it stays fresh.
    It always confused me when people were really down on some fruits, but I guess they were trying to lose weight. Me? I’m trying to maintain/gain muscle mass, so I need those fruits and sweet potatoes.

    kongluirong wrote on January 13th, 2010
  5. I was just thinking about this very subject last night while eating my rib eye and enjoying my roasted Brussels sprouts/onions/garlic/bacon side dish. Life without veggies would be too boring. One of these days, when I’m done losing weight, I’ll be able to add in a little fruit. Until then, the veggies keep me sane.

    Sharonll wrote on January 13th, 2010
    • Maybe I’m biased because I am from Belgium and live near Brussels, but that’s the way to way to eat the sprouts!! ;-D And if you tolerate some dairy, you could add some cream…

      pieter d wrote on January 14th, 2010
      • Cream sounds divine! I’ll try that next time. I had some lemon juice on mine, and that was good, too.

        Sharonll wrote on January 14th, 2010
  6. Got me out of lurkdom – what an excellent and informative post :)

    I especially appreciate the explanation re: vegetables making up the ‘bulk’ of the pyramid, but not necessarily the caloric breakdown. I noticed the same thing when I transitioned from Atkins to Protein Power Life Plan to more of a Paleo-style eating plan. Sure, I eat lots of vegetables, but they don’t take up a lot of room in terms of the overall macronutrient ratio. And besides, the “BAS” at lunch worked wonders for me.

    Thanks again!

    Sara wrote on January 13th, 2010
  7. Now I understand your pyramid. When you last ‘reposted’ it I was confused about the meat not being at the bottom, but now it makes sense.

    Personally, since I am trying to lose weight, I try to get as close to zero carb as possible for a few days out of the work week, along with IF. If I feel dizzy or weak, I will eat a veggie-filled meal with my protein and fat.

    Post-weight-loss, I will not be doing super low or zero carb for the long-haul.

    I love my fruits and vegetables. When I go zero carb, a veggie tastes like dessert to me!

    Great post as usual Mark!

    SassaFrass88 wrote on January 13th, 2010
    • just throwing this out there but if you’re getting week or dizzy throwing in IF might do more to slow your progress towards weightloss than help, you might be affecting stress hormones negatively which will work against you in terms of getting your body to let go of extra ‘stored energy’ i.e. insulin response to the reintroduction of cho in form of fruit/veggs.

      fellow hunter gatherer wrote on January 14th, 2010
  8. Great post Mark! If not for the vegetables and the variety they add, I don’t think I could have done the Primal diet. And they are so darn tasty. BAS is one of my favorite meals.

    maba wrote on January 13th, 2010
    • Great post! I have been reading a lot of ZC blogs, and was kind of leaning towards the conclusion you made (that its do-able, but you have to have all the components correct i.e. organ meats, etc). Me and my fiancee are both losing weight, so we try to stay under ~30g/carbs per day which usually amounts to a salad or a serving of cooked veggies per day, plus eggs, cheese for him, and a little dark chocolate for me. Once at our ideas weights, we will both definitly add in more veggies, berries, and a little fruit for variety!!

      Ika wrote on January 13th, 2010
  9. Mark, good post, I would like to point out that some of your statements on hunter/gatherers are incorrect. The Inuit would resort to eating roots when times were bad, but always preferred meat. The Masai (particularly the warriors) ate almost all animal products in Africa out of choice, not because that was the only option.

    All evidence seems to indicate that given the choice, a hunter/gatherer will be choosing meat over plants, but they still did gather plants. But we should consider what kinds of plants they were- nuts in certain areas, and high-carb roots (potato) were staples, not leafy vegetables.

    None of this means vegetables are bad, or that no-carb is good or bad, but we need to be clear about our paleo history.

    Greg wrote on January 13th, 2010
    • I think that the argument of the preferred food of choice is a rather dangerous one.

      I agree that a animal food sources are probably highly preferred, but one of the main evolutionary lessons we should learn is that probably at all times there was not always a choice, and some food sources were limited, even if they were the preferred ones.

      See also: http://www.epjournal.net/filestore/EP07601616.pdf

      It could be that if the Hadza had the choice, they would eat honey all the time.

      Hunter gatherer diets are a compromise between what they want and what they can get.

      And what they want can also be the resuslt of plant strategies (fructose to lure the people to disperse the seeds)

      One of the main problems with our way of life is that we don’t have to make a compromise: we can get what we want for food…

      Cheers

      pieter d wrote on January 14th, 2010
      • Priscilla,you are such a natural! The caemra loves you and love your cute accent (hey, I have one too )!The pink icing is genius, well done!

        Master wrote on December 8th, 2012
    • Please read the post from Don http://donmatesz.blogspot.com/2010/01/masai-use-of-herbs.html

      You will find that the Masai do use a lot of herbs. They say that they wouldn’t be healthy if they didn’t do so. They ate it because they needed it even though they may not have like them.

      Inuits had no option either way.

      Anand Srivastava wrote on January 15th, 2010
      • The Inuit go under the ice during low tide to gather sea vegetables and mussels. They also seasonally consume pine tips, bearberries and tundra fruits and greens. While their diet is mostly fat, blubber and meat from whale, walrus, seal and fish, including shellfish, they do have some sources of vegetable-based caloric consumption.

        Karen Vaughan wrote on April 7th, 2011
    • I had to kind of laugh at this – have you been to the Maasai Mara? There’s little – very little – that’s not meat that’s fit for humans to eat.

      Sue wrote on April 17th, 2010
  10. Blogger Stargazey at lowcarb4you.blogspot.com explains why very low-carb or zero carbs might actually be harmful for some people in her post “Observations on Protein Intake in Low-Carbers.”

    Sonagi wrote on January 13th, 2010
  11. Great post Mark. I also think that a ZC diet based only on muscle meat makes no sense and is potentially dangerous.

    I personally tend to gravitate to VLC (0-50g) because my (big) salads tend to be non-starchy and I love meat. I have also limited my nut consumption, as I find it too easy to binge on them.

    I personally believe that the potential health benefits from obsessively and *properly* pursuing a meat-only ZC diet are probably the same as staying Paleo and within a 0-50g carb range, so it is probably not worth the hassle.

    Plus how can any sane non-masochist purposeful remove eventual cheese and wine from his diet? Total madness…

    SerialSinner wrote on January 13th, 2010
  12. I tried near-carnivore for a while, and although I felt fine I did get bored.
    However, going overboard on the roast veggies one evening reminded me that there is a balance to be had!

    Food is to be enjoyed!

    NorthernMonkeyGirl wrote on January 13th, 2010
  13. Obsessive behavior is damaging. Eventually even good things taken to the extreme become bad. The main thing I like about Mark’s daily posts is the voice of moderation within a certain discipline. The PB discipline has absolute boundaries, but within, it allows for a wide latitude of acceptable behavior. THAT is the VERY KEY to its success.

    The same mentality that tries to compress that discipline into a narrow box is the same mentality that kills anorexics: If more is better, then more than more must be better than better.

    At the very least, taking any discipline to the extreme, usually ends up in frustration since extreme behavior doesn’t hold interest for most sane people for any length of time… sooner or later the intensity wears off and the individual (many times) ends up in a worse state than if he hadn’t done anything at all.

    Moderation (generally) is still the best advice, and I hear it a lot from Mark

    chazglen wrote on January 13th, 2010
  14. I like the post, Mark. Our modern diets allow us to eat many things that would not be available to us over the centuries of our development, but that doesn’t automatically make those things inappropriate or incompatible. I’m keeping to under 40g carbs per day, but will probably raise that to about 100g as I reach various goals.

    I have read that a zero carb diet may spike blood sugar in some pre-diabetic and diabetic folks, but cannot find the reference now. It was a lengthy blog post, complete with the metabolic pathways leading to the surge in blood sugar levels. If anyone has a link to it, I’d appreciate it.

    Frank Hagan wrote on January 13th, 2010
  15. Wow!
    My current perspective is that fruits and vegetables played the same role for our ancestors as most supplements do today: providing us with many of the vitamins and minerals essential for optimum health. I’d really like to learn more of the theory and rationalization behind this to explain how we can thrive without such important micronutrients such as calcium. One of the best posts I’ve read here. It really challenged my paradigm.

    Darrin wrote on January 13th, 2010
    • Well try reading this post: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/food/article-1349960/5-day-fruit-vegetables-myth-claims-nutrition-expert.html

      Calcium, for one, can be gotten from a good bone broth, if you can’t handle milk, or sardines. In fact in the article she states plants are only providing us with two vitamins and minerals that we can’t get from animal sources: Vitamin C and Potassium.
      I found it an eye opening article, but I’m still going to eat veggies, I’m just not worrying about getting enough anymore since I prefer meat :)

      Robin wrote on November 3rd, 2011
      • The brain and adrenal glands of animals are actually very good sources of vitamin C, so if one decides to go ‘No Carb’ then it’s a good idea to eat a wide variety of offal. Also, red meat and fish are good sources of potassium, but the potassium will leach out into one’s cooking medium. Therefore in order to get all the potassium contained in meat, which is sufficient for getting one’s RDA, one should always consume the leftover broth or fat from cooking.

        So in reality, one doesn’t need plants at all. ;-)

        Adam wrote on January 10th, 2013
  16. Personally, I operate very well on very low carb, but I do love my fruits and veggies. If I have them in the house, I’ll eat them, but if I don’t have any I don’t worry myself over it. Even when I was a kid I would have rather eaten only meat, but was always told “you can’t do that.” It’s nice to know that if I want to eat only meat and eggs, I can, and it won’t kill me. :)

    Diana Renata wrote on January 13th, 2010
    • That’s funny – as a kid I loved the veggies (and especially the potatoes) but was never that keen on meat. I turned vegetarian at 16 and remained so for five years (until I found myself drooling over cold roast beef in the supermarket).
      I like meat well enough now, but really only if it’s well seasoned or otherwise flavoured in some way. I’ll happily eat a bowl full of what is effectively bolognese sauce but give me a steak on its own and I’ll be bored and unsatisfied.

      Indiscreet wrote on January 14th, 2010
  17. I’m still wondering why I now have had 5 gallstone attacks in the night. Is it from eating too many fatty proteins?
    Now I’m worried I might have to really change my diet! I have read I need to cut out eggs, coffee, meats with fat, etc.
    Do I need to become a vegetarian?

    barbara wrote on January 13th, 2010
    • Barbara, Your liver is under severe stress. The proteins and fat are seemingly aggravating and already existing condition, however that does not mean that you need to cut them out.

      You may need to limit your amount of fat until you are able to control the liver/ gallbladder issues and STAT!

      Try a gallbladder cleanse, under a doctor’s supervision, it needs help.

      SassaFrass88 wrote on January 13th, 2010
    • did you just recently start eating fattier foods?
      When I was on a very low fat, calorie-restricted diet (oh the horrible memories), I splurged one day and had a large serving of homemade cornbread with lots of cheddar cheese and butter in it… and butter spread on it.
      And I had horrible attacks that night, of what I can only assume was my gallbladder flipping out over the fat….after not having had much at all for a long time.

      But it didn’t mean “I can’t handle fat.” It just meant I wasn’t used to it.
      Now I’ve been eating primally since June 09 and roughly 70% of my calories come from fat. No gallbladder problems to speak of!

      Keep with it, just make sure you’re eating the right foods, the right fats, etc.

      FlyNavyWife wrote on January 13th, 2010
    • When you don’t eat a lot of fat, the bile in your gallbladder gets goopy because it has nothing to do. Then, when you suddenly start eating fat, it starts working but it has all that goopy bile, which causes trouble for some people. You have to start on the fat slowly.

      AuH2Ogirl wrote on January 14th, 2010
  18. The Eskimos/Inuits may have been healthy, but they were also short-lived.
    ZC forerunner ‘The Bear’ had a heart-attack, which he tried to blame on the ‘poisonous brocolli’ he was fed as a child – hard to take him seriously after that. I’m LC at about 250 PER WEEK in the winter, 300 in the summer which suits me perfectly. I have tried to do Kwasnieski-style 80% fat diets and it was a total bust – I’ve seen similar reports time and time again.

    Darren wrote on January 13th, 2010
    • Actually the Bear got cancer–not from the “poisonous broccoli” but probably from the immense amounts of LSD he took in the sixties–a not uncommon fate for a lot of sixties big-timers (Timothy Leary, Abbie Hoffman, Ken Kesey, etc.).

      I like fruits and vegetables too, but do people believe the stuff available to us now was available to Grok? There weren’t broccoli or brussels sprouts or apples or plums. He had wild greens and berries in the spring, maybe nuts in the fall–I always thought he watched what animals ate and said to himself “hmm, they like it, wonder if I would?” The vast majority of modern produce was created by man, not nature. I eat seasonal veggies, which in January means root veggies, but my meals are primarily composed of fat and meat. I have tried zero carb but I think I overdid it on the protein.

      Trish wrote on January 13th, 2010
      • Darren wrote: “ZC forerunner ‘The Bear’ had a heart-attack, which he tried to blame on the ‘poisonous brocolli’ he was fed as a child – hard to take him seriously after that.”

        Trish wrote: “Actually the Bear got cancer…”

        Actually, the Bear developed BOTH cancer AND a heart attack, and he did attribute the heart attack on the broccoli his mother forced on him in his childhood, despite many years of veggie avoidance afterwards. Talk about confirmation bias! It was reported in his obit
        http://www.nytimes.com/2011/03/15/us/15stanley.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0 and elsewhere.

        Phil wrote on August 3rd, 2014
    • The Eskimos/Inuits may have been healthy, but they were also short-lived.

      I have heard that in a few places. Do you know where I can find the hard data to confirm it?

      Michael wrote on January 13th, 2010
      • Actually the data on them being short lived was after they had started adopting the Western diet and lifestyles. The current life span is 67 years, but is based upon a western diet, poverty, alcoholism and glue sniffing as widespread problems and limited access to health care. There is no direct lifespan data with the traditional diet but in the 1830s 25% of the population was over 60. And there had been significant contact at that time.

        Karen Vaughan wrote on April 7th, 2011
      • Good point. They became short lived after adapting “civilized” foods. I am not sure about eskimos, but our Yakuts (an north- Asian population in Siberia) who used to have very similar very low carb intake were reported to have an average life-span of 130. Even ages like 150 were not uncommon there. Same with traditional Mongols who only eat meat (all parts) and milk and are true zero carbers.

        Tata wrote on September 14th, 2013
  19. I personally don’t like vegetables at all, I just eat them because they are supposed to be healthy.

    Steven wrote on January 13th, 2010
    • I always tend to be suspicious of people who say they don’t like vegetables… my suspicion is that they’ve never had vegetables that are properly cooked and seasoned. Overcooked veggies are horrid and don’t need to be on ANYone’s plate… same with under-seasoned/under-fatted (adding butter, EVOO, bacon, whatnot…)

      I wish someone could explain to me how it’s possible to hate properly cooked, properly seasoned veggies. I just don’t believe it!

      FlyNavyWife wrote on January 13th, 2010
      • Nah, it’s true. I’ve had veggies cooked every way you can imagine and I’m not a fan. Never have been. I mean, I like some of them ok, but I don’t really ever crave them. I’d just as well not eat them, but I do.

        It’s like when I eat a really tasty veggie, I think “hey, this is great! for ________ (insert vegetable name here).

        Fruit is another matter.

        AuH2Ogirl wrote on January 14th, 2010
      • Sugar addicts or newbies generally won’t like veggies in my experience. An acquired taste for many recovering SAD people. Not saying these commenters are, just saying…. ;)

        Grok wrote on January 14th, 2010
        • Not a newbie or a sugar addict. Just don’t really like veggies. Not that I thought you were talking about me, mind you ;)

          AuH2Ogirl wrote on January 15th, 2010
  20. The Inuit survived in a barren, arid environment by eating whatever was available: marine animals, fat, blubber, organs, and fish. It wasn’t by choice. They weren’t turning their noses up at bushels of berries and teeming fields of wild cabbage; the opportunity simply wasn’t there. In every other case, humans will eat both plants and animals if they are given the chance, and plant matter is mostly available all over the world, depending on the season.

    Actually the Inuit did have access seasonally to vegetable matter, and they included it in their diet.

    They also drank raw spirits (alcohol) year around.

    Even when eating only meat they weren’t zero carb. I recall that their meat consumption alone would provide over 50 grams of carbs a day. Nor were they much for muscle meat, unless it was during a period of starvation.

    (if you think sourcing grass-fed beef is tough, trying finding a steady supply of pastured thyroid glands, kidneys, livers, brains, tripe, and heart!)

    That is an easy one. Just buy raw pet food! :-)

    I want to have my sensible vices, like wine or dark chocolate.

    Vices? Naw. These foods have been with us from the beginning (especially alcohol) and not only are they a part of what makes eating enjoyable, but their very enjoyability adds to our health and vigor.

    Michael wrote on January 13th, 2010
    • The inuit drank alcohol year-round? Where does this notion come from? Thanks.

      Sue wrote on April 17th, 2010
      • Alcohol was introduced into Inuit societies by western settlers…I don’t think they have any traditional form of alcohol production. They have the same allergy induced problems with alcohol dependency these days as the more southern Native American people.

        fireandstone wrote on April 17th, 2010
        • Exactly! They can’t metabolize it, which has been a tragic disaster for them and, as you say, the more southern peoples.

          Sue wrote on April 17th, 2010
      • Stefansson.

        He reported they made their own raw spirits. The ability to make alcohol is as old as man himself. I’m sure it was a type of ice wine/spirit since water freezes at a higher temp than alcohol. Very easy to do.

        Michael wrote on April 17th, 2010
        • Michael,

          I can’t recall ever reading anything to that effect in Vilhjalmur Stefansson’s works, and I’ve been going through searchable indexes trying to match likely terms and still haven’t come up with anything. If you provide a reference that would be awesome.

          fireandstone wrote on April 18th, 2010
        • @fireandstone

          I don’t remember exactly. It might be My Life With The Eskimo. It was about six years ago when I was hanging out with my then fiance in Maine and she had the book lying on her couch. I do vaguely recall also seeing the reference on the internet.

          Not all that hard to imagine: http://bit.ly/cJllyo

          Michael wrote on April 23rd, 2010
  21. Inspired by Taubes and Stefansson I embarked on a six-week all-meat and eggs diet last winter. http://curiousfarmer.wordpress.com/meat-diet/
    Commenters steered me to MDA as well as other sites and I realized I wasn’t alone. Thanks, Mark!
    I took a before and after blood test for the basic markers and my cholesterol shot up. Unfortunately, the subparticles of the LDL were not measured, but by the amount of HDL, 106, commenters assured me I wasn’t in any danger.
    My problem on an all-meat diet was weight loss. I lost 15 lbs. in six weeks and it didn’t appear to be leveling off.
    I’m still working on perfecting my diet and am thankful for such a great community to interact with.

    Curiousfarmer wrote on January 13th, 2010
  22. I giggled because this:

    It’s not, though. For one thing, the sheer volume of raw vegetation is immense. Three cups of raw spinach quickly become less than a cup’s worth when exposed to butter and a heated surface. A few cups of buttered broccoli might displace enough three-dimensional space to fill a plate, but it won’t fill you up; the ten ounces of steak to the left will take care of that. In that sense, vegetation can and often does form the foundation of a Primal diet, calories notwithstanding, but it’s not a ton of calories derived from plants.

    …sounds almost exactly like the comment I left on the forum post that asked why fruits and veggies were at the bottom of your pyramid. I’m so glad I understood what you meant and could explain it properly!

    FlyNavyWife wrote on January 13th, 2010
    • It’s no surprise, FlyNavyWife. You’re a Grok Star!

      Mark Sisson wrote on January 14th, 2010
  23. The zero carb diet isn’t paleo or primal. Even though the Masai and the Innuit eat a lot of animal products, they don’t follow a zero carb diet. Besides, they are just two among thousands of hunter-gatherer tribes that have been studied. Other tribes eat plenty of plants, such as the ǃKung and the Kitavans. If you want to eat like your ancestors, you must eat animals and plants.

    CFS wrote on January 13th, 2010
  24. THANK YOU so much for this article, Mark. I don’t advoce zero carb at all, not even very low carb – especially for those who weight train.

    Raphael wrote on January 13th, 2010
  25. advocate*

    Raphael wrote on January 13th, 2010
  26. I’m another one who experiments with zero-carb to boost fat-loss, but I’m actually at the point where I’ve proved to myself that my body prefers to avoid fibrous foods. I’ve switched back and forth at various points in the past 6 months, and whilst switching to the carnivorous diet is effortless and easy, adding fibre back into my diet is less pleasant. I’ve tolerated the reintroduction symptoms for up to a month before – I guess it will take much longer for my body to get back into the ‘groove’ of having fibre scraping its way through my intestines… Without the fibre from fruit & veg & nuts, my digestion runs more smoothly, I don’t have bloat issues, my weight is stable, and I burn fat easily. As much as I enjoy the taste and variety afforded by those primal fibrous foods, I’m happier trading them out for the physiological benefits.

    I eat every kind of meat (organic, wild, grass-fed, etc), eggs, and my special treat is dairy, which I’m using regularly at the moment since I’m out of lard and coconut oil. I try to make sure I eat fish once per day – I adore salmon sashimi and salmon roe, so that makes it very enjoyable!

    I currently get 70-75% of my daily calories from fat. No problems here whatsoever.

    I’d love to see a study which examines the best ‘treatment’ for severe insulin resistance. I have polycycstic ovaries (not the syndrome) which may impact on my body’s insulin production, etc. Since restricting my diet to just animal products works so well for me in a range of ways, I’m interested on this WOE’s effect on increasing insulin sensitivity… Hopefully someone out there is looking at that, but if anyone knows of a completed study, please reply :)

    Perhaps I am lucky in that I don’t need food as my ‘variety entertainment’ – I love cooking, and will happily play with the whole spectrum of primal foods to create feasts, but would I put myself through bloat and other digestive issues, plus fatloss stalls and skin issues, just for the ~20 minutes it took to eat that meal?

    I’m not sure if I actually have more energy and vigour whilst eating carnivorously, but the avoidance of the aforementioned issues with reintroducing fibrous foods is certainly an improvement on my way of life. I have played with including organs since my organic butcher stocks them, but I’m not a huge fan as yet. I do take a range of supplements to boost my nutrition – I do this even when I’m eating from the full primal spectrum.

    Like others, I hope that when I reach my body composition goals I can work on enjoying a wider range of food. Perhaps, with longer periods of re-introduction, my tolerance of fibrous foods will improve. But while my goal is shedding extra fat, the animal-based WOE is perfect, and not even vaguely boring.

    Girl Gone Primal wrote on January 13th, 2010
  27. Just wanted to comment on the idea of consuming stomach contents. I can see how a wild feline or canine would do that, but a human? Have you ever emptied the stomach of a ruminant? I’ve several times been poking around in there after lamb slaughter, looking for the sweetbreads, or saving the heart, liver, stomach and lungs for haggis. The stomach contents of a ruminant are invariably a vile, stinking mass of half-digested grass. It’s not pleasingly fermented like sauerkraut. We don’t eat fresh grass, so why would we eat rotten grass. I’ve seen my dog eat fresh horse poop, so he would have no problem with it. But for us I don’t think it’s just acculturation. I suppose we’re calibrated differently. Correct me if I’m wrong.

    Hilary wrote on January 13th, 2010
    • I think some of the Indian groups did eat the stomach contents, “guts and grease”

      Michael wrote on January 13th, 2010
    • My brother in law lived on Victoria Island for a few years – yes, they eat the stomach contents of caribou, and caribou eat lichen. Basically, pre-digested veggies. He couldn’t bring himself to eat that, or the buried fermented fish heads (even though his background is Finnish!), but he tried everything else.

      Sue wrote on April 17th, 2010
  28. I actually went Zero carb for a while and I actually liked it . For the first time in my life I didn’t have the urge for binge eating, constipation, IBS… I would eat once a day without any problem… It was a great experience….

    HOWEVER i just couldn’t get myself to eat organs on regular basis so i knew i couldn’t just live on flesh and fat… also I was feeling the lack of vitamins on my skin and other minor issues.

    I now do 30-40gr of carbs a day, less than 10-12gr of fiber, making sure of getting all my vitamins and minerals, and it also feels great.

    For people that say going Zero Carbs is extreme and unnecessary , they should try realize that the fact 50-100-150gr of carbs works for them it doesn’t for everyone, I mean have ever experienced what binge eating disorder feels like? If something saves you from that then you will be so pleased to keep doing it for the rest of your life… What about people with IBS? Wont you do ANYTHING in order to get rid of the symptoms? Most of the zerocarbers had a problem that Zerocarbing solved, it’s not like: I’m going to zero-carb just for fun, in most of the cases is out of necessity.

    Mary wrote on January 13th, 2010
    • I would say that going Zero Carb is extreme and unnecessary FOR MOST PEOPLE. No one is belittling this WOE for those who have certain health issues, just suggesting caution against the ground beef and water method for long periods of time. Another thing to consider is that the body can heal and nutritional needs can change. For years I couldn’t eat lettuce or raw vegetables without experiencing severe digestive issues. Some zero carb advocates would claim that this is proof that humans aren’t intended to consume plants, but after a couple of years of mostly animal protein, fat, and cooked vegetables, my guts have healed. I never imagined that this would happen, but I feel healthier for it.

      David wrote on January 14th, 2010
  29. I agree 100% Mark.

    I big fat steak with plenty of veggies draped in butter sounds good to me.

    Andy Meacock wrote on January 13th, 2010
  30. Apparently, the Ache hunter-gatherers of Paraguay get about 10% of their calories from honey. Honey tastes good and it is most of the Aches’ favorite food.(They eat a boatload of meat too.) African hunter-gatherers eat honey as well.

    I don’t advise eating honey, or other sugar, but I am pretty sure it was part of the actual paleolithic diet.

    Lemmy Caution wrote on January 13th, 2010
  31. Since going lacto-primal, I’ve really begun to enjoy the flavor of vegetables. My favorite combos are meat with salad or meat with onions and peppers. I’ve always liked the style of Vietnamese cooking which serves deliciously flavored meats with lettuce in which to wrap it. Very primal!

    aaron blaisdell wrote on January 13th, 2010
  32. Great sensible posting.

    Hey, anyone else hoping Mark does a followup posting sometime about the advantages and disadvantages of consuming “stomach contents”?

    Ray Sawhill wrote on January 13th, 2010
  33. EEEWWW. Those scurvy pictures are gross. Goin’ to eat my BAS with bell peppers now.

    Louise D. wrote on January 13th, 2010
  34. Veggies are great, and you can definitely stay very low carb if you choose em right. Its the sugar that gets ya.

    Right now I am on a sub 50g carb load because I am trying to lose a lot of weight (200lbs) and ketosis will help me do that. Also, I am trying to only eat healthy veggies grown by clean growers, so that severely limits my options in the wintery months of Chicago. All in all I am feeling great, but that does include a plethora of onions, brocolli, peppers, mushrooms, and leafy greens when available from cheap/healthy sources.

    Dualhammers wrote on January 13th, 2010
  35. It is thought that the races split several hundred thousand years ago. This would mean that for a good portion of the human race, those living in the northern climates, vegetation was not even present for 4 – 6 months of the year.

    SnowDog wrote on January 13th, 2010
  36. Zero Carb is NOT primal… whoever thinks it is needs to take anthropology 101, what do you think Grok didn’t eat a fig, an apple, or any fruit? Even on days he was out of MetRx ;)

    Roman wrote on January 13th, 2010
    • I’ll quibble on a point: wild apples are disgusting. Unfit for human consumption. I know they didn’t eat ancient apples.

      zach wrote on January 14th, 2010
  37. When I am trying to gain mass, I eat carbs for hunger and weight gain. Weight gain is a little harder to do on low-zero carb.

    But in general, my body and mind run so much smoother on zero carb. I am of northern ancestry so maybe this is why, but my blood inflammation is very low on ZC, my skin clears up and I have more energy/better mood. I also think my test. levels go up substantially but I haven’t gotten tested on ZC so I can’t prove it.

    I know it’s not healthy to subsist entirely on walmart 80/20, injected top loin, eggs and heavy cream. Funny you pointed that out because that’s just what I got 4 hours ago…lol And I am going ZC after a bulk cycle now so this post is timely in that regard as well.

    But it is only for a few weeks and then I will be back to the vegetables and chicken/beef and berries. I need to just buy half a grassfed cow.

    BlazeKING wrote on January 13th, 2010
  38. I love the wide range in recommended carbohydrate intake of the PB. There is too much contextual variability in each individual’s life (and in paleo food availability) to advise low or narrow range of carb intake. I definitely fall in the >150g a day range. I have been on Rippetoe’s SS routine for six months and am approaching intermediate programming. I am an energy consuming and expending machine. There is no way I could maintain progress and growth without tons of food including energy rich carbs.

    Michael wrote on January 13th, 2010
  39. This is a very hard diet to achieve! Carbohydrates are what the body needs to sustain energy. I don’t think I can handle this kind of diet.

    small home wrote on January 14th, 2010
  40. Nice post. I think this diet is pretty hard to achieve too but if you get the benefits of it then it’ll be well worth it. There’s so many diets out there, it’s insane! Just listen to your body.

    Richard Shelmerdine wrote on January 14th, 2010

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