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. First of all it is very difficult to eat a truly zero carb diet. You will find trace amounts in many non-plant foods. Also, even if you could prevent any carbohydrate going into your mouth, your body is still capable of synthesising glucose (which is really the only carbohydrate your body actually requires) to allow those cells that absolutely cannot adapt to other energy substrates to function. It is really because of this latter fact that we have no physiological requirement for dietary carbohydrates.

    I personally do not eat much in the way of plant-based foods because I do not believe fibre is required in the diet either and most plant sources of nutrition are meagre on a mass basis and of poor bioavailability; many of them come with antinutrients and toxins. Most of these nutrients you can get at much higher concentrations and in much more bioavailable form from animal foods, including eggs if not dairy.

    Vitamin C is about the only vitamin that seems to be best supplied by plant foods (and it is one of the vitamins we have lost the ability to synthesise ourselves) and this may lead one to think that this occurred because we began to rely on plant foods but the uric acid, which we synthesise as a result of meat consumption, is a powerful endogenous antioxidant that serves many of the same functions as vitamin C and is probably the reason why the Inuit and the explorers like Stefansson who ate the Inuit diet for long periods never suffered scurvy.

    Alex wrote on January 14th, 2010
    • Said it better than I could, although I would add one thing: as someone who consumes mainly [cooked] animal foods along with ascorbic acid-rich plant foods (berries, salad greens, bell peppers) I find it quite insane that anyone would avoid liver because it has carbohydrates in it. Pound for pound, it’s easily the most nutritious food on the planet, and muscle meat and fat alone would likely lead to zinc/copper imbalance as well as a deficiency in vitamins A and K2. Egg yolks are in the same boat. Technically speaking, it is impossible to avoid glucose anyway, not only because your body produces it but because trace amounts of glycogen are found in muscle meat.

      It’s also important to remember that Stefansson cured his fellow explorers of scurvy using a combination of lightly boiled meat and fresh or frozen raw meat. We don’t know definitively if the anti-scorbutic effects of this diet were due to raw or undercooked meats. Also, during the all-meat experiment on Stefansson and Anderson, these men were eating meat that was likely grass-fed, and I’ve seen it mentioned (though I don’t have a citation for it) that grass-fed meat contains more vitamin C than grain-fed. How much more I don’t know, but it could be significant. Stefansson and Anderson also occasionally ate things like calf brains, which contains significant amounts of vitamin C (much more so than liver does).

      So as someone who has defended all-meat (or, should I say, all-animal-carcass) diets on this site in the past, I have definite reservations about strict “zero” carb (since it is impossible and a silly goal besides) and I would agree with most of what Mark has stated. It’s definitely possible to eat an all-animal diet and thrive, IMO, but it’s overly difficult to avoid *any* carbohydrates while doing so, and it’s really difficult these days to procure things like brains because of the mad cow scare. Fatty beef muscle and water alone is not a sensible basis for life, methinks.

      Icarus wrote on January 14th, 2010
      • I actually rarely eat organ meats because I do not really like the taste, smell or texture! I can just about eat liver as pate (and I did try some home-made faggots – that’s a food in the UK, BTW, in case US readers were a little worried! – made with liver and kidney). I eat eggs and I have dairy in the form of double (US: heavy) cream and cheeses. The only plant-foods are herbs and spices as condiments/flavouring. I’ve been eating this way for at least 18 months and no problems with vitamin C deficiency. Health and immune system are A-OK.

        It is my understanding that glycogen is only present in liver (perhaps some other organs) and that any glycogen in muscle meat is depleted during the rigor mortis that occurs after slaughter (laughterhouse procedures may be different in the US, though).

        I guess I get around 5-10g of dietary carbs per day due to the traces of lactose in cream and cheese (so averages 1-2% of total energy intake per day) – not quite zero carb but close!

        Alex wrote on January 14th, 2010
  2. I tend to roll with 50-70 grams of CHO a day during the winter months and i tend to consume 90% of it PWO meal. All veggies, no fruit. I will start back on some limited fruit when it comes into season around here.

    Chuck O wrote on January 14th, 2010
  3. That´s the common thinking of keto; some stupids just eating cheap beef to loose fat. IMO ketogenic is a solution for lots of health issues but never good for reduction diet. There is no masterplan of how our ancestors ate and why it should be the same way today. There are only some facts, n-6= evil, grains=poison and fructose=killer. Everything else is absolutely individual. If someone likes paleo frankenfood, bon apetite, another loves “healthy” vegs go for it. I do fine on meat, fish and hard cheese only plus tons of ghee and red palm oil. Since 1 year. Before I was a low carber for more than 12 years. I have asthma, 1000 allergies and intolerances, hashimoto and asperger´s. Can breathe again, no eczema anymore and my brain works phenomenal. That´s because I avoid everything what ruins my GI and/or affect my mind. People should think for themselves.

    Tamara wrote on January 14th, 2010
  4. An awesome post! Many congrats Mark. Possibly the best primal/paleo post ever. Incredibly sensible and comprehensive. Anyone interested in the topic should start by reading it.
    Best regards,
    Glenn

    GlennW wrote on January 14th, 2010
  5. Regarding the Inuit eating the stomach contents of animals, this paper (Vitamin C in the Inuit diet: past and present)has a statement by an elderly Inuit woman who calls the stomach contents of caribou and hare “salad” and reports that hare stomach was a favorite of Inuit children.

    Joselyn wrote on January 14th, 2010
  6. Thanks once again Mark for being the Voice of Reason.

    Dave, RN wrote on January 14th, 2010
  7. I heard from several people once they start eating Primal they “feel” Soooo Good that’s the only way they choose to eat for “life”! It just makes sense!!!

    Donna wrote on January 14th, 2010
  8. Vegetables are awesome. Just avoid wheat and sugar. I do disagree that very low carb is difficult to healthily employ, at least for me. Before I got into cooking and using more vegetables for variety I lived on a pastured beef (just ground beef and steak cuts), pastured eggs, and raw pastured milk/butter/cheese. My only source of carbs was maybe 50 grams of lactose a day. I did this for years and my numbers were great and I felt awesome.

    zach wrote on January 14th, 2010
  9. Wow, no opposing views yet? That’s unusual.

    I believe all of Mark’s concerns have been adequately addressed. However, everyone needs to find out for themselves what their own carbohydrate tolerance level may be. Assuming your metabolism isn’t too damaged, you can probably settle for simply avoiding the “neolithic agents of disease” a la Dr. Kurt Harris.

    damaged justice wrote on January 14th, 2010
    • The ‘opposition’ can see that Mark’s post is just designed to sooth the non-ZCers who were worried that they were doing something wrong. Mark doesn’t actually put forward a balanced argument, so there’s no point in arguing. His strongest point is that ZC misses out on the variety of foods out there and must therefore be bored, which is easy to ignore given that it comes from a guy who hasn’t even tried ZC. :)

      However, off-site, Charles Washington has put together a much more detailed and well-researched response to Mark’s “points”: http://blog.zeroinginonhealth.com/?p=1479

      Don Matesz hasn’t directly responded, but has noted some facts about the Masai (and therefore other carnivorous tribes) that may be of interest – on his post (http://donmatesz.blogspot.com/2010/01/masai-use-of-herbs.html) he notes:

      “Many people tell me they dislike the “gamey” flavor of wild game or, as Joel Salatin calls it, “salad bar” beef from 100% grass-fed animals. That “gamey” flavor disappears when we feed animals corn (witness corn-fed bison), because that flavor comes from the fat-soluble secondary plant compounds present in the green leafy vegetation eaten by wild or grass-fed animals. So a real hunter-gatherer would get a daily dose of “greens” via the phytonutrients in his meat, even if s/he didn’t eat a lick of leaves directly. (This is one reason I recommend regular consumption of green leafy vegetables, unless you eat only grass-fed meat and do so every day.)”

      That’s why I don’t worry about missing out of vital veg nutrition :)

      Girl Gone Primal wrote on January 14th, 2010
      • There is no question that you can thrive on an all meat diet. The Masai however were neither all meat or low carb by anyone’s definition. My problem is when people suggest it (all meat) is the only way to thrive, ignoring abundant evidence to the contrary.

        I also have a problem with the body cavity argument. Yes the Eskimos gave away all the organs of the body, but they did eat all the organs in the head. That is not up for dispute. Stefansson clearly recorded that in his work.

        Michael wrote on January 14th, 2010
        • Exactly :) They also usually ate the kidneys. And then there are cultures who do almost the exact opposite – throwing the muscle meat to the dogs and eating all the body cavity organs, so who knows what’s best?

          I just eat what’s available, what tastes good, and what makes me feel best, physiologically and psychologically. Works pretty bloody well for me :D

          Girl Gone Primal wrote on January 14th, 2010
  10. Also, all foods upon digestion report to the kidneys as either acid or alkali (base). The typical American diet is net acid producing. Fruits and veggies reverses this metabolic acidosis.

    livetoride wrote on January 14th, 2010
  11. THANK YOU for reigning in the fanaticism.

    dragonmamma wrote on January 14th, 2010
    • According to most nutritionists, government health agencies, almost the entire medical establishment, pop culture and conventional wisdom, the entire premise of Paleo/Primal/Mark Sisson is all a bunch of fanaticism. So be careful where you wave that stick.

      Mark: I’m not a proponent of “no carb”, but the use of scurvy scare-tactics ignores the fact that raw and rare animal flesh contains significant vitamin C content and will completelt sustain a human being and prevent scurvy. A carnivorous diet can be healthful in every way if done in the right spirit.

      John S wrote on January 14th, 2010
      • Stefansson actually hypothesised that is was the act of cooking the meat well (leaving just a little pink on the inside of big chunks of meat) that somehow prevented scurvy – preparing the meat in the manner of the Inuit. So it seems like cooking meat isn’t harmful either.

        Girl Gone Primal wrote on January 14th, 2010
        • Better not tell that to the founder (A. Vonderplanitz) of the “Primal Diet” :-)

          I think they boiled their meat also, which is a method most moderns do not like.

          Michael wrote on January 14th, 2010
        • I don’t mind a good boiled silverside :)

          Girl Gone Primal wrote on January 14th, 2010
        • Well I certainly like boiled ham so I imagine boiled beef wouldn’t be that bad either.

          Michael wrote on January 14th, 2010
        • I wouldn’t buy that theory. If any cooking method were to at least partially preserve water soluble vitamin C content in the flesh, it would likely need to trap the natural water moisture in the meat. Intense searing/grilling/broiling the exterior and leaving the interior rare seems to be the best bet…other than just eating it raw of course. ;-)

          John S wrote on January 15th, 2010
        • I don’t think anyone was advancing a theory rather noting how the eskimos prepared their meats.

          Michael wrote on January 15th, 2010
        • Well, it was implied that *because* the Inuit prepared meat that way, that it must have not had an effect on the vitamin C content due to lack of scurvy. But Inuit also ate, and still do, quite alot of fresh raw meat directly from their kills.

          John S wrote on January 15th, 2010
        • “But Inuit also ate, and still do, quite a lot of fresh raw meat directly from their kills.”

          Apparently not the case whilst Stefansson was living with them. Keep that mind open, John…

          Girl Gone Primal wrote on January 15th, 2010
        • There are quite a multitude of reference to both the Inuit and himself eating raw meat from many animals, including fish and deer, in “My Life with the Eskimo” and in his personal journals…much of which is free to read on Google Books if you’re interested. They also at meat roasted, boiled, fried etc. For instance

          “Most of the Eskimo I know will pick up and eat without concern a piece of blubber, cooked meat, raw meat, fish etc., that falls on the floor, no matter in what the state the floor is, but most of them would throw away a piece of bread that dropped in the same way”.

          Some cuts of meat, and from certain animals, are preferred raw, and other are preferred cooked in some way, but they all seem to eat everything raw when it’s more convenient to do so.

          John S wrote on January 15th, 2010
        • Another interesting tibit is that the Inuit tribes also preferred their fish to be in various states of “rot”, and each tribe had it’s own customs as to how long and how rotten it should be for maximum enjoyment.

          John S wrote on January 15th, 2010
        • Sweetie, I’m well aware of all of that. The point is, Stephansson and the Inuit community he was living with survived on well cooked meat (nothing else) for a long period of time without falling victim to scurvy.

          So, it’s not impossible to remain healthy whilst eating primarily or only cooked meat.

          Girl Gone Primal wrote on January 15th, 2010
        • I was not responding to you when I said that I wouldn’t buy that theory. I was addressing “Stefansson actually hypothesised that is was the act of cooking the meat well (leaving just a little pink on the inside of big chunks of meat) that somehow prevented scurvy”. So if an argument was created against you, it was one you imagined.

          John S wrote on January 15th, 2010
      • I fully agree that one can live healthfully on cooked meat…I’m not sure that it can *always* be well cooked though if you want significant vitamin C, and especially not boiled due to the direct loss of the vitamin into the boiling water. My point isn’t to win an argument, but to simply convey the proper information for people that wish to eat at or close to pure carnivory. Though I imagine that this sub-thread within a 2 day old post is currently populated by the eyes of only two people :-)

        John S wrote on January 15th, 2010
        • All you did was create an argument where one wasn’t necessary. I noted that they boiled their meat also not that they boiled their meat exclusively. It was an additional piece of information to the information that Girl Gone Primal had offered about the cooking of their meat. I added it because when people think of the various ways to cook meat they rarely if ever think of boiling. It is just not something we normally do.

          Then you come back with “I wouldn’t buy that theory.” I wouldn’t either since no theory was being offered, but you did seem to view it as an occasion to expound about your own ideas of the Inuit diet.

          Everything you said we are acutely aware of. I have a three part series on my blog about Stefansson’s time with the Eskimos. Nothing has been said to deny other forms of cooking meat. In fact you left one thing unsaid about why boiled meat would not have been a problem even if they ate it exclusively, they drank the water from the boiled meat. Not that it would have been a problem if they did not, since they did include other forms of cooking in their meat diet.

          Michael wrote on January 15th, 2010
        • I was not responding to you when I said that I wouldn’t buy that theory. I was addressing “Stefansson actually hypothesised that is was the act of cooking the meat well (leaving just a little pink on the inside of big chunks of meat) that somehow prevented scurvy”. So if an argument was created against you, it was one you imagined.

          John S wrote on January 15th, 2010
        • @ John S who said:

          I’m not sure that it can *always* be well cooked though if you want significant vitamin C, and especially not boiled due to the direct loss of the vitamin into the boiling water.

          I was simply connecting the dots between your first and last point. My apologies for misunderstanding you, but I think I will blame it on the comment box setup. :-)

          Michael wrote on January 15th, 2010
  12. Carb consumption should be based on activity, muscle mass and genetic tolerance to carbs. Asian people are more adapted to eating neo-carbs than Europeans. Northern european blood lines have limited tolerance to wheat and other grains. I was wondering if generic recommendations are too vague and individual and genetic differences should be taken into account.
    On a side note, I have had great results (male, 30 yrs, 170lbs@9%BF) by listening to your body on what macro nutrients work best for you. Broccoli is great, but some people can’t handle it well. Your body gives you feedback and if you use it wisely, you can get great results. If your body tells you to only eat Pizza, you’re probably spoiled, grew up in America or both :-)

    Kishore wrote on January 14th, 2010
  13. Another great post about balancing carbs in a way that works for the individual. Of course it looks better when we can pin macronutrients into neat little windows, but the truth is what works for someone definitely won’t work for someone else out there. We’ve tried low-carb for a couple months and found it isn’t the best route for us! We’re kind of used to eating low-carb now, so I’m going to very slowly reintroduce a few more into our diet, and hopefully we’ll run across our ideal range somewhere along the way!

    Elizabeth @ The Nourished Life wrote on January 14th, 2010
  14. For those of you disturbed by the picture of Danny Roddy’s leg (presented out of context, for some reason…) it may help you to know that he cured his issues by eating a higher volume of pemmican – not by adding vegetation into his diet. If it was scurvy, it was cured by eating more meat & fat. That sounds like a win for carnivory to me.

    Why did Mark put forward someone like Danny, who is coming from a background and mercury & lead poisoning, as the poster child for ZC? Why not look at Lex Rooker, The Bear, or Charles Washington (who runs marathons – so much for “Carbohydrates are what the body needs to sustain energy.” Glycogen (carb) stores will last you about 2 hours before being fully depleted. That’s hardly going to get you through an entire marathon.

    As I’ve said before, I’m not a hardcore ZC type, but I feel best eating just meat and eggs and a bit of butter. Some comments here have been very wise, noting that the individual should do what works for them, echoing Mark’s own sentiment, “Now, avoiding all carbs because you feel better without them? I can get behind that.” (And very few ZC-ers got there without finding this to be true – from what I’ve read on forums, most ended up following ZC because other WOE’s didn’t work for them. It’s logic, really, not fanatacism. Just like we rave when low-carb works for us, ZC-ers rave because ZC works for them.)

    But all the comments that echo the Conventional Wisdom attitude of ‘ooh, that sounds weird, I like eating my ____ too much, it’s too hard, I could never do that…’ – come on. You should know better, being on Mark’s site, than to bash a lifestyle choice that works for someone else. They’re not eating poisons. They’re not breaking PB rules. And it makes me really, really sad that, on a site that has already targeted the dogmatic attitude some people have towards diet, that we’re still seeing individuals who want to ‘win’ and celebrate when their leader agrees with their side of a discussion. Divides only exist when minds aren’t open and accepting.

    Girl Gone Primal wrote on January 14th, 2010
    • Great comment, but in all fairness I have seen CW do the same thing on his forum. The one that immediately comes to mind is when someone posted about the Kitavans but there were other instances as well.

      No matter though. In the end everyone finds their own way, anyway.

      Michael wrote on January 14th, 2010
    • Great comment

      SerialSinner wrote on January 15th, 2010
  15. 10-4 to that! Going carnivore on muscle meat or meat from any store is just crazy. You don’t know where it came from! Don’t going thinking businesses are all ethical. I personally know agri-farmed chickens have been re-packaged as free-range in my area.

    I’ve thought about going carnivore for a while and have done it for weeks here and there, but then I asked myself why?

    I have way better access to good meats (fresh killed) than most PB-ers or “carnivores” from what I can tell. Just look at my 15 pages of twitpics ( http://twitpic.com/photos/CastleGrok ) or my website. I eat animals from the head back and do not discriminate!

    I had salmon skin for my dinner’s protein/fat tonight. Scales, fins everything… right now the hatch :) I eat/suck out the entire heads, entrails and eggs first thing, and freeze the rest.

    I prefer just about any part of an animal over the muscle meat. There just happens to be more muscle meat on the animal that other parts.

    I’m almost anti-fruit, but that’s a personal choice based on my failure at moderation. I try to limit nuts, but I pretty much fail at that too.

    Veggies I stick to mostly green. When I logged on Fitday, I was still easily landing at the top of the PB carbo chart without any starches.

    I believe in metabolic typing. I don’t think Mark does? But that’s a whole other topic…. My body functions much better on high meat and fat (mostly red meats), but those veggies are just too damn tasty with all their textures & flavors, so I find myself eating a lot of them (taking one for the team ;)). But more importantly, they also easily provide many nutrients I want and balance PH.

    I designed my own food pyramid at the top of the page here:
    http://castlegrok.com/how-paleo-is-your-diet/

    Everyone should do what works for them! You need to test, and test, and test, then maybe test some more. Zero-Carb may be Ok for some, but so might high-carb. There is no “one” solution, just like there is no “one” paleo diet.

    Grok wrote on January 14th, 2010
  16. Great post Mark, as usual.

    On a related note, I think that it is very healthy to eat fish whole, especially small fish.

    You get all of the nutrients you need, and small fish are pretty safe as far as toxic metals are concerned.

    This post talks about smelts in particular, but sardines seem to be very good too:

    http://healthcorrelator.blogspot.com/2010/01/eating-fish-whole-smelts.html

    Ned Kock wrote on January 15th, 2010
  17. Great post. I really like the paleonu site too, but the slight air of intellectual snootiness and didactic dismissal of so much food, so fast is leading me to visit it less and less.

    You are right to say this ascetic approach will limit the appeal of the core primal principles. Even the Buddah left his ascetic life for the middle way.

    Redroad wrote on January 15th, 2010
  18. Hi Mark!

    I was wondering, since you said that a zero-carb regimen can be used as a catalyst for weight loss, for how long should this be followed?

    I certainly don’t pland to ZC forever, but I’d like to use it before easing into a more moderate regime…

    Thanks!

    Vicky wrote on January 15th, 2010
  19. One of the best sites I’ve ever seen on this site.

    Thanks, Mark. It really puts macronutrients vs. the importance of micronutrients and pure enjoyment in perspective.

    Vicky, just as an aside, MANY bodybuilders have successfully used:

    5-5.5 days per week low carb
    1-1.5 days per week higher carb

    … to both lose weight and maintain or build muscle.

    I’m not saying it’s the absolute ideal program or anything like it, just that it has a track record of success.

    At least it allows some more vitamins, nutrients, and fiber periodically.

    And the theory is by going in and out of ketosis, you keep the “catalysis” going, over and over again, week after week.

    So you shed weight in more of a “step-wise” fashion, rather than “steadily”, which is probably a good thing because the human body is a biological dynamic system anyway.

    Christoph Dollis wrote on January 15th, 2010
  20. *best posts I’ve ever seen

    Christoph Dollis wrote on January 15th, 2010
  21. And Vicky, of course that should really be:

    5-5.5 days per week low carb
    2-1.5 days per week higher carb

    Gee. I need an editor just to post a comment or something.

    Christoph Dollis wrote on January 15th, 2010
  22. Thank you Christoph! I never thought about the benefits of going in and out of ketosis.. very helpful!

    Vicky wrote on January 15th, 2010
  23. A lot of what constitutes healthy can depend also on what an individuals insulin response is like.

    Fructose shoots my blood glucose high, I need to avoid fruit except on the rarest of occasions. Some may get cravings for sugar and grains from eating even vegggies. Each of us has to implement our own plans based on our individual reactions, which are as varied as our dna.

    The problems come when those of us who need a more rigid plan try to impose those unique boundaries on others, when fruit, or more veggies, or even dairy may be very doable for many. Broad minded approaches are really needed when talking about diet and restrictions. Unforunately, too many times zero carbers dump on primal eaters, or your average low carber dumps on those who like an Adkins bar from time to time. Silly really. GReat post Mark!

    Rachel Allen wrote on January 15th, 2010
  24. theres a lot more to the in and out of ketosis plan you commented on. first of all, it is only for extreme body builders or else you will pile on the weight. second, your higher carb days have to be very low in fat, practically nonexistent. just upping your carbs 2 days a week and staying the same all around and dropping them 5 days a week a a perfect recipe for weight gain

    Mel wrote on January 15th, 2010
  25. Hi-

    I’m new here, this is my first post. I discovered this blog by accident and bought the book, then bought a copy for a friend. I’m halfway through but I’ve also read a lot on the site. I’ve only been lurking here so far. So, hi everyone.

    I did go check out the forum- so imagine me, a new visitor, I don’t know any of you. I’m looking at stuff and it becomes apparant to me that yes, there is a theme in the forum to see who is willing to “go carnivore”, and even starve every second day to simulate a scarce, difficult winter.

    Well, this raised an eyebrow. At first I thought it was an encouraged theme until Mark just made this post, which I’m thankful for because he said a lot of things I had been thinking as I read that stuff. I was starting to wonder if I got the wrong idea about the hunter/gatherer diet, but no, I had not. It just seems that there are folks here that are on a completely different diet than the one Mark describes.

    I remember I saw something once- there was a body builder who was a woman, in great shape- every muscle bulging out of her body. No steroids or anything, just lean and built. Well, in her late 30′s, she broke a bone. She went to get treated. There was something not quite right and after testing, they discovered her bones were brittle and she already had osteoperosis. She was nutritionally deprived. Oh, she had plenty of protein, but not much else. No thank you.

    Anyway, nice to meet you all.

    Sharon C. wrote on January 16th, 2010
    • Not surprising since she wasn’t following a “zero carb” or an all meat diet.

      Michael wrote on January 17th, 2010
  26. This totally makes sense to me.
    Mark, I am constantly stunned by the quality of your articles. I just can’t stop coming back here. Your website is like my bible. LOL

    Erika Bell wrote on January 21st, 2010
  27. About the scurvy issue – I read somewhere that scurvy was found to be caused not by the lack of vegetables and fruits but by the introduction of grains with a meat/fat only diet. Apparently the digestion of grains required more vitamin C and left people deficient because there wasn’t adequate Vit C in the rest of their diet (ie in meat/fat). Meat does contain adequate vit C, but not enough for the digestion of grains supposedly. I’m not sure where I read this though, so don’t quote me!

    sig wrote on March 13th, 2010
  28. great article. thanks!

    i think most modern carnivores (esp. in USA) are not “true carnivores” like some native tribes.

    regards,

    PHK wrote on March 13th, 2010
  29. I have tried an all meat diet a few times and became sick about 3-4 weeks in each time. You need to veggies man!

    nathan wrote on May 27th, 2010
    • No PHK, YOU might need to eat veggies, but that doesn’t mean everyone else does. And you state you ate an ‘all meat diet’ – this article explains why eating muscle meat only can be problematic. Nothing to do with some perceived ‘requirement’ of veggies.

      Girl Gone Primal wrote on May 27th, 2010
  30. Hi, Girl Gone Primal,

    i believe you’re addressing to nathan, not me.

    (i agree with you that homosapien don’t need veggies to survive provided that we ate all parts of animals. which may not be a viable option for some tho. also such diet becomes boring.)

    regards,

    PHK wrote on May 27th, 2010
    • Ooops, looked up too far looking for the name.

      But your claim that ‘such a diet becomes boring’ is just as subjective as Mathan’s argument – don’t knock it til you’ve tried it, and the perception of ‘boringness’ is often a sign that one has not defeated their sugar cravings. Meat is delicious, varied, and can be prepared in hundreds of ways. Preparing the same meal the same way every day is bound to become monotonous, no matter the food itself. Plus, if you are released from the social bounds of food (I’m not there yet) and consider food as tasty fuel, then it’s a non-issue anyway.

      Girl Gone Primal wrote on May 27th, 2010
  31. “boring” is only my opinion. & i need some colors on my food. vegetables provide colors & variation.

    i don’t have problem eating organ meats or other exotic cuts. but i don’t cook it, because:

    (1) i don’t know how (due to lack of practice)

    (2) i cook for 2. those exotic cuts gross him out — my husband is way too civilized. so it is very hard to cook for 1 that way. (methink most Americans are wuss in this regard.)

    (3) it is hard to find quality organ meats or even exotic cuts that most Americans do not eat (e.g., UNCURED belly pork with SKIN).

    regards,

    PHK wrote on May 27th, 2010
    • 1) I’ve been learning how to cook with offal, though I’ve been limited by my own beau’s ‘civilisation’. ;) I’ve made some tasty chicken liver pate, but beyond that I haven’t come up with anything exciting. I have ready access to grass-fed lambs fry, which I should really get into. Until then, I just make sure to keep my intake of eggs up, not that they compeltely fill the nutrition void. They do add colour though, although I find fish cooked in their skin to be gorgeously colourful, and I love to use turmeric to add zing to chicken. But there’s nothing lovelier than the colour of perfectly cooked steak and lamb chops. :)

      Girl Gone Primal wrote on May 27th, 2010
  32. Hi, Girl Gone Primal,

    yes, skin tastes good, especially saba shoyaki.

    the most “exotic” & “primal” thing i cook is roast marrow bones, or meat with skin or bones on. (pretty civilised, sigh.)

    regards,

    PHK wrote on May 27th, 2010
  33. On September 16, I will have been Zero Carb for 18 months. I guess I’m suffering for being so “boring”. Ha, actually, I enjoy eating just protein and fat. I am very active–I lift weights 3-4 times a week and do cardio and bodyweight excercises. I am 5’4″, 104 lbs. with 14% bodyfat. I have no problem with energy for lifting and am never hungry during the day, so I eat a large meat at night and sometimes a small meal before lifting (do fasted cardio). Zero Carb works for a lot of us and I eat a lot of calories–more than ever–to maintain my weight. I couldn’t ask for a better lifestyle and I don’t feel the need to have carb refeeds or introduce fruit, veggies or starches. And yes, I’m female and I don’t have cravings.

    Katelyn wrote on September 10th, 2010
    • Hey Katelyn,

      I have been doing zero carb (well besides the minimal ones in eggs so I guess very low carb) for about a month now and I love it! I was just curious as to what your typical evening meal would be?

      Thanks for posting; it gives me the inspiration to continue this way of eating!

      Sara wrote on January 22nd, 2011
  34. ISNT WONDERFUL TO ALL BE DOING IT OUR WAY AND BEING ABLE TO HEAR ABOUT ALL THE WAYS …WE ARE NEVER ALONE HERE.
    MODERATION-EXPERIMENTATION-IMMERSION.
    SEASONAL AND CANNED.
    FROM THE HIGH END GROCERY STORE TO YOUR LOCAL DISCOUNT WAREHOUSE…
    IF YOU SEEK…YOU WILL FIND A PATH.
    JUST FOLLOW THAT PATH.
    GROK ON- ALL OF US!! AND HO-HO-HO

    DAVE PARSONS wrote on December 1st, 2010
  35. Thank you for being the anti-guru.

    Sophie wrote on December 4th, 2010
  36. I think we’re about to find that the healthiest diet does not involve meat.

    Here’re a couple of links.
    http://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/health-and-families/health-news/austere-lives-of-mount-athos-monks-shown-to-cut-cancer-risk-763794.html
    http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/life_and_style/health/article3007206.ece

    The essential problem with meat, which isn’t a problem for the Athos diet
    - is that we could conceivably feed the world on the Athos diet.

    Not terribly sure that we’d want to create the sort of battery farming facilities to churn out the quantities of meat which’d be required to feed 10 billion people.

    We really do need to consider our fellow man and animals, when choosing our diet.

    Not a sentimental viewpoint – though it can be, if you like.

    SB_UK wrote on August 26th, 2011
    • ~btw~
      If I might just add:
      eg
      http://news.wustl.edu/news/Pages/8388.aspx
      “The research, published in the December issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, shows that lean people on a long-term, ***low-protein***, low-calorie diet or participating in regular endurance exercise training have lower levels of plasma growth factors and certain hormones linked to cancer risk.”

      “”However, people on a low-protein, low-calorie diet had considerably lower levels of a particular plasma growth factor called IGF-1 than equally lean endurance runners … …”

      I cannot stress how important the Insulin/IGF-1 axis is in human health.

      Elevating human protein levels isn’t the path to health.

      SB_UK wrote on August 26th, 2011
  37. Speaking as food scientist I have to totally disagree with most of this article.

    Plant antioxidants are there to protect plant tissues from oxidation. There is no solid evidence that plant antioxidants protect humans from oxidative stress. In fact they may actually cause damage in high doses.

    Our bodies have highly sophisticated endogenous antioxidant systems and have absolutely no need for plant based antioxidants (except vitamin C).

    Natural grasslands are basically monocultures almost totally devoid of any edible plants. The inhabitants of grasslands such as Mongols, Australian Aborigines and Native American always relied almost entirely on meat as a food source.

    Almost all plants contain substances that are toxic to humans. Only 200 or so plants species are widely cultivated. These plants have almost all of the toxins removed by centuries of selective breeding.

    Compared with animal foods plants are extremely poor sources of most vitamins and minerals. Plants are really only useful as sources of magnesium, potassium and vitamin C.

    All essential vitamins and mineral can be easily obtained at very low cost by supplements.

    You only need to eat about 100g of liver a week as a part of a carnivorous diet to get adequate amounts of every multivitamin and mineral (except vitamin C).

    There is little difference in the fatty acid profiles of grass fed and grain feed beef.

    The scientific literature shows no convincing evidence that organic foods offer any health benefits.

    blogblog wrote on September 14th, 2011
    • Could you post any links to studies that back up the claim that there is no evidence that plant antioxidants protect humans from oxidative stress.

      Many thanks.

      Dave wrote on September 27th, 2011
      • I think what blogblog is saying here is, you should eat meat, but no plants because they’re poison. Instead take a cheap multivitamin made in a lab to cover your bases. Mongols, Australian Aborigines and Native Americans had invisible mobile multivitamin labs (a lot like the Iraqis did for their weapons of mass destruction) an placed no value in plant foods.

        A couple groups of people on planet earth ate mostly meat. Plants made little difference in their health. As an example of the deep flaws in this argument, Chris Masterjohn recently put this B.S. down to rest in one of his recent articles on the Masai (part II I believe).

        Phew! I’m sure glad the “plants are worthless” debate has finally been settled here by a bonafide “food scientist!” We can all go home now.

        @Dave, I’m betting blogblog along with practicing ZC/VLC, also does ZE (zero exercise) otherwise he/she might understand the power of plant antioxidants.

        Grok wrote on September 28th, 2011
    • I totally agree with you!

      I learned in school (80′s) that as soon as a plant takes damage (chewing, being cut open) the nutrients are exposed to Oxygen and oxidize. That is how oxidation was explained to me, that is why apples turn brown.

      Arty wrote on October 16th, 2011
  38. What about a zero carb diet? Meat, eggs, hard cheese, and butter only for the last 5 months. BP dropped, lost 25 lbs, skin cleared up (roatia for last few years), teeth got whiter, six pack and muscle tone are now pronounced, un-ending energy, I get looks from girls in their 20′s again (me 44), and people tell me I look so much better.

    Will I stay on this eating regimine long term? Time will tell but right now I am leaning torward it.

    I have tried LC and it does not work for me. Cravings always bring me back to the starches. Eating just meat, eggs, butter, and cheese gives me no cravings what so ever. I eat half a cup of blue berries and next thing I know I have a plate of nachos in my lap.

    I have sat in multiple “pizza lunch meeting” watching my co-workers devouring one of my biggest weaknesses of all…..and I have no desire to partake of even a slice. The very thought just makes me sick.

    Some people can handle the carbs, some can’t. Humans have thrived on nothing but meat and have also thrived on meat along with fruits and vegies. Starches and grains however….I believe everyone here agrees is the enemy.

    Lawrence wrote on October 13th, 2011
  39. I agree that humans evolved to eat SOME plant matter.
    BUT, I have been primal for 1.5 years now and I was still miserable as far my digestion went.
    I’ve been super bloated my entire life!!! Even as a child I was bloated out the yin yang, in every picture I look like some starving African kid with a HUGE belly and boney arms and legs.
    I’ve ditched grains, beans (never ate them anyways), nuts, processed sugars and vegetable oils and stool became somewhat better but not perfect.
    I just recently read K. Monastyrsky’s Book Fiber Menace and decided to ditch ALL vegetables and guess what!? For the very first time in my entire life my belly isn’t bloated. I’m not as lean as I’d like to be (because of my raw milk consumption) BUT my midsection is now flat. NO MORE indigestible fibers fermenting for 5 days in my gut producing gasses non-stop and making me feel uncomfortable and tired. Not to mention creating baseball size clumps of fecal matter.

    I do believe humans do a LOT better healthwise on a high animal diet (including everything the animal has to offer) rather than a high plant diet.

    We are the top preditor on land, why would we graze on plants? It is literally impossible to be on a 0 carb diet even eating animals.
    Eggs, liver (2 of the most nutritious foods) have carbs.
    The ones that try and eliminate ALL foods with carbs (from animal source)are the ones that get into trouble healthwise.

    Arty wrote on October 16th, 2011
  40. The only reason someone should go 0 carbs is to temporarily induce ketosis to encourage weight loss. However, after a few weeks it should be stopped.

    Dan wrote on October 26th, 2011

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