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. trying to do a full egg plan i really can’t stand meat so i’m trying to embark on to a pure egg diet few herbs but mainly just eggs and few diet soda lemon lime no salt. I know eggs have carbs but at moment only meat item i can tolerate. I was wondering would that also be sortof zero carb diet i know its mention eggs were eating too.

    natosha miller wrote on November 25th, 2011
  2. Excellent issues altogether, you simply gained a emblem new reader. What may you recommend in regards to your put up that you made some days in the past? Any sure?

    how to trade, how to trading wrote on December 9th, 2011
  3. can u really eat as much you like on zero carb of eggs fat meat plan?

    natosha miller wrote on December 13th, 2011
    • Yes, if you like feeling like poop, but I guess that’s a relative term.

      Grok wrote on December 13th, 2011
  4. a new post for an older entry, but this article doesn’t account for the possibility of a high fat (80-90%) diet, subsisting on coconut, macadamia nuts, some avocados, cheese, and some meet. sort of like the keckwick diet, but without the 1000 calorie restriction.

    syvlie wrote on May 14th, 2012
  5. I’ve done zero carb for the most part for the last year. I can’t say enough good things about it. I lost a lot of weight. It cured my diabetes and high blood pressure. All I eat is seafood And meat. My digestion is perfect! When I ate carbs and vegetables it was always messed up. Also my energy was terrible when I ate carbs.

    Joel wrote on June 10th, 2012
  6. hum.. no vegetables eh? what? oh that’s right they’re bad for you now days… it’s better to eat processed crap and die from arteriosclerosis.. before obesity makes you look like a fool.

    OINK OINK!

    namerequired wrote on October 4th, 2012
  7. Seems to me a zero carb diet is impossible. Even if all you eat is meat, won’t you be getting some glycogen/glucose from inside the animal cells?

    Animanarchy wrote on October 23rd, 2012
  8. Does anyone else find that even low carb vegetables and garlic tastes like candy once you give up carbs for awhile? I seem to be so carb sensitive that I have to give them all up because after awhile even if I have garlic it tastes like candy and then I crave carbs. Does anyone else experience cravings from eating even low carb veggies? The only way I stop craving carbs is if I have NO carbs at all. Please let me know if you have the same issue.

    Thanks!

    tai wrote on November 1st, 2012
    • Yes, i have the same problem. I also cannot eat carbs because of the digestive issues it causes and also because i get extremely dizzy a couple of hours after consuming, even veggies. I still haven’t lost a whole ton of weight but i feel tremendously better and i think it’s a matter of hormones right now. My head is clear, great endurance, my lifts have increased, and a plethora of other things.

      Brenna wrote on August 12th, 2013
  9. I’m not opposed to people eating vegetables if they can tolerate them, but vegetables are not necessarily harmless. Dr. Georgia Ede has an excellent website that includes some posts about why vegetables are not only unnecessary, but could be harmful to many, as they have proven to be to me, and others I know of.

    Amber wrote on November 11th, 2012
  10. Danny Roddy apparently ate about 7 oz of pemmican a day, and also water fasted. Since he deleted all his food journals before he left the ZC forum he was a part of we have only the recall of the other members but they are pretty staunch that this was how he ate.

    In other words he ate a starvation diet based on mail order pemmican and not nearly enough water.

    I am not at all surprised to see Paul Jaminet the fear monger of low carb use this as “evidence” but when I see Mark Sisson using anecdotal accounts from unreliable sources who do not even have the integrety to leave their food journal up, I can only sigh.

    I agree an ideal zero carb diet includes a bunch of odd bits, hell my whole blog is about stressing that. But lets get on solid ground here.

    Most near zero carbers eat more than “beef and water” and even those that do have the sense to eat in adequate quantities.

    Danny J Albers wrote on November 22nd, 2012
  11. Pretty nice post. I just stumbled upon your
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    Find Out More About 14 Day Rapid Fat Loss Plan Here wrote on February 27th, 2013
  12. I did ZC for about a year. For 10 consecutive months I was very strict. Didn’t cheat once. Not a diet soda or a packet of Splenda. I lost 70 lbs., which I sorely needed to lose.

    It helped that I lived in an apartment by myself. No food in the house I couldn’t eat.

    Then I stopped losing weight. Just plateaued. I got depressed and started drinking diet soda. I started gaining, so I gave it up. Still plateaued. On the forum they told me to just hang in there, and think about giving up dairy, but I was not willing to give up anything else.

    Over time I got less and less strict, out of frustration and also out of, let’s face it, utter boredom with the diet. Then I got engaged, started planning a wedding, and over a year’s time I’ve gained back 30 lbs of the 70 I lost. I’m so bummed.

    I am currently struggling with infertility, and all the crap I struggled with before I found ZC: PCOS, hypothyroid, obesity – all the typical metabolic syndrome stuff resulting from insulin resistance, etc.

    I owe a lot to Charles Washington and the great people over at the Zeroing In On Health forum. But ZC is not realistic for me. For one, I felt… gross. Yes, I lost weight, and that was FABULOUS! But I missed eating vegetables and fruit even more than I missed cake and soda. (Ok, maybe not soda…) I just felt like I was never eating freshness, if that makes sense. You are what you eat… I felt just kind of… greasy and brown. I was indeed living off Wal-Mart meat. It was all I could afford. And no veg, ever.

    I also experienced two prolonged bouts of constipation lasting about 2 weeks each and resulting in store-bought enemas, a lot of pain, and terrible hemorrhoids. Sorry for the TMI but hey, this is for science.

    During that trouble, I asked for advice on the forums, and they told me my gut had been damaged by cellulose from vegetables and that I needed to eat more fat. They told me I’d poo when I was ready, and I was like, “No seriously you guys. I’m READY.”

    I was eating TONS of fat. So that wasn’t it. Of course, deep down I KNEW I needed some kind of roughage to help food move through my bowel.

    What it boils down to is I WANT to eat vegetables. And if there is a way to do that and still lose weight and be healthy – why not?

    I’m coming off just over a year of not having much control over my diet. I didn’t want to do ZC again – I knew that. But I didn’t want to do Paleo, b/c I like dairy and I’m not convinced saturated fat is the enemy.

    I stumbled upon Primal by accident – but I don’t believe in accidents. One day in, I feel like I’m supposed to feel. I even took my fat ass for a walk, a session of outdoor play (poking around a creek), and a sprint. The latter two I have not done in SO LONG.

    I have a long way to go to be healthy and get pregnant, but I know Primal can help me get there. I’ve proven to myself I have the will power to control my diet. Now I just have to have the will power to be more active, and stick with it.

    All the articles here – especially the links in the text – are so helpful. I’ve learned a lot already… Now if I can just figure out how to do this on a budget – and get my pig-headed husband on board – I’ll be all set.

    God bless you, Mark, and best wishes to all of you.

    Kristen wrote on March 4th, 2013
  13. “Especially when eaten with plenty of fat, vegetables are excellent vehicles for delivering beneficial nutrients, vitamins, and minerals to the people consuming them.”

    Meat is by far one of the most nutritional foods one can eat.

    “Leafy greens, for example, are great sources of magnesium and calcium.

    And yet those carnivorous Inuit had perfectly strong teeth and bones.

    “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.”

    But as a whole, they have either a neutral or negative effect.

    http://high-fat-nutrition.blogspot.com/2010/07/fruit-and-vegetables-12-whel-and-cvd.html

    http://high-fat-nutrition.blogspot.com/2007/12/fruit-and-vegetables-re-post.html

    Anonymous wrote on July 29th, 2013
  14. I loved this post. It gave me just what I needed at the right time. Lately I’ve been reading a lot of Aajonus Vonderplanitz’s writings- I’ve had the books for quite some time, perused through them, but never fully delved in. It’s been sort of brainwashing me, and now every time I cook my meat or sit down to eat a plate of veggies or grab an apple I feel like I am doing something bad, demonizing even. He says that all meat and animal products should be consumed raw, and that most vegetation should be absolutely avoided except in the form of dark green vegetable juice. He also suggests consumption of raw tomatoes. But everything is raw. And he says never to drink water unless you exercise, to only get the water from the green juice, raw milk, and tomatoes etc. that you consume.

    But while it all sounds good, on the other end it sounds like madness. All animals drink water! And I love vegetables! I never feel bad after eating veggies or a nice soup full of them. I understand the ideas behind eating raw animal products, but eating cooked meat can’t be that bad…

    Anyway, I read this article when it came out but just re-read it to get a more centered approach and some grounded recommendations about vegetation. Sure I don’t think eating enormous amounts all day every day is the most healthful, but having some broccoli or a salad and some berries or an apple in a day can’t be a bad thing.

    … And up in the rural mountains of Albania, in the Northernmost corners, people live to 130 sometimes and it largely goes unrecorded. That part of the world is still so remote and unpoliced and disconnected from the mainstream and the mainlands, but they have kept birth records since time immemorial, and I have personally met a handful of people over the age of 100 and have been shown birthday photos of a lady who turned 133. And what do they eat? How do they live? Lots of cooked meat and organs from animals they raise themselves, not even raw dairy but cooked dairy and cheeses from their own herds, homegrown vegetables and fruit, homemade wine and rakija (distilled spirits made from the leftover twigs and grapeskins from winemaking, like grappa in Italy), lots of salt, garlic, home-pressed olive oil, and everything seasonal. Topped off with lots of hard work, walking, fresh air and no pollution, strong community ties and low stress….. and that seems to be an immaculate recipe for longevity.

    When I read about Aajonus’s experiences, I think they are incredible, and I can’t help but wonder that in a diseased state, maybe eating offal and meat and rotting meat all raw is wonderfully healing. But I don’t necessarily think that it has to be this way all the time. What a sad life it would be if you had to ignore your ancestry, your cooking traditions, flavours, techniques, recipes… leave them behind… the delicate artistry… I’m Italian and I already had to leave part of that legacy behind with pasta and bread (but I make it for others homemade sometimes). The rest of it? That would be a tragedy.

    Now that I’ve written a novel nobody will read, here is a hilarious link written by someone who thinks it is unnatural for humans to eat meat. He provides a long list of “proofs” and it is hilarious. A funny read and I highly recommend whoever comes this way reads it!

    http://www.scaruffi.com/politics/vegetari.html

    Christina wrote on September 21st, 2013
  15. For those of us who find most vegetables unpalatable (To me they taste horribly bitter, even if cooked in butter), what’s the minimum recommendation to get the necessary nutrients? I force myself to choke down a handful of spinach or some baby carrots most days, but I don’t want to eat more of the nasty stuff than necessary. So, what’s the minimum effective dose of vegetables? (I’m fine with fruit, by the way.)

    Raul Johnson wrote on October 24th, 2013
  16. This interests me for one reason – I am a type one diabetic with (as doctors have said) a rediculously fast metabolism – have any diabetics tried this in an attempt to live without insulin?

    Jon Christman wrote on December 2nd, 2013
  17. Its the abnormal Insulin response to refined carbs that causes the body fat to pile on. As long there is lots of Insulin about, you cannot burn off fat.
    This applies mainly to the overweight rather then the lean, alas the rules are not the same for lean and fat people.
    Insulin opposes the action of Growth Hormone which is necessary for the burning of fat. For the overweight people, Insulin is an absolute roque molecule and high carbs means high Insulin. So there it is. Simple.

    teddybear wrote on January 13th, 2014
  18. When I do zero carb, mainly all meat w some cheese and oils, my bipolar goes into remission, my moods are stable, I don’t feel like binging, I stop obsessing about food (after 6 years of bulimia). Even with adding 20gr of carbs from vegetables all these feelings come back. Strange but true.

    Jennachica wrote on February 3rd, 2014
  19. I’ve been sticking to a paleo like diet for sometime and felt the best I have my entire life because of it. I don’t always follow all of the rules and exclude certain foods the paleo world allows, and even rely on heavily.

    Right now I’m in the middle of a 21 day all meat and vegetable diet as an experiment to see how it affects my body. Right now I’m on day 8 and feeling very good! There have been a couple rough patches in terms of cravings and what I suspect were die off reactions to removing almost all sugar from my diet.

    If anyone is curious as to the effects a diet like this can have on someone I’m documenting it all on a blog I created for just that purpose.

    http://meatandvegetablediet.blogspot.com/

    Check it out if you’re interested or in need of encouragement!

    -Rob

    yanks wrote on August 5th, 2014
  20. And I should mention that I went VERY, VERY low in carbs the first few days. It was really difficult and I think it was a mistake. I took in somewhere around 60 grams of carbs over 3 days. I felt fine at first, but I think it affected me a lot in the days after. I was pretty fatigued and just felt down in general.

    But I’m back to normal now and feeling great!

    yanks wrote on August 5th, 2014

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