Dr Shawn Baker’s Carnivore Diet: a review

Interest in the controversial carnivore diet (a.k.a. zero carb) diet is booming!

Screenshot 2018-06-29 02.32.52.png

After trying low carb, paleo, and keto, for some people cutting out all carbs and plant foods is the next logical step in their nutritional journey, hopefully towards optimal health and diabetes control.

 

But, to some, this sounds counterintuitive!

  • Could eating only meat be healthy?
  • What about nutrients from plants?
  • Won’t you get too much protein?
  • What about fibre?

 

This article looks at the pros and cons of the carnivore diet through the lens of the Nutrient Optimiser.  I’m not sure that the carnivore diet is optimal for everyone, but in light of all the n = 1s, it’s hard to say it doesn’t provide amazing results for a lot of people.

 

My aim here is to understand the common factors of nutrition that help people thrive so.

 

Why is the carnivore so popular?

Other than Shawn Baker, there are a few interesting examples of people who have successfully followed a carnivorous diet for a long time and seem to be thriving with some undeniably amazing results!

Joe and Charlene Anderson

Charlene (45) and Joe (60) Anderson have been eating nothing but fatty steak for nineteen years, including through two healthy pregnancies.[1] [2] [3]

image11.png

image12

Transitioning to a meat-only diet wasn’t all smooth sailing.  Joe says:

Once I tried a specific, fatty, meat-only diet I felt miserable at first. Massive headaches, depression, fatigue and nausea were common.

By the end of two weeks, however, the veil lifted and I felt great! I discovered that eating this clean meat-only diet was very healing, and I had my own demons and ill health that had to be expelled.

Charlene’s path to healing has taken considerably longer. Although she felt great immediately removing all the fibers, vegetables, and grains that she had been eating for years, she also felt the effects of starving out her Lyme bacteria.

Her body would cycle back and forth from feeling great as the Lyme died off, to feeling horrible because the Lyme was dying off. She gritted her teeth, dug in, and stayed on plan.[4] 

Charlene looks to be doing just fine these days.[5] [6]  You see more of Charlene’s before and after photos and read about her journey on her page at Meat Heals or follow Joe on Twitter.

image22.png

Mikhaila Peterson

Mikhaila Peterson, daughter of the controversial psychologist and professor Jordan Peterson, as also been outspoken about here great results on a carnivore diet.

Mikhaila was diagnosed with Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis at seven and severe depression when she was twelve.  She had a hip and ankle replacement at seventeen and was put on Adderall to stay awake, sleeping around seventeen hours per day.

Image result for mikhaila peterson

She started out with an elimination diet in late 2015 and eventually ended up on carnivorous approach and is not looking back.

Screenshot 2018-06-29 02.55.08.png

Mikhaila is thriving now and passionately sharing her story of transformation with anyone who will listen.

 

Amber O’Hearn

image5.png

Amber is another prominent zero carber who progressed to a carnivorous diet after her success with low carb stalled.  She cut out all plant-based foods (other than coffee) and found her bipolar benefited significantly and her weight loss improved!

Amber has done a lot of thoughtful research and documented her journey at ketotic.org and empiri.ca.  She doesn’t claim that the carnivorous way of life is ideal for everyone, but she makes a good case for why we may not necessarily need fruit and “heart healthy grains” to be healthy.

image20.png

image25.png

Dr Georgia Ede

image17.png

Psychiatrist Dr Georgia Ede on her Diagnosis Diet blog brings attention to issues with anti-nutrients in plant-based foods (e.g. phytic acid, goitrogens, oxalates, and tannins) in not just grains and soy, but also cruciferous veggies such as spinach and broccoli.

Georgia says:

Nutrient bioavailability from plants is in many cases significantly compromised. Just because a plant contains a nutrient does not mean we can access it. One example: due to the oxalate within spinach, virtually none of the iron within spinach is available to the human body. As a second example, the zinc in oysters is virtually impossible to absorb if the oysters are consumed with corn tortillas.

There are too many variables to consider in a mixed diet to be sure how foods will interact in various individuals. Recommended daily intakes for nutrients are based on assumptions and the data used to generate them comes from people eating standard diets. Diets high in refined carbs deplete many nutrients, increasing our apparent requirements.

While plant compounds such as oxalates can affect the availability of other nutrients, you also can’t absorb nutrients if they’re not actually contained in the foods you are eating.  There is a trade-off between quantity and absorption.  It’s hard to quantify these things precisely, but the calculations that I’ve done based on the limited data available indicates that you should probably eat your spinach if you enjoy it.

While some people may benefit by avoiding these compounds in their diet, I’m not sure that it’s necessary or optimal for everyone.  Many stressors in life are hormetic and can make you stronger in the long term.  While some people are delicate, we all live in a bubble.

A growing number of people are experiencing amazing results with an all meat diet to eliminate these stressors.  If you have major depressive symptom and/or digestive issues, then it is certainly worth a try.  You can then progressively add back in plant-based foods and see how you react.

Dr Gundry

While not strictly a carnivore, Dr Stephen Gundry has recently released The Plant Paradox where he speaks of the dangers of lectins and antinutrients in grains and legumes that many people struggle with, especially if they are prone to an autoimmune response.  (Note: While the title may be a little misleading, Gundry still supports eating nutrient dense green leafy vegetables.)

Paleo Medicina

While many people are talking about meat causing cancer, Paleo Medicina are using a carnivore diet to treat cancer, autoimmune and other chronic conditions.  This Ketogeek podcast interview with biologist and clinical researcher Dr Zsofia Clemens is an intriguing listen!

Online groups

The real momentum behind the carnivore diet seems to be coming from the online community such as Principia Carnivora and Zeroing in On Health that swear by just eating meat.

image14.png

 

image6.png

Dr Baker has established the World Carnivore Tribe Group which has a ton of positive anecdotes as well as Meat Heals which has been set up to gather n=1 experiences on a carnivorous way of life.  There’s no denying a LOT of people have found improved their quality of life when they simplified their diet to meat only.

It makes me wonder what the common factors of the optimal human diet are when people are zealous advocates of what appear to be polar opposite approaches.  How do we identify what works and systematise it to help everyone to move towards optimal?

[We dig into the possible fundamental principles of nutrition in the followup to this article, Optimising Dr Shawn Baker’s Carnivore Diet from First Principles]

Dr Shawn Baker

Dr Shawn Baker (@SBakerMB, shawnbaker1967) is the latest high profile proponent of the carnivore approach to nutrition to burst onto the scene.

Shawn is a strength athlete who needs a lot of food.  In the past, his diet included plenty of cereals, low-fat yogurt, skim milk, pasta and grains to maintain weight with his high level of activity.[7]

Similar to many who seem to have become passionate advocates of the carnivore diet, after experiencing digestive issues exacerbated by his poor diet, he progressively experimented with his diet, moving from the typical high carb to paleo, then low carb, then a targeted ketogenic diet.  He found that he would suffer gut distress when he added carbs back in on the cyclic keto approach, and eventually settled on a meat-only carnivorous dietary approach.

He has since gone to set world records in indoor rowing and continues to workout like a beast at 51.

Shawn has been interviewed on numerous podcasts promoting nequalsmany which is his effort to pool the experiences and test data from a range of people following a carnivorous diet.

Shawn saw a need to gather health and performance data from people following a carnivorous diet to try to understand why they seemed to be thriving in spite of cutting across a lot of mainstream health recommendations.

While I haven’t seen any analysis of the crowdsourced data yet, he recently carried out some testing on himself after a year as a carnivore, which we will look at later in this post.

Nutritional analysis

To better understand his nutritional profile I pinged Dr Baker on Twitter to get his standard diet to analyse in the Nutrient Optimiser.

image21.png

The Nutrient Optimiser is a tool designed to help people balance their diet primarily at a micronutrient level.  It then identifies food that provides the nutrients that they need that they are currently not getting in adequate quantities.

As well as maximising micronutrients, the Nutrient Optimiser can manipulate macronutrients and energy density to help you achieve your goals, for example:

  • if you are managing diabetes, we can reduce the insulin load of your diet to help stabilise your blood sugar levels or even further to achieve therapeutic ketosis,
  • if you are fuelling for an endurance event, we can wind up the energy density to help you to get more energy in, and
  • if you are looking to lose weight, we can reduce energy density to ensure you get the nutrient you need with foods that are more filling.

The Nutrient Optimiser is that it removes the various conflicts of interest to demonstrate that the foods that we typically know intuitively are bad for us (e.g. hyper-palatable processed junk foods) provide minimal levels of nutrition and should be avoided.

Balancing your nutrition at a micronutrient level helps to cut through the confusion and commercial bias using widely recognised nutrient targets.   Whether you want to eat only plants for ethical reasons or only animal-based foods because that’s all you can tolerate, the Nutrient Optimiser can help you find the food that will work for you.

Limitations of a plant-based diet

In systems design, things get interesting when you take them to their limits.  You need to test how something performs at the extremes to iron out the bugs.

In the case of the Nutrient Optimiser, the limits to be tested are macronutrient extremes (carbs, fat, protein) or extremes of plant- vs animal-based food sources.

One of the problems with the Daily Reference Intake (DRI) for essential nutrients is that they were developed in the context of an agriculture-based western diet.   At the extremes, we need to understand which parameters are still relevant and which ones need to be modified.

image9.png

As shown in the micronutrient nutritional profile below, a plant-based diet contains adequate quantities of most of the essential nutrients other than omega 3, vitamin B12, and choline.

image16.png

However, as carnivore diet proponents will be quick to point out, not all nutrients provided by animal- and plant-based foods are the same. Although certain vitamins and minerals exist under the same name, their form and bioavailability differ between plants and animals.

For example, iron in animal foods exists in the form of heme and is more bioavailable than the elemental iron supplied by plants. Animal foods also provide forms of nutrients that the body requires, such as retinol (vitamin A) and EPA / DHA (omega-3s), whereas plant foods supply precursors to these nutrients (beta-carotene and alpha-linolenic acid, respectively).

Unfortunately, we don’t yet have enough data to quantify these variables accurately.  I hope that in the next few years there will be more research that will help us quantify the effect of bioavailability and antinutrients on the amount of nutrients absorbed compared to just what goes into our mouth.

We do need to keep these limitations in mind when analysing a purely plant-based diet, especially if someone is displaying symptoms of deficiency in the nutrients that are borderline.

Carnivore diet

In a similar way, we need to understand the limitations that may apply to the nutritional analysis of a carnivorous diet.

The chart below shows the nutrient profile of a carnivore diet versus all foods in the food system USDA database.  It seems to be harder to meet the Daily Recommended Intake levels of vitamin K1, calcium, vitamin E and vitamin C.

image13.png

If you don’t mind some organ meats, you can get a very respectable micronutrient profile in real life.  A great example is Amy, who comes in at #13 on the Nutrient Optimiser Leaderboard with her carnivorous diet with plenty of organ meats, and is meeting the daily intake levels for everything except vitamin C, manganese, vitamin K1, calcium, magnesium, vitamin E, and vitamin D (check out her full report here).

However, not everyone likes offal, so the chart below shows the nutrient profile if we remove organ meats.  It seems that without adequate vitamin K1, manganese, folate, calcium, vitamin C, vitamin A, vitamin E, and magnesium.  The nutrient score drops from 75% to 67% (although, even without accounting for bioavailability, it is still better than the plant-based diet at 63%).

image4.png

Shawn Baker’s diet analysis

Let’s look at what we learn from analysing Dr Baker’s diet.  Dr Baker’s average daily food intake is shown below, with lots of steak and hamburger mince with some cheese, eggs, shrimp, and salmon entered into Cronometer.

image24.png

The micronutrient fingerprint of Dr Baker’s diet is shown below.  You can check out his full Nutrient Optimiser analysis here.

image10.png

At the bottom of the chart, we see that Dr Baker’s diet has a ton of vitamin B12, zinc, iron, and amino acids.  However, at the top (see the zoomed in segment below), we see that Dr Baker’s diet is lacking in vitamin C, manganese, vitamin A, vitamin D, vitamin K1, folate, calcium, omega 3, and pantothenic acid (at least when you use the RDI as your benchmark).

image3.png

So, what do we make of the fact that Dr Baker and a number of his friends appear to be thriving in spite of not meeting the micronutrient DRIs?  Are the recommended nutrient levels just plain wrong?  Which ones are relevant in this context?

In response to my preliminary analysis, Shawn commented on Twitter:

As you point out, some of the micronutrients may become less of a requirement based upon overall dietary scheme. 

Personally, I don’t necessarily believe the DRIs are relevant to a carnivorous diet in general and would look at clinical endpoints.  For example, calcium deficiency has a clinical manifestation and developing signs of it should lead to deterioration of health rather than its enhancement as I’ve experienced and the same with countless other pure meat eaters. 

It is relevant to note that there are many zero-carb people that have been going many years, to some several decades, on just muscle meats and no offal at all and who also maintain excellent health.

There is no point in telling someone to stop doing something if they are thriving.  However, at the same time I can’t stop thinking of Dr Bruce Ames’ Triage Theory which suggests that, in the absence of adequate nutrients, the body will prioritise nutrients geared towards short-term survival rather than optimal health and longevity.  Is there a way to optimise a carnivorous diet without having to resort to plant-based foods that seem to have a negative impact for many?

Dr Baker’s n=1 data

Dr Baker has been spearheading a nequalsmany crowdsourcing of a range of data from people following a carnivorous diet.  While I’m eager to see the full analysis of the data when it’s available, Shawn recently discussed his own test results after fourteen months on a carnivorous diet with Robb Wolf.  I highly recommend you have a listen to the interview on the Paleo Solution Podcast.

Cholesterol

To my eyes, Dr Baker’s cholesterol values are fairly unremarkable other than to note that his TG:HDL ratio is 1.3 (which is good) and his total cholesterol : HDL is 4.6 which is OK.[8] [9]  However, I’m no expert in this contentious area.

Alex Leaf of Examine.com noted that “High LDL-p, low HDL to LDL ratio, low HDL to non-HDL ratio are All strong CVD risk factors”.

Meanwhile, while Dave Feldman of Cholesterol Code offered the following comments:

  • LDL-C and LDL-P are both on the lower end for a low carber who is as lean and fit as Dr Baker is. I suspect this is due to his emphasis on resistance training, which can reduce LDL scores due to a higher rate of use for muscle repair.
  • Small LDL-P is low at 283, and clearly very Pattern A.
  • HDL-C — 40 mg/dL is low for a zero carber.
  • HDL-P was highlighted as being low (out of range) at 28. However, I see this frequently with low carbers across the board.
  • Triglycerides — 54 is certainly very correlative with a very athletic, insulin sensitive metabolism.
  • Lipoprotein (a) — 2 nmol/L is one of the lowest scores I’ve ever seen (maybe THE lowest).
  • The score I most care about is Remnant Cholesterol which is calculated by subtracting both HDL-C and LDL-C from Total Cholesterol. His score of just 11 mg/dL is extremely low risk and suggests he has a very efficient fat metabolism.

HbA1c

What is more interesting and puzzling is Baker’s HbA1c of 6.3% with a fasting blood sugar of 121 mg/dL.

This HbA1c level puts him on the borderline of prediabetes and full-blown type 2 diabetes,[10] which I wouldn’t have expected.   A HbA1c of 6.4% and a fasting glucose of 126 is the cut off for type 2 diabetes. HbA1c of less than 5.0% and fasting glucose of less than 95 mg/dL are typically associated with lower all-cause mortality.[11] [12]

image23

What is puzzling here is that, while Shawn’s HbA1c is high, he has a fasting insulin level of 2.6 mIU/L which is very low which either suggests he is very insulin sensitive or his pancreas is not producing enough insulin.

Since the release of the Robb Wolf podcast, there has been a ton of speculation about his results.  It will be interesting to see if he follows up on any of the gratuitous suggestions for further testing.

2018-03-14 17.14.19.png

Some people point to HbA1c being an unreliable measure due to the fact that red blood cells live longer in healthier people, however, Dr Baker’s blood sugar values correlate with the HbA1c values.

2018-03-15 11.06.29.png

Some will say that the 6.1 g/kg/LBM or 560 g of protein per day is driving gluconeogenesis.  (This is a contentious and complicated topic that I have covered in the article Why do my blood sugars rise after a high protein meal?)

If you look at things from a total energy perspective you could say that Shawn is just eating a lot to fuel his activity (more than 4000 calories per day) and hence his blood sugars are staying high.

Perhaps it’s a case of extreme physiological insulin resistance where the body chooses to keep glucose levels higher where there is less glucose available and lower insulin levels?

I think it’s also worth noting that essential minerals such as potassium, calcium, and sodium are essential for maintaining insulin sensitivity.[13] [14] [15]  While the body does a pretty good job of maintaining acid/base balance, the kidneys still need enough substrate (e.g. alkaline minerals such as potassium, magnesium, and sodium) to be able to do this.

Once the kidneys stop being able to tightly regulate pH we can get metabolic acidosis which goes hand in hand with type 2 diabetes.[16] [17] [18] [19]  (This is another complex and contentious topic that I covered in Alkaline Diet vs Acidic Ketones.)

It’s interesting to hear in his discussion with Robb that Dr Baker is finding benefit from adding sodium and electrolytes.  Many people on a low carb dietary approach find that supplementing minerals is important.

The Nutrient Optimiser analysis typically finds that people need more potassium or magnesium rather than sodium.  Sodium is fairly easy to get while potassium and magnesium are much harder for most people.  There are a range of studies suggesting that a higher potassium : sodium ratio is desirable.[20] [21] [22]

I look forward to the full analysis of the data from the nequalsmany participants.  However, based on the results of Shawn’s n=1 it may be too early to say that zero carb is the cure for type 2 diabetes.

Testosterone

While there are anecdotes of an animal-based carnivorous diet raising testosterone levels, Dr Baker’s endogenous testosterone levels are lower than you might expect given his level of muscularity, leanness, and endurance.

As discussed in the interview with Robb he is experiencing no symptoms of low testosterone and suggests that, similar to TSH and insulin, he may be more sensitive to testosterone and hence the body doesn’t need as much of it.

Are the nutrient recommendations relevant to someone following a carnivorous approach?

Given that the RDIs are designed to prevent nutrient deficiencies in most of the population, they will be conservative for most people when it comes to deficiencies.  However, what constitutes optimal is a different matter.

The challenge in using the RDIs at extremes is that they have not been adjusted to cater for varying requirements of people following a vegan, keto, or carnivorous approach.  Many people are quick to dismiss the RDIs in view of the numerous anecdotes of people thriving with no plant-based foods.  But I’m eager to understand, as much as we can with the available data, how the parameters might change and what is still relevant and important.

While the DRIs are based on people eating a standard western diet, anecdotally many people seem to find they need to supplement electrolytes when they reduce or remove carbohydrates sources from their diet, so I don’t think we can say that someone on a carnivorous diet would have a lower requirement for electrolytes such as sodium, magnesium or potassium.

Does the carnivore diet break the Nutrient Optimiser?

Dr Baker isn’t going out of his way to chase micronutrients.  However, I think the fact that he’s eating more than 4000 calories per day will help to make up for the lower availability of some nutrients in animal vs plant-based foods.

A fairer illustration of the potential of the potential of a carnivorous is the nutrient profile for Amy which is shown below, who is following a carnivore diet with heaps of organ meat.

Although Amy has gone out of her way to maximise her micronutrients as much as anyone practically could with a carnivorous diet she is still not meeting the RDI for vitamin K1, vitamin C, calcium, vitamin E, sodium, and magnesium.

image15.png

But is this really an issue?  Perhaps not if you are not exhibiting signs of nutrient deficiencies relating to these nutrients, but they might be worth keeping an eye out for.

vitamin K – used in synthesis of protein and absorption of calcium.  Low levels of vitamin K impairs blood coagulation, causing blood such as nose bleeds and heavy menstural bleeding.  Deficiency may lead to weakened bone and calcification of arteries, leading to coronary heart disease.

  • vitamin C – used by the immune system and is a powerful antioxidant.
  • calcium – needed for muslce, heart, digestive systems, bones, teeth and blood.
  • manganese – helps to build bonees and metabolise protein and carbs.
  • vitamin E – antioxidant used in smooth msucle growth and has a role in eye and neurological functions.

The Nutrient Optimiser has a zero carb/carnivore diet option for people who chose to eat that way for preference or due to other issues.  This allows people who chose to follow this approach to help manage autoimmune or digestive issues to fine tune their micronutrients as much as possible within those constraints.

NO logo

The question for me, then, is whether we need to worry about these possible deficiencies?

Vitamin K2 can be converted to K1

Vitamin K1 is primarily found in plants while K2 is synthesised by bacteria in the large intestine of animals and humans.  Vitamin K2 (menaquinones MK1 through MK4) is only a fairly recent discovery.  Hence the USDA food database only contains data on the quantity of K1 (phylloquinone) in foods.

The good news is that most people can convert K2 to K1 and vice versa depending on demand.[23]  Hence, low dietary vitamin K1 intake may not be an issue if you are getting plenty of K2 from sources such as eggs, butter, and liver.

Some nutrients are more bioavailable

As we mentioned before, vitamin A and omega 3 are more bioavailable from animal-based sources.   However, I don’t think this is a real issue as it is quite easy to get plenty of these nutrients on a carnivorous diet from seafood.

The effect of anti-nutrients on absorption

Iron, calcium, and magnesium may be more bioavailable when there are no oxalates in the diet.[24]  Adequate iron is rarely a problem for someone eating adequate amounts of animal-based protein.  Excess iron is often a problem in males.  Shawn’s ferritin is within range but perhaps above optimal for males.

Calcium and magnesium do tend to be harder to find, but without plant matter in the diet, they may be more bioavailable.

Grains and legumes contain lectins, glutens, and phytates that can affect the absorption of minerals like potassium and magnesium.[25]  Unfortunately, we don’t yet have data to calculate how much of the various nutrients are getting into your system from the food once you account for bioavailability.

Cooking vegetables also reduces anti-nutrient levels, which adds another layer of complexity to figuring out how much we absorb in a diet of both cooked and raw foods.

For many people, grains just aren’t worth it, especially if they have pre-existing digestive issues.  I’m not sure, however, that the same principle applies to all vegetables.

Personally, my digestion is pretty robust, so I’m not too worried about oxalates in spinach.  I figure the benefit of getting all the vitamins more than offsets the negative impacts, at least for me.

Some plant-based compounds (e.g. sulforaphane) may have a beneficial hormetic effect.[26][27] [28] [29]  However, for some people, their gut is so messed up by modern processed foods that they find they need to cut out all fibre containing foods.

Essential nutrients we require less of when we eat less glucose

There is some evidence to suggest that Vitamin C is not as much of a priority for someone with less glucose to process.   There are plenty of examples of people surviving with minimal vitamin C on a zero carb diet.[30]

Vitamin C is also probably underreported from animal food and often assumed to be zero.  If you want to dig into this more, check out Amber O’Hearn’s comprehensive article on vitamin C on a ketogenic diet.

Nutrients that there are is no deficiency testing for

Manganese

There are also a number of nutrients that are based on population average intakes rather than deficiency testing, such as manganese.[31]

Given that manganese is associated with carbohydrate metabolism, there may be a lesser requirement for people following a carnivorous diet.  There may be limited value chasing targets that are simply based on average intakes of people eating a typical western diet.

Manganese is high in organ meats, which are prized by cultures that do not have access to a lot of plant-based foods, so it is possible to get adequate quantities.

Vitamin E

Similarly, the RDI for Vitamin E is based on median population intake levels[32] rather than any deficiency testing, and it is possible that the requirements may be lower for someone not eating as much glucose.

Pantothenic acid (Vitamin B5)

Shawn is not quite meeting the RDI for Vitamin B5 though he may not need more unless he has high intakes of alcohol or coffee or has high levels of stress.

Again, the target levels are based on the average intake from population studies, so there’s probably no need to chase the target here for someone on a carnivore diet.

Nutrients that are still important

Vitamin D

Without a lot of seafood, Shawn is not getting a lot of Vitamin D from his diet.  However, a lack of dietary vitamin D is not unique to carnivores.

The RDI levels for vitamin D levels are based on the amount required to maintain serum 25(OH)D levels with minimal sunlight.  Interestingly, as shown in the test results, Shawn’s serum vitamin D levels are on the lower end of normal.

Folate

Shawn is getting lower levels of folate compared to the estimated average requirement.  Again, folate can easily be obtained from organ meats which are prized in cultures that do not have access to plant-based foods.

Calcium

Shawn is also not meeting the RDI for calcium.  Calcium can be obtained on a carnivore diet from eggs and sardines or other bony fish.  Target calcium levels are based on balance studies,[33] and your calcium requirements will increase with age.

Omega 3

Shawn is getting a solid amount of omega 3, though not enough to meet the RDI levels or achieve ideal omega 3 : omega 6 balance.   Again, omega 3 is not hard to get from animal-based products if they include some seafood.

Magnesium and potassium

Magnesium and potassium are two minerals that many people do not get enough of when they reduce their carbohydrate intake, particularly green veggies.

The keto flu is a common symptom that people experience early in their ketogenic journey that they can fix with supplementation of alkalising minerals.

I haven’t seen any research that would indicate that there would be a lesser requirement for these minerals on a keto or carnivore diet.

Don’t focus on just one nutrient

All in all, I think nutrients are important.  However, getting wrapped up in chasing the absolute DRI for individual nutrients can be problematic due to the numerous factors outlined above.  Our nutrient requirements will also change based on a range of things such as activity, life stage, the other things you are eating, your gut health and nutrient absorption.

Life is all about making the best choices we can with imperfect data.  We can’t let the lack of perfect stop us from using the data that we have available.  To smooth out the limitations of individual nutrients, the Nutrient Optimiser prioritises foods that contain a cluster of the ten or so nutrients you are getting less of and identifies the foods and meals that contain these nutrients in larger quantities.

So sure, maybe you don’t need as much K1, manganese, vitamin C on a carnivorous diet, the Nutrient Optimiser will help you find the foods that contain the other nutrients that can be harder with your preferred approach to finding the nutrients that are still important.

Historically, humans seem to adapt pretty well to a wide range of food environments over time.  What we don’t seem to do well with is modern hyperpalatable nutrient poor energy-dense foods that are flavoured and coloured to make us think that they are good for us, but actually contain very little actual nutrition.

What about the Maasai?

Many people refer to the Maasai tribe in Africa, who survive on nothing but milk, meat, and blood from their animals, as a precedent for the carnivorous approach.

While they are a thriving, beautiful people, keep in mind that they are drinking blood from their animals and eating fresh meat, nose to tail.

This is not the same as eating only drained muscle meat that has been hung for a long time.  It’s pretty hard to get fresh, undrained meat let alone fresh blood in the west.

image7.jpg

Who should try a carnivorous diet?

One common theme I see for people who seem to thrive on a carnivorous approach is some sort of gut issues (e.g. permeability or bacterial overgrowth) or some sort of autoimmune condition, perhaps due to long-term exposure to processed low nutrient-poor foods.

If your gut is already compromised, then cutting down on fibre and other plant matter, particularly grains, nuts and seeds seems to work wonders for many people.  If you have issues that you find are only healed by staying strictly carnivore then, by all means, stick with it.

You could also use carnivore as an elimination phase and then slowly reintroduce other foods back in to see if you can tolerate them.  You may enjoy a diet that is less restrictive and makes it easier to get the nutrients you need from your diet.  I recommend checking out Chris Kresser’s The Paleo Cure or Natasha Campbell McBride’s GAPS Diet if you want to follow this elimination and reintroduction type approach.

Some people find great success with a carnivore dietary approach.  There are a ton of great testimonials at meatheals.com.  At the same time, I have seen many others that carnivore didn’t work out for in the long run.  One friend Samantha found that she became hypersensitive to the smallest whiff of flour and found improvement through a course of probiotics.

2018-03-21 01.45.50.png

The general motto of the carnivore crowd is to just eat meat when hungry.   This works well for many, but not all.

Ironically, during the finalisation of this article, I contacted Amy (who has the amazing carnivore nutrient profile shown above) and she advised she was no longer following a zero carb dietary approach and was now pursuing a nutrient dense omnivorous approach.  She had found that she started to gain weight after 2.5 years on a carnivorous diet and her thyroid function diminished.  Amy, who was previously an admin for a major carnivore Facebook group, says:

“All of these, coupled with my EXTREMELY high LDL cholesterol of 500 and my 7-year lack of menstrual cycle, points directly to a failing thyroid.  ZC made it WORSE… MUCH worse.  I went back to a mixed diet in January of this year.  Within 2 weeks of this diet change, I regained all of my natural bowel motility.  And, surprisingly, within 2 months my menstrual cycle returned after 7 years of absence!!  I regained my energy, and I’m now walking daily again, doing daily hour-long sessions of yoga (which I used to love doing years ago), lifting weights 3 days a week, and doing 20 minute HIIT workouts 3 days a week.  I’ve put on some weight, but I look and feel very healthy.  I notice that I’m frequently hot now instead of cold, which I presume is a symptom of my thyroid upregulating to where it should be.  I am scheduled to have a complete thyroid panel, lipid panel, and other hormone tests run at the end of March to see where I am.  But I can clearly tell you that ZC did NOT do MY body any favors.”

Overall, it’s probably fair to say that a carnivore diet can benefit many, particularly if you have major digestive issues.  However, I think it’s probably too soon to say it’s optimal for everyone.

If you do want to pursue a carnivorous diet, then the Nutrient Optimiser can help you identify foods to get as much nutrition as you can within that framework.

If you find that you want something with a little bit more variety and want to include some plants, then there are autoimmune, lactose-free, nut free, or shellfish free options are available to suit your allergies, preferences and intolerances.

If you made it this far and want to learn more about the carnivore diet then make sure you also read the followup article, Optimising Dr Shawn Baker’s Carnivore Diet from First Principles.

Summary

  • Some people seem to benefit from a zero carb/carnivore diet, particularly if they have pre-existing gut permeability or bacterial overgrowth.
  • Cutting out nutrient-poor processed inflammatory foods is a common denominator in many successful diets.
  • It is harder to get some nutrients without plants, however, some of these nutrients may not be such a big deal if you are not eating a lot of carbohydrates.
  • While there are plenty of anecdotes, there is not yet a lot of large-scale quantitative research into the long-term impacts of a carnivore diet.
  • It’s still a good idea to maximise the micronutrients in your diet irrespective of your overarching dietary template.

Thanks

Special thanks to Shawn Baker, Robb Wolf, Alex Leaf, Amber O’Hearn, Dave Feldman, Robin Reyes, Helen Kendall and Raphi Sirt for their input and review into this article.

 

References

[1] http://www.getbig.com/boards/index.php?topic=574036.0

[2] https://www.inquisitr.com/2083582/carnivore-family-has-eaten-a-zero-carb-all-beef-diet-for-the-past-17-years/

[3] https://gistonice.wordpress.com/2015/05/11/when-eating-only-meat-becomes-a-way-of-life-family-lives-on-only-meat-for-the-past-17-years/

[4] http://www.getbig.com/boards/index.php?topic=574036.0

[5] https://zerocarbzen.com/tag/lyme-disease/

[6] https://thenortheasttoday.com/anderson-family-on-meat-diet-for-17-years/

[7] https://www.breaknutrition.com/episode-17-dr-shawn-baker-lifts-like-crane-eats-like-lion/

[8] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11176761

[9] https://www.thebloodcode.com/know-your-tghdl-ratio-triglyceride-hdl-cholesterol/

[10] https://optimisingnutrition.com/2015/03/22/diabetes-102/

[11] https://optimisingnutrition.com/2015/07/20/the-glucose-ketone-relationship/

[12] https://cardiab.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/1475-2840-12-164

[13] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC301822/

[14] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21036373

[15] https://optimisingnutrition.com/2017/10/21/redesigning-nutrition-from-first-principles/

[16] https://optimisingnutrition.com/2016/11/19/the-alkaline-diet-vs-acidic-ketones/

[17] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4424466/

[18] http://downloads.hindawi.com/journals/jeph/2012/727630.pdf

[19] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3195546/

[20] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/2224920/

[21] https://www.facebook.com/groups/OKL4Vitality/permalink/677232549136149/?hc_location=ufi

[22] https://www.facebook.com/groups/OKL4Vitality/permalink/652513618274709/?hc_location=ufi

[23] https://chrismasterjohnphd.com/2016/12/09/the-ultimate-vitamin-k2-resource/

[24] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17440529

[25] jn.nutrition.org/cgi/content/full/129/7/1434S

[26] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2635914/

[27] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4273949/

[28] http://roguehealthandfitness.com/hormesis-health/

[29] http://www.organiclifestylemagazine.com/sulforaphane-why-your-cells-need-cruciferous-vegetables

[30] http://breaknutrition.com/ketogenic-diet-vitamin-c-101/

[31] https://www.nrv.gov.au/nutrients/manganese

[32] https://www.nrv.gov.au/nutrients/vitamin-e

[33] https://www.nrv.gov.au/nutrients/calcium

 

Post updated July 2018.

28 thoughts on “Dr Shawn Baker’s Carnivore Diet: a review”

  1. I am a retired Family Medicine doctor who has been eating an all meat diet for 3 years and blogged regularly at http://www.borntoeatmeat.com for 2 years. I think the greatest benefit of an all meat diet is it’s ability to help the many people addicted to the most toxic component of diet of the developed world, refined sugar go “cold turkey” in a simple nutritious way. And I strongly believe cold turkey is the best way to beat an addiction.

  2. The problem with the RDI is that most of the them are probably wrong. It’s the main difficulty with optimizing nutrition…

    For example potassium makes no sense. We couldn’t have evolved to need that much potassium when almost nowhere in the world we could have got enough to get the RDI.

    1. Why do you believe that “most of them are probably wrong”?

      I can see how in the past our food environment would have contained more nutrients, whether it’s the plans we eat or the animals that would have been eating natural grass that contained a lot more nutrients compared today when they eat mainly grain that has been grown quickly in nutrient poor soil.

      1. Just read how they are calculated, the science it’s so poor that is embarrassing. For example the potassium one is based on “small reduction on hypertension when some people increase their potassium consumption”. That’s it. The almost 4g/day recommended to all population is based on that.

        Probably by pure chance a few RDI are correct, but only by chance. Most of them are pure speculation based on poor/inconclusive data.

  3. Marty, thanks for your exhaustive detail in this article! I had been looking into ZC a little, and your work here really helps put things in perspective . I also carry some suspicions about RDI’s, but you did a great job placing them in context of as several variables . Clearly is size does not fit all, and hopefully you or others will be able to find a way to optimize individually based on other factors such as DNA and blood data, etc . Keep up the great work!!!!

    1. I wonder if it isn’t good old-fashioned gluconeogenesis going about 90 miles an hour…my husband had the same problem when he attempted to lose weight going ZC.

      1. Which is why usually the emphasis is on fattier meats, so as to avoid too much protein. Although I don’t know if some metabolisms are/became just slower than others regardless of changing diets to fix them.

    2. Others have commented that long lived RBCs do not occur with athletes. This is where it will be good to have more data from others once the nequalsmany data is published. It would be interesting to see if elevated HbA1c is a common phenomenon.

  4. Hi, came here via a link on paleoforums.com . I’ve been “into” health an diet for nine years, thousands of hours of research. Some random comments:

    I accept that some people thrive on a carnivorous diet. Meaning, healing. Personally, I tried it once and was food bored out of my mind in a few days………and I gained weight because of lack of satiety.

    I’m surprised that you didn’t mention Owsley Stanley, aka Bear, the most famous carnivore, fifty years of meat only. https://zerocarbzen.com/the-bear/

    The matter of elevated A1c and fasting blood glucose is well known, anecdotally, in the paleo/low carb communities. Why? And, more importantly, are the numbers not applicable on a glucose free diet?

    There is peer reviewed literature that finds it is the sodium/potassium ratio that is important, not the absolutes. All natural foods that I’ve ever looked at have more potassium than sodium, especially plant foods. There is one food in which they are equal, eggs. Which was the only food some guy ate well into his 80’s. Twenty four to thirty a day. https://www.bing.com/search?q=man+eats+eggs+only&qs=n&form=QBRE&sp=-1&pq=undefined&sc=0-17&sk=&cvid=6567BF6FAB644A998081B3FCA219124B

    Denise Minger has done some great work that shows, in an oversimplified summary, that the extremes of fat consumption often lead to healing what ails ya. Under 10% of calories or over 70? %.

    The concerns raised here, well, concern me. Do some people thrive on vegan diets and carnivore diets, while many don’t? Outliers? What about O6:O3 ratios? Is that all bogus? What about methionine, abundant in meat, which when restricted OR countered with additional glycine results in much longer life spans?

    Carry on…………

  5. Question for Marty and vegans: where’s the TAURINE (in both the diet and in the nutrient lists)? Our hearts need taurine to operate, and the only natural source of it is meats (preferably heart meat).

  6. Marty, I find Amy’s account of her zero carb experience very interesting. I would be curious to see what and how much she was eating. The nutrition optimizer site seems to be down at the moment.

    I have seen numerous accounts of women who have the exact opposite experience. Their cycles (and hormones) appear to regulate on zero carb. Some, like Amy, with no periods (usually from eating keto and restricting protein and calories) see their periods return after a few months on carnivorous diet. Lack of period is usually an indication of starvation/undereating or too little body fat in women (the extreme case being those suffering from anorexia). Same goes for her lack of energy and inability to exercise. I find her story hard to believe if she were eating sufficient amount of protein and fat. And based on your and her accounts, that doesn’t appear to be the case.

    I enjoyed reading your nutritional analysis of a carnivorous diet. I appreciate that there are questions we don’t necessarily know the answers to in terms of nutrition. I just worry that women might be put off by Amy’s experience when they don’t in fact have the full story. (What did she weigh 2.5 years in? How much did she eat daily? What did she weigh when she switched to mixed diet? What does she eat daily today? What is her weight today?) In other words, was the carnivorous diet the problem? Or was it not eating enough?

    1. The Nutrient Optimiser is back up now after some quick maintenance.

      I pinged Amy and she provided this following response: “I had no cycle for 4 years prior to ZC. I started ZC (at 135 lbs) hoping my hormones would regulate and cycle would come back. I gained about 12 lbs and then lost about 20 lbs. during first 2 years ZC. I then started gaining again at ZC 2 year mark (back up to 145 lbs). After 2.5 years ZC, cycle never returned. I was eating a minimum of 1700 calories a day on ZC, but most often it was around 2000 calories a day on average. I switched back to a mixed diet in January weighing about 145 lbs. and eating 1700-2000 calories a day. My cycle returned within 2 months of going back to a mixed diet. I’m up to about 150 lbs. now. I’m eating lean meats, lots of yogurt, cottage cheese, lots of vegetables, potatoes, and lots of fruit.”

      1. A person weighing 135lb at 5’7″ is quite lean already. 1700 calories even on a mixed diet is quite low. Even based on your analysis, it is barely above her BMR. Maybe if she were bedridden, it might have been sufficient to maintain her current weight but certainly not to reverse deficiencies and power any sort of activity. And if you are not consuming carbohydrates, it is definitely insufficient, especially for a woman who has been severely malnourished given the lack of cycle for 4 years. Based on the profile in the nutrient optimizer, she was only consuming 50% calories from fat. On a ZC diet, your energy source is fat. Her fatigue and lack of energy was due to the insufficient fat intake. At 5’7″ and 135lbs and even 145lbs, you don’t have enough fat on your body to sustain prolong deprivation.

        It appears now she is back to consuming low fat and relatively high carb(sugar) (lots of fruits) diet. I am glad she has seen some improvements but we now know where that leads to long term.

  7. Amy never did ZC properly. She was always restricting and doing extended fasts, something we do not support, because it is not healthy. She is a perfect example of what happens when people restrict and fast. Her health deteriorated, she went back to a mixed diet and now blames ZC for her ill health.

    ZC has helped many people regain health. In the 10 years I have been ZC and helping people with this diet I have never seen a person who didn’t see improvements in health after adopting the all meat zero carb diet. It is sad when somebody who never did the diet properly, is in the spotlight making claims that are misleading and could scare people off who might benefit from this diet.

    1. Did you see the comments from Amy above? Without having full LBM calcs 1700 to 2000 cals per day seems like a fair amount. Agree that everyone is different. It’ll definitely be great to build some more data on more people’s results on ZC.

      1. Her calories were coming from fat. She was restricting protein, which also restricts nutrients and doing extended fasts, which further restricts nutrients and reduces lean mass and bone. If they have not already been deleted, you can see for yourself what she was eating in Principa Carnivora.

  8. Absolutely fabulous article Marty, what a very unbiased look at these valuable tools we all use as Health Care Professionals. This was a perfect follow up to the listen of Robb wolf crunch the data of Shawns lab work. Although the arguments of why his glucose and A1C was so high, I can’t help but think that the blood glucose meter simply doesn’t lie. It’s really simple eat a ton of protein and check your blood glucose the next day, then eat a moderate amount of protein and check your glucose following that. It’s clear to see how just a little extra protein will raise blood glucose the following morning.
    That being said I think the carnivore diet is a great tool to use for people who may have developed lots of sensitivities. I know a few who either way over did vegetables or came from crappy sad diet the carnivore does great for. But does that mean they have found the Holy Grail of dieting. The one golden unicorn diet! We both know the answer to that…..
    I applaud your efforts and love using the nutrient optimizer! Carry on man!

    1. I’ve been intrigued to learn more about these guys. However I just saw a paper from them that was saying that they don’t use basal insulin and don’t correct unless BG is greater than 10mmol/L. Comment from RD Dikeman that it was the dumbest thing he’d seen and that it was going to kill kids with diabetic ketoacidosis. So still skeptical.

  9. THanks for another excellent post. However, I am curious about why you say there is no Vitamin C nor K1 in animal–that is, you can only find these in plants. I recently attended AHS18 and LowCarbUSA, and at both conferences, I talked to speakers who said that animal contains both. Could you make it clearer why you say meat doesn’t? I’m not trying to disagree–just need more clarity. The reason it matters is that until recently, I ate some plants just for those 2 nutrients, and I feel much better and am having lower fasting blood glucose on a meat and dairy only diet (even though I was keto-adapted for last 6 years–which, ironically, I remain even though I thought this much protein with this reduction in fat would kick me out). There might be others like me whose decision to eat plants or not is hinging on C and K1. Thanks for all your amazing and wonderful work, Marty!!!

    1. My understanding is that K1 is in plant foods and K2 in animal foods and the body can convert some K2 to K1 as required. There is generally not a lot of C in animal products so they often don’t quantify it, however the demand for C goes down if you are consuming less glucose.

Leave a Reply