Category Archives: carnivore diet

optimising Dr Shawn Baker’s carnivore diet from first principles

recent article looking at Dr Baker’s carnivore diet identified some micronutrient gaps.  This article looks at how we could make some small tweaks to fill these gaps and help him stabilise his blood sugars and naturally boost his testosterone levels.   

Rather than making radical wholesale changes that you probably won’t stick to, the Nutrient Optimiser helps you to make small improvements to your diet. 

This article is a ‘worked example’ of how the Nutrient Optimiser could help refine your diet to achieve your goals while working within whatever constraints you may have.

What are the fundamental principles of nutrition?

I don’t consider myself an advocate of zero carb/carnivore as the ultimate diet for everyone, but I’m intrigued.  I want to understand the fundamental principles of human nutrition. 


There are plenty of anecdotes, zealots and firmly held beliefs when it comes to nutrition.

Everyone has an opinion, everyone has experience, everyone feels strongly about nutrition because everyone eats. 

However, while many people feel a lot of conviction about their way of eating, there seem to be people both thriving and doing poorly on a range of diets that appear to be polar opposites, whether it be carnivore, keto, paleo or whatever. 

While some people believe that diets work because you eliminate all plants (carnivore/zero carb) or animals (i.e. vegan), I’m sceptical about the “magic” of any specific dietary approach.  I want to understand the fundamental principles of nutrition. 

We have tried to make carnivore work in our family to try to help with my wife’s Type 1 and all the autoimmune issues that seem to surround it.  Eating a lot of beef tends to require a lot of insulin for my wife and it can be hard to dose the right amount of insulin to match it. We also found it to be pretty expensive, especially with two growing teenagers.  While I can eat just about anything I choose to, the rest of the family tend to like more variety, so we’ve never been successful going full carnivore. 

I’m currently reading Ray Dalio’s Principles where he describes the process of “backtesting” his theories over centuries of historical financial data to design the trading systems that enabled him to develop Bridgewater Capital into the world’s most successful hedge fund. 


Not only has Dalio used backtesting to eliminate bias from his trading he has developed a company culture of radical honesty around an “idea meritocracy” where anyone in the company is invited to give brutally honest feedback on every member of the company to ensure that they continue to eliminate any biases from their culture.  

As someone who spent a while developing my own trading systems and an engineer who relies on data analysis in my day job, this sort of approach resonates with me.  It is this systems thinking that I have tried to use in the field of nutrition in the development of the Nutrient Optimiser algorithm. 

Nutrition science is quite a young area of research.  We only started to think in terms of nutrients around a century ago.  Humans are complex organisms.  Just like the financial markets, we find ourselves in a range of different environments with different goals and hence require different approaches depending on our situation and goal (e.g. athletes, bodybuilders, diabetes, weight loss, pregnancy, longevity etc.).  

Engineering has a range of safety factors while trading the financial markets requires an understanding of risk and dealing with probability and uncertainty.  Similarly, nutrition is about making the best decisions that we can base on the knowledge that we have.  I’m not claiming that the RDI are perfectly accurate, but as you will see we’re really talking about orders of magnitude differences in nutrients as a proportion of the recommended daily intake.  

I’ve been fortunate to be part of groups like the Optimising Nutrition Facebook Group which tends to be a brutal idea meritocracy when it comes to nutrition where you can learn a lot from smart people based on the latest research.   

Over the years I have identified the following principles of nutrition that can be quantified and used to create a systematised approach in the Nutrient Optimser algorithm.  I’m not saying these are the be all and end all and there will never be anything better, but these are the most useful parameters that I have found that can be quantified.  Before getting into how we can upgrade Shawn’s current diet, let me quickly touch on these.

Principle 1.  Insulin load

While the importance of insulin has been overstated by many people, the reality is that if you have diabetes, lowering the insulin load of your diet will help stabilise your blood sugar levels.  And even if you are not diagnosed with diabetes, keeping stable blood sugars is an important health marker.[1] 

If you are injecting insulin or taking other medications to control your blood sugar levels, then decreasing your dietary insulin load (which is a function of the non-fibre carbohydrates, and to a lesser extent protein) is an important first step. 

However, as shown in the chart below, we can lower insulin load too much to the point that we compromise the nutrient content of our diet.  We need to find the balance point between nutrient density and insulin load. 


Unless you have type 1 diabetes, you can never take your insulin levels to zero.  Insulin is like a brake in your system that stops your stored energy from being used while external energy is coming in. 

While living on butter, bacon and oil might help you stabilise your blood sugars, your blood sugar and insulin levels will not decrease to optimal levels until you stop jamming excess energy into your mouth. 

Principle 2. Nutrient density

Maximising nutrient density means getting the nutrients you need to thrive without consuming too much energy. 

While the daily recommended nutrient targets have their limitations (e.g. bioavailability; anti-nutrients; and context such as activity levels, gender and food combinations), we can identify food and meals that have more of the cluster of micronutrients that you are currently not getting as much of. 


Eating foods that are quantitatively nutrient dense tends to force out the processed junk food.  Foods that are nutrient dense are typically whole foods that don’t need to be coloured, flavoured and engineered to look and taste like they contain the nutrients we need.  They have them naturally in the form and quantities that we have come to thrive on. 

Principle 3.  Energy density

We can also quantitatively manipulate energy density to help us refine our food choices to help us get more or less energy in.  Athletes will want to be able to consume more energy while choosing more low energy dense foods will help you lose body fat.[2]  

Principle 3.  Energy intake (aka calories)

Just like insulin, there is plenty of controversy around calories.  


Some think calories don’t matter. 

Some don’t think they exist. 

But most people acknowledge that energy balance matters. 

However, it’s reasonable to say that just focusing on calories is not the best way to control them or improve your diet.  Without trying to improve the quality of our food, we can end up missing out on the nutrition we need.  But if we dial in insulin load, energy density and nutrient density then satiety and energy intake naturally look after themselves and help you achieve a more normal body fat level. 

However, sometimes it’s still useful to actively manage our calorie intake.  Sometimes this is only required to help retrain our eating habits, or if you want to achieve really low levels of body fat.  Anyone stepping on stage in a bodybuilding competition with single digit body fat percentages is probably tracking their food to ensure they get the results they are after, dialling in calories while making sure they’re getting adequate protein to support their muscle mass. 


Principle 5.  Food sensitivities

Whether it be due to toxins in our environment, excess refined foods, or whatever, food sensitivities are becoming more common.  Many people seem to benefit from eliminating certain foods from their diet, whether it be autoimmune triggering foods, wheat/gluten or whatever. 

This is where the zero carb/carnivore dietary approach seems to shine by removing plant-based foods that could cause an autoimmune or digestive response reaction.  However, I’m not sure everyone needs to eliminate all plant foods. 

Just to keep things interesting, Tommy Wood noted that:

“Neu5gc antibodies seem to be increased in Hashimoto’s (see Jaminet and Gundry), probably propagated by the gut microbiota. So eliminating red meat may help others with certain autoimmune conditions.

“When it comes to “real” food, I think we should be able to tolerate being the omnivores that we are. A true need for any hard eliminations (be that carbs, meat, or anything else) suggests that the underlying problem hasn’t been fixed. Almost all of it is symptom control.

“Though that doesn’t include allergies, obviously. And doesn’t mean you can always figure out how to fix the underlying problem. Good symptom control might be the best we can do in some situations.”

A carnivorous approach may work well for some people to eliminate most inflammatory foods.  You could then start to add back the most nutrient dense foods to see what you can tolerate while still getting all the nutrients you need.   This is basically what we’re going to do with Dr Baker’s diet in the rest of this post. 

Dr Baker’s baseline diet

To recap, the article Dr Shawn Baker’s Carnivore Diet: A Review looked at his typical diet of ribeye steak, mince (ground meat), cheese, eggs, shrimp and salmon. 

Here’s what it looks like in terms of nutrients vs the daily recommended intake levels.  We can see from this that he is getting a lot of amino acids, zinc, iron, B2, B3 and B6 while a number of the other vitamins, minerals and omega 3s are relatively low. 


Note: Shawn didn’t mention sodium in the Tweet above, so I haven’t included it in this analysis. However, I understand that he does salt his food and is now finding benefit from supplementing with sodium to support this massive activity levels.  Most of the time I see people not getting enough potassium and magnesium from their diet rather than sodium, and very few people achieve desirable potassium:sodium ratio.  

With about 4100 calories per day Shawn ends up getting about 6.1g/kg LBM of protein, and he meets the DRI for all but ten essential nutrients. 

However, keep in mind that the DRIs are based on an average male eating 2000 calories per day.  Someone trying to lose weight might only be eating 1200 to 1500 calories per day so they would be getting even fewer nutrients. 

For comparison purposes, the chart below shows Dr Baker’s diet in terms of nutrients per 2000 calories.  With a more normal energy intake, he would be not meeting the DRI for fifteen essential nutrients. 


A lot of the time discussion about these issues degenerates into whether or not the DRIs are accurate.  Hopefully, this chart illustrates that there are multiple orders of magnitude differences in % DRI for some of these nutrients.  The goal of the Nutrient Optimiser is to rebalance this to some extent while still working within your preferences (e.g. zero carb etc).

It’s interesting to hear Shawn talking about supplementing with electrolytes which are often more important for very active people.[3]  Interestingly, it’s the electrolytes like potassium, magnesium and calcium that can be harder to get on a low carb/keto /carnivore diet with a lower intake of green leafy veggies.  I recently heard a 2 Keto Dudes podcast where cohost Carl Franklin was saying that he had developed a tremor in his right hand after a period of eating mainly porchetta that was instantly solved with magnesium supplementation.  Traditional cultures like the Masai would likely have obtained a lot more of these nutrients from eating nose to tail and even drinking fresh blood, rather than eating drained and aged muscle meat.

I’m happy to accept that you probably don’t need to supplement with vitamin C, manganese, vitamin E, calcium, vitamin K1 if you are thriving on a carnivorous diet.  However, it seems that magnesium, potassium and sodium are still very important and the RDIs are still quite relevant.

Scenarios to test

I realise that the DRIs have their shortcomings (e.g. bioavailability, context, antinutrients etc.).  I delved into these issues in the previous post if you want to check that out. 

In this article, I  want to focus on the scenarios below where we could fine tune Dr Baker’s diet to get more nutrients as well as helping him lower his blood sugar levels.   (Note: Robb Wolf has now published Shawn Baker’s full blood test results on his blog here if you’re interested in checking them out).  

There is plenty of discussions out there on the interwebs as to whether a HbA1c is really a concern for Shawn in his context.  Some people say that the excess protein is being converted to glucose.  Some think it’s just the higher energy levels.  Some think that it’s higher lived red blood cells which are causing the higher HbA1c.  Some think he might have an underlying autoimmune condition that is causing his pancreas to not produce enough insulin.  I’m not saying I know.

2018-03-15 11.06.29

Symptomatically he appears to be doing fine with his higher glucose and lower testosterone levels.  I just want to demonstrate how the Nutrient Optimiser would help someone wanting to lower the dietary insulin load to enable their pancreas to keep up.

So, putting the minutia aside, let’s assume we want to find foods that contain more of the nutrients that Shawn’s diet is not providing in large quantities.   I also want to test a couple of scenarios:

  1. with and without plant-based foods, and
  2. maximum nutrient density per calorie vs a more energy dense, higher fat, diabetes-friendly approach.

Shawn is currently eating 6.1 g/kg LBM of protein and has nearly diabetic blood sugar levels and HbA1c.[4]  Most of the time I’m the one banging on that you shouldn’t be afraid of protein.  However, I wonder whether Shawn might do better with a higher fat, lower protein, zero carb approach.  You can convert protein to energy, but it is hard for the body to do, compared to using fat or carbs for energy.

Very low protein diets tend to be low in other nutrients, however more than 1.8g/kg LBM  doesn’t seem to make a difference for most people in terms of building additional muscle mass.  Less protein and more fat might be gentler on his metabolism and help him fuel his activity levels.  Reducing the insulin load of his diet to the point that his pancreas can keep up and maintain normal blood sugar might be beneficial. 

Ted Naiman’s depiction of the protein : energy ratio below illustrates this concept.  A high protein : energy ratio may be useful for people who want to get nutrients and protein without too much energy and drive high levels of satiety that will help them eat less.  However, for someone like Shawn, trying to get more energy into fuel activity, a lower protein energy ratio might be more useful.  A diet with a lower protein : energy level is less nutrient dense but also less insulinogenic which may be helpful for someone like Shawn who has blood sugars and near diabetics HbA1c. 


Ted suggests a protein : energy (i.e. protein / (fat + carbs) all in grams) of around 3:1 for someone trying to lose weight while with something closer to 1:1 for someone trying to maintain their current body fat levels or fuel a lot of activity.  Interestingly, Shawn’s current protein : energy ratio is 2.75 which is closer to the weight loss approach.   

Scenario 1 – Carnivore with max nutrient density

In this scenario, we will look to improve the nutrient content of Shawn’s diet while remaining carnivore, given that it’s working pretty well for him and helping his digestive issues. 

The table below shows the nutrients for which Shawn would fail to meet the DRI if he was eating a standard 2000 calories per day.  


% DRI / 2000 calories

Vitamin C




Vitamin E


Vitamin A


Vitamin D


Vitamin K1






Pantothenic Acid (B5)


Omega 3


Thiamine (B1)










The chart below shows the nutrients that are associated with testosterone levels according to extensive research by Spectracell.   Shawn is currently getting plenty of zinc, carnitine and vitamin B6, however boosting the vitamin C, vitamin E, vitamin D, vitamin K and folate in his diet may help him naturally boost his testosterone levels which are on the lower end.


We can use the Nutrient Optimser algorithm to identify the zero carb foods that contain more of the nutrients for which Shawn is not meeting the DRI.  

Listed below are the top 20 foods that would provide nutrients to complement Shawn’s current diet.  (I have crossed out shrimp and salmon because Shawn is already eating these.) 





     fish roe








     lamb kidney


     egg yolk






So let’s say Shawn added 30g of liver (I’ve only added 30g of liver, so we don’t exceed the upper limit for Vitamin A) a tablespoon of caviar, and swapped out some of his steak for cod (Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson also eats a lot of cod) which is high protein and nutrient dense[5]. The table below shows Shawn’s updated daily diet.  


The updated nutrient profile with Shawn’s refined diet shown below.  These additional foods give us a large boost in vitamin A, copper, omega 3 and magnesium, so we are now only missing the DRI for 11 nutrients rather than fifteen. 


This scenario has a protein : energy ratio of 3.7 which is great if Shawn was trying to lose weight, but perhaps not ideal to support a lot of activity. 

Scenario 2 – Nutrient dense carnivore – diabetes friendly

As I mentioned earlier, Shawn may benefit from a higher fat, lower insulin load, carnivorous approach given his elevated blood sugar and HbA1c.   While most people probably need to be eating more protein, Shawn’s pancreas seems to be struggling to keep up with the insulin required to metabolise 560 g of protein per day or an insulin load of 300 g/day. 

Listed below are the higher fat foods that could provide the nutrients that Shawn is missing from his diet with a lower insulin load. 

     egg yolk



     liver sausage



     whole egg


     lamb brains

     sour cream

     beef brains

     cream cheese





     limburger cheese


     fish roe

     liver pate

The table below shows the updated Cronometer food diary with the lean ribeye steak switched for a fattier T-bone and fattier hamburger mince.  I have also added mackerel, bacon and liverwurst. 


The chart below shows the nutrient profile of these foods.   Even though we have more fat, we are able to meet the DRI for all but eleven of the essential nutrients.  These foods contain 61% fat and 39% protein which is a more reasonable level for someone wanting to maintain weight and fuel a lot of activity.  With these foods, Shawn would not be missing the DRI for twelve essential nutrients.  These foods have a lower protein : energy ratio of 1.4 which is more appropriate for weight maintenance or to support a lot of activity. 


Scenario 3 – Omnivorous with max nutrient density

So let’s say Shawn wanted to maximise nutrient density from all foods, including some plants, given his main goal is performance rather than just being zero carb.  However, given that Shawn seems to have some digestive issues from his previous high carb processed foods diet we will eliminate any inflammatory foods using the autoimmune protocol filter.  The top twenty foods are shown below:



     beet greens




     turnip greens


     amaranth leaves













     winter squash





The Cronometer output below shows the updated intake with a little less ribeye and ground beef with some spinach, broccoli, sauerkraut and liver added in.  


Shawn would need to test and see how he does with the addition of spinach and broccoli.  While some people don’t tolerate any fibrous foods,[6] I don’t think most people are suffering from excessive amounts of cruciferous vegetables.

From a macronutrient point of view, this ends up being only 2% net carbs which is low by most standards.  From a protein : energy ratio perspective these foods come in at 2.7 which is probably higher than we want for someone trying to fuel a lot of activity. 

The updated nutrient profile is shown below.  We are now meeting the DRI for all but six essential nutrients.   Overall the nutrient profile is more balanced.  We are still getting plenty of amino acids and other nutrients that were high before while we are getting more of the nutrients at the top of the chart.  


Scenario 4 – Omnivorous diabetes friendly

In this scenario, we will look to fill the nutrient gaps with a lower insulin load and a lower protein : energy ratio.  The highest ranking foods listed below contain the nutrients Shawn is not getting while having a lower insulin load and more fat. 

     beet greens


     turnip greens











     liver sausage








     summer squash



The chart below shows the updated Cronometer food diary with the following changes:

     fattier T-bone steak rather than ribeye,

     fattier hamburger mince

     2 oz liverwurst




     mackerel rather than salmon


The chart below shows the updated nutrient profile for this approach.  Even though we have 60% fat, we are only missing out on six essential nutrients.  We are still getting heaps of protein, but the lower insulin load (i.e. 22% of calories rather than 34% of calories) could help his pancreas keep up and maintain more stable blood sugars.  This list of food would also give Shawn a protein:energy ratio of 1.3 which might be better to help him fuel his activity. 



The table below compared the scenarios in terms of:


     target DRI levels not achieved,

     nutrient score,

     % protein

     % fat, and

     % insulinogenic.



nutrient score

protein (%)

fat (%)

insulinogenic (%)










baseline / 2000 calories







nutrient dense carnivore







nutritious diabetes-friendly carnivore







nutrient dense omnivore







nutritious diabetes-friendly omnivore







The chart below shows the % of the Daily Recommended intake for the various nutrients that were not meeting the DRI in the baseline scenario per 2000 calories achieved. 

Screenshot 2018-04-02 13.27.50.png

Hopefully, this helps to illustrate how the nutrient optimiser can be used to refine your food choices while still working within the constraints (e.g. digestion, preferences) and goals (e.g. diabetes management or energy density). 

If you’re interested in fine-tuning your diet, the Nutrient Optimiser Free Report will suggest target macro ranges and foods suit your goals and dietary preferances.  




Dr Shawn Baker’s Carnivore Diet: a review

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

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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]



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.


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.

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


Amber O’Hearn


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 and  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.



Dr Georgia Ede


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.




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.


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.


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.


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.


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%).


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.


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


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).


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.


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 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.


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]


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.

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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.

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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.


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.


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.

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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


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.


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.


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.


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  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.

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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.


  • 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.


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.





































Post updated July 2018.