It’s great to see Dr Paul Saladino MD thriving on a nutrient-dense nose-to-tail carnivorous diet and talking about the importance of nutrient density in a carnivorous context.
There are plenty of benefits of a carnivorous way of eating compared to a standard western diet of nutrient-poor processed foods that are filled with fake flavours, colours and sweeteners (not to mention anti-nutrients).
It’s not surprising that so many people benefit when they switch to a carnivorous diet that excludes many of the most nutrient-poor hyperpalatable foods and provides plenty of bioavailable protein with more micronutrients.
Carnivore diet also challenges the limits of our understanding of our requirements for various nutrients. The Dietary Reference Intakes are based on mixed omnivorous diets without a lot of consideration for extreme edge cases such as an exclusively plant-based diet, let alone a carnivorous approach.
However, at the same time, limiting yourself to animal-based foods exclusively does make it harder to obtain a number of essential nutrients.
Bioavailability doesn’t matter that much if the food doesn’t contain very much of the nutrients to start with. 100% of zero, is still zero.
There are benefits to optimising a diet that excludes plants by emphasising foods that contain some of the harder to find nutrients on a carnivorous way of eating.
After listening to a number Paul Saladino Podcast about nose-to-tail carnivore diet benefits, I was eager to run the numbers on his nutrient-dense nose-to-tail version of a carnivore diet.
As luck would have it, Dr Ben Lynch kindly connected us, and the rest is history, with the nutritional analysis detailed below.
Dr Paul Saladino Carnivore Diet
Paul’s typical daily food intake, as shown below, involves a very intentional selection of steak, liver, kidney, suet, egg yolk along with salt, bone meal and three litres of mineral water per day to help boost some of the minerals.
I entered Paul’s daily diet into Cronometer.
Edit: Afterwards, Paul mentioned that he supplements with magnesium and potassium (i.e. K) which are typically harder to find on an animal-only diet.
About 26% of Paul’s calories come from protein (200g) and 73% fat (250 g) and a bit over 3000 calories per day. Some nominal carbs (12 g) come from glycogen in the liver and egg yolk.
This looks about right for someone who is active and weight stable. While higher levels of protein are beneficial in terms of satiety and nutrient density, dropping the energy from fat too low may make it difficult for Paul to get in enough energy to fuel his high levels of activity.
The downside of a higher protein diet is that it shuts off your appetite (at least for any more high protein foods). Once you get enough protein, your body goes in search of more easily available energy from carbs and/or fat.
Our analysis suggests that people who eat a higher % protein tend to consume significantly less food. This is great if you’re using a PSMF for aggressive fat loss, but you may be left craving fat and carbs if you’re active and already lean and need more energy to fuel your activity. So you need to find the right balance to suit your goals.
Paul makes an effort to consume a significant proportion of his diet raw to maximise nutrient availability. Nutrients can be lost from meat when we lose blood and juices through cooking. Many of the vitamins also quickly degrade when exposed to light, heat or acidity.
Paul also goes out of his way to source grass-fed animal-based products. There are likely many benefits to this, however, the micronutrient content (based on the data available) doesn’t tend to be significantly different in terms of nutrients like omega 3 (see A Nutritional Survey of Commercially Available Grass-Finished Beef).
Cronometer nutrient profile
The Cronometer analysis of Paul’s diet is shown below. The nutrients in green indicate he is already meeting the Dietary Reference Intake (DRI) for many of the essential nutrients. The ones in yellow indicate the nutrients where he is not meeting the DRI (e.g. thiamin, vitamin C, vitamin D, vitamin E, vitamin, vitamin K, manganese and potassium).
Nutrient balance ratios
The nutrient balance ratios from Cronometer are shown below. These ratios can be useful to help fine-tune a person’s micronutrients, or at least make sure we’re not prioritising nutrients that further exacerbate any micronutrient imbalances (see Micronutrients ratios and why they are important for more detail). The implications of these micronutrient balance ratios are discussed below.
Too much zinc can interfere with your absorption of copper and vice versa. It’s ideal to maintain your zinc:copper ratio between 10:1 And 15:1. Paul is getting plenty of zinc from his steak, but his zinc:copper ratio is low at 1.46.
When we look at copper, we see that Paul is getting more than twenty times the DRI for copper (from his high liver intake), which is driving an imbalance in his zinc:copper ratio.
While excess copper is rarely a problem by itself, the high copper intake could be a problem if it interferes with his zinc absorption.
Potassium is generally found inside our cells, while sodium is found outside our cells. The balance between the two electrolytes sets up the electrical gradient that enables us to use the energy from our food.
Potassium depletion also induces sodium retention, which is associated with hypertension, diabetes and heart disease.
As a general rule of thumb, it’s ideal for less active people to target a potassium:sodium ratio of greater than 2:1 (i.e. twice as many grams of potassium as grams of sodium) while athletes should target a 1:1 sodium:potassium ratio (more salt is lost in sweat).
As detailed in the studies listed below, a higher potassium:sodium ratio tends to help control blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, obesity and hypertension:
- Relationship of urinary sodium and sodium-to-potassium ratio to blood pressure in older adults in Australia
- Cardiovascular benefits associated with higher dietary K+ vs. lower dietary Na+: evidence from population and mechanistic studies
- Potassium and risk of Type 2 diabetes
- Sodium/Potassium Ratio Linked to Cardiovascular Disease Risk
- The Effect of the Sodium to Potassium Ratio on Hypertension Prevalence: A Propensity Score Matching Approach
- Dietary sodium, dietary potassium, and systolic blood pressure in US adolescents
- Excess dietary sodium and inadequate potassium intake in Italy: results of the MINISAL study.
Potassium is possibly the most neglected nutrient in our food system and is deemed to be a ‘nutrient of public health concern’, with less than 2% of Americans meeting their recommended daily potassium intake.
Because most of us are not getting enough, we have a strong satiety response when we consume foods that naturally contain more potassium. Optimisers that consume foods that contain more potassium tend to eat about 30% less calories than those that get the least.
Paul currently supplements with Redmond Sea Salt to boost his sodium, which is wise given his activity levels. The recent PURE Study suggests that we get a lower risk of dying from any cause when we have a sodium intake of around 4 grams per day. Given athletes need more sodium, Paul’s intake of around 6.5 g per day is about right.
Our satiety analysis indicates that our appetite for sodium containing foods tends to taper off above 4 to 5g per day.
Dr Saladino is currently struggling to balance sodium with adequate potassium. Paul getts some potassium from his steak, but a lot less than the DRI of 4.7 g per day and our stretch target of 6.0 g per day.
While the PURE Study suggested a higher sodium target than the official recommendations, it also showed there is no upper limit to the potassium we should be getting from our food. Potassium seems to offset the risks that are usually associated with excess sodium.
Paul’s potassium:sodium ratio is currently quite low at 0.35. He should ideally find a way to consume more potassium to get closer to at least 1:1.
Our bodies need adequate magnesium to use calcium. Meanwhile, magnesium deficiency affects calcium metabolism and alters levels of certain hormones that regulate calcium in the body.
Calcium and magnesium compete with one another and interfere with the other’s functions if they are out of balance. High intakes of calcium may interfere with magnesium status by reducing intestinal absorption and increasing urinary losses. Additionally, magnesium deficiency is known to induce calcium deficiency.
Magnesium may prevent calcium from contracting muscles when the ratio of magnesium to calcium is imbalanced. The ideal calcium:magnesium ratio is thought to be between 1:1 to 2:1.
Foods with more magnesium tend to have a very strong impact on satiety. Optimisers who consume foods that contain more magnesium tend to eat up to 30% fewer calories per day!
Paul is pretty meeting the DRI for calcium with his bone meal powder and three litres of mineral water per day.
However, he is only getting a third of the DRI for magnesium (this is mainly coming from the mineral water).
Paul’s calcium:magnesium ratio is high at 6.8. To rebalance this, he really needs to find a way to get more magnesium in his diet to a more optimal range (i.e. between 1:1 and 2:1).
As noted above, it appears that Paul is aware of this issue and is supplementing with magnesium.
Omega 6 to omega 3 ratio
While we need some (essential) omega-6 fatty acids, excessive amounts can cause inflammation and overwhelm the anti-inflammatory omega-3s in the body. A diet with a lot of omega-6 and not much omega-3 will increase inflammation. A diet with a lot of omega-3 and not too much omega-6 will reduce inflammation.
Before widespread agriculture, our omega 3:omega 6 ratio was much higher. However, with our increased intake of refined grains and seed oils, our diets have become dominated by omega 6 fats. It is thought that the ideal ratio is less than 4:1 omega-6:omega-3, and ideally closer to 1:1.
Our satiety analysis of forty thousand days of food logs from more than a thousand people found that people who have an omega 6:omega 3 ratio of less than 2 tended to eat less overall (i.e. towards the left of the chart below).
Even without seed oils or processed foods, Paul is getting more than six times the DRI for omega 6.
Paul is getting some omega 3 from his steak. However, his omega 6 to omega 3 ratio is 6.1.
While Paul does not consume seafood due to concerns about toxins like mercury, some seafood (or omega 3 supplements) would be helpful to get his ratio below 4:1 and ideally closer to 1:1.
Edit: Afterwards, Paul notes that he has also started eating brains and caviar to boost his omega 3. Beef brains do contain some omega 3, though it would take around 1kg to achieve a 1:1 ratio, and around a cup of brains to achieve the 4:1 ratio. Salmon roe is a more potent source of omega 3 and only requires 350 g to meet 1:1 and 100 g per day to achieve the 4:1 balance.
People who are creating the most nutrient-dense diets using Nutrient Optimiser tend to consume a significant amount of seafood which contains a broad range of nutrients that are harder to get from foods that are grown in nutrient-depleted soils. Seafood tends to contain a large amount of selenium, which helps with the detoxification of mercury.
Some people in the plant-based diet camp like to point to issues with excess methionine (one of the amino acids) from animal-based protein leading to cancer and cardiovascular disease. However, similar to the other ratios that we’ve looked at, the problem seems to be more about the lack of glycine (another amino acid found in connective tissue) than the excess of methionine. Studies in rats (Singh et al, 2017) indicate that a glycine:methionine ratio of greater than 2:1 is optimal.
Looking at Paul’s intake it seems that he’s getting 10 g of glycine (mainly from his sirloin steak) and 5.4 g of glycine (also mainly from the steak). This gives a glycine : methionine of 1.85 which is pretty close to optimal. So it’s unlikely that Paul is going to have a major issue with excess methionine.
Arginine : Lysine ratio
Another amino acid ratio is arginine:lysine. For what it’s worth, Paul’s arginine:lysine ratio is 0.74 which is pretty close to the optimal 1:1 ratio (Singh et al, 2017) for cardiovascular disease and dyslipidemia.
Overall, it seems that steak provides pretty much ideal ratios of arginine:lysine and glycine:methionine. It’s unlikely that people following a carnivorous diet don’t need to worry too much about excess methionine. However, there’s no harm in eating more collagen and connective tissue to boost glycine.
Nutrient fingerprint analysis
The ‘nutrient fingerprint’ charts below show the nutrients ranked based on the nutrients that you are getting plenty off (at the bottom) and the nutrients you need to focus on getting more of (at the top).
Per 2000 calories
The nutrient profile of Paul’s diet in terms of nutrients per 2000 calories is shown in the chart below. When normalised to 2000 calories per day, Paul’s diet is not meeting the recommended minimum intake levels for vitamin C, manganese, vitamin K1, potassium, thiamine, vitamin E, omega 3 and magnesium.
For comparison, Shawn Baker’s nutrient profile is shown below. Unlike Paul, Shawn does not prioritise nutrient density with a nose-to-tail diet and does not seek out organ meats, and hence Shawn has thirteen nutrients not meeting the recommended minimum intake (compared to Paul’s nine).
It’s worth noting here that both Paul and Shawn are consuming a LOT of calories, so they tend to get more nutrients to support their massive amounts of activity.
A lower nutrient density diet may be more of an issue for someone consuming a similar diet of mainly muscle meat, but with less total energy intake. For more discussion on the carnivore diet and Shawn Baker’s diet see:
- Dr Shawn Baker’s Carnivore Diet: a review, and
- Optimising Dr Shawn Baker’s carnivore diet from first principles.
Nutrients to boost based on Dietary Reference Intake
To understand which foods would help Paul further optimise his diet at a micronutrient level, we would focus on food that contains more of the following nutrients that he is currently getting less of:
- Vitamin C
- Vitamin K
- Vitamin D
- Vitamin E
- Omega 3
- Zinc (note: we’ll include zinc because of the poor zinc:copper ratio)
The foods listed below contain more of the nutrients that Paul is currently getting less of. The foods towards the top of each list are more nutrient-dense. It makes sense that the seafood tends to rank more highly given he is currently eating plenty of red meat but not getting as much omega 3.
- salmon roe
- lamb kidney
- chicken liver
- beef liver
- lamb liver
- pork kidney
- chicken heart
- beef heart
- veal steak
- ground venison
- egg yolk
- whole egg
- ribeye fillet
- ground buffalo
- sirloin steak
- pork roast
- pork chops
- steak (top round)
- lamb roast
- ground pork
- pork ribs
- pork steak
Paul Saladino – Nutrient fingerprint
The mcironutrient fingerprint below shows the nutrients contained in this nutrient-dense selection of animal-based foods.
Note: The Nutrient Optimiser Score is based on the area to the left of the dotted red line that is filled. The score of 76% simply means that 76% of this area is filled in this chart. This approach to scoring avoids counting nutrients for which we are already getting way more than we need.
Nutrient-dense omnivorous foods
If Paul removed the limitation of only animal-based foods, the foods listed below would provide more of the nutrients that Paul is getting less of from his diet. While we still see a lot of seafood on the list, there is also a solid list of plant-based foods that would help him boost his magnesium and potassium.
- Swiss chard
- bok choy
- red bell peppers
- Brussels sprouts
- green bell peppers
- cabbage (red)
- soy sauce
- black pepper
- curry powder
- nutritional yeast
- whey protein powder
- coconut water
The nutrient profile of this selection of nutrient-dense omnivorous foods is below. With a nutrient score of 94%. These foods will be able to better fill the nutrient gaps compared to the exclusively animal-based foods which have a nutrient score of 76%.
The ‘problem’ with the nutrient-dense omnivorous foods is that the energy density is very low (i.e. 4.2 kg/2000 calories). It would be very hard to get a lot of energy from the non-starchy vegetables.
While most people are probably consuming a diet of fat+carbs that is too energy-dense, there is a practical limit if we swing to the other extreme.
A common problem with strict plant-based diets is that people often have to resort to more energy-dense processed foods made from grains and seed oils that tend to be very nutrient-poor.
These foods should not be seen as a replacement for the mainstays of Paul’s diet but rather as supplements to boost the nutrients he is struggling to get enough of.
According to Cronometer, Paul is currently getting 3% of the DRI for vitamin C (i.e. 100 mg/day).
The actual vitamin C content of Paul’s diet may be higher than indicated by the data, given he is eating a lot of fresh raw meat. The vitamin C in meat is typically assumed to be negligible, so it’s not tested.
Vitamin C is a controversial nutrient. While only 10 mg per day is required to prevent scurvy in people following an omnivorous diet it’s not hard to find people recommending mega doses of Vitamin C (i.e. 10 g per day) as a cure for just about everything.
Our recent analysis of the food logs of people using the Nutrient Optimiser found that the average intake for people following an omnivorous diet is around 300 mg/day.
Vitamin C and glucose have a similar structure and compete for the same receptors. Hence, the Vitamin C requirements for people on a carnivore diet may be lower due to a lower glucose content in their diet.
Paul is getting about 17% of the Adequate Intake for Vitamin K (i.e. 120 mcg per day), mainly from his steak and suet.
Vitamin K1 is an essential nutrient that plays a vital role in blood clotting and bone and heart health (the K comes from the Danish word “koagulation”). Vitamin K plays a role in maintaining insulin sensitivity, sexual health, exercise performance and protects against cancer. Inadequate intake of vitamin K may cause bleeding, weaken your bones and potentially increase your risk of developing heart disease.
Unfortunately, the USDA database only lists K1 and not K2 (which we only became aware of recently). We can get K2 from animal sources such as dairy and liver. I’m not aware that we can convert K2 (from animal sources) to K1. I’m also not aware that the function and absorption of vitamin K change on a carnivorous diet vs a plant-based one.
However, while essential, it’s also worth noting that the vitamin K DRI is not based on deficiency studies but rather average population intakes. So lower levels of Vitamin K may not be a significant concern.
Paul is getting about 30% of the DRI for manganese from liver.
Manganese is an essential mineral that is involved in the formation of your bones as well as being involved in the metabolism of carbohydrates, cholesterol and amino acids.
The Adequate Intake for manganese is not based on deficiency studies but rather population averages. As a point of reference, our satiety analysis found that the average intake is around 3.5 mg/2000 calories and our appetite for foods that contain more manganese decreases once we get above 7.5 mg/2000 calories.
Paul is not quite meeting the DRI for Vitamin B1, but still getting plenty from steak and liver.
Vitamin B1 (aka thiamine) is an essential nutrient that enables you to metabolise energy (particularly carbohydrates) for use in the brain, nerves and heart and is critical for optimal functioning of your glucose metabolism.
While we seem to absorb more thiamine when our intake is low, there does not appear to be any data that suggests that thiamine is more bioavailable from animal versus plant-based sources.
Our satiety analysis suggests that people who consume foods that contain more thiamine tend to eat around 15% less than those who eat more.
As noted by Paul, given he is not consuming a lot of carbs, his lower intake of vitamin B1 may not be a major cause for concern. However, at the same time, it’s worth noting that increased activity levels also increase your requirements for Vitamin B1.
Edit: Since this article was originally published, Paul has decided to add honey to his diet to provide enough glucose to support his activity. While you can get all the glucose you need from protein, it is rate limited, so it’s hard to fuel a LOT of activity on a meat only diet.
Potassium is the third most abundant mineral in the human body. Normal body function depends on tight regulation of potassium concentrations.
Potassium helps you regulate your fluid balance, send nerve signals and regulate muscle contractions. Low potassium concentration in blood (hypokalemia) can result in muscular paralysis or abnormal heart rhythms and can be fatal.
I am not aware of any data that suggests that people on a carnivorous diet have different requirements for potassium or that it is more bioavailable from animal food vs plant-based foods.
Although he’s not meeting the DRI, Paul is doing pretty well with vitamin D from his eight raw egg yolks each day!
The DRI for vitamin D is set assuming that someone is not getting much sun. As noted by Paul, he is likely to be getting plenty of Vitamin D from the sun given he’s a passionate surfer and in the water a lot.
Regardless of your diet, it’s actually virtually impossible to meet the DRI for Vitamin D from food. While it is hard to get from food, there’s no harm in getting what you can from food given most of us aren’t getting enough Vitamin D.
Paul is getting about half the DRI for Vitamin E from egg yolk and suet.
Similar to manganese, there is no Dietary Reference Intake level set for Vitamin E because there are no apparent deficiency symptoms. The Adequate Intake is based on average intakes in healthy populations.
A low intake of omega-3 fats may contribute to the development of mental illnesses, including schizophrenia, ADHD, personality disorder, and bipolar disorder.
Paul has mentioned that he came to the carnivore way of eating due to his previous history of eczema. It happens that omega 3 is one of the nutrients that tend to be lower in people with eczema.
Nutrient deficiencies associated with eczema are vitamin A, B5, essential fatty acids, zinc, calcium, glycine and sulphate. Other than lower end omega 3, Paul’s carnivore diet seems to be covering off on all these nutrients.
The bioavailability of omega 3 from plant-based sources is very low. Only 8% of plant-based ALA is converted to the bioactive EPA and 0 to 4% is converted to DHA. Paul should be able to get plenty of omega 3 from fish or cod liver oil supplements if he is still concerned about toxins in seafood.
After the initial analysis, Paul added that he does also eat salmon roe and brain daily to boost this omega 3 intake.
Paul often cites concerns over mercury toxicity as a reason for avoiding seafood in favour of beef. However, it’s worth noting that seafood typically contains a lot of selenium which helps with the detoxification of metals like mercury. So long as you are not eating a lot of the fish at the top of the food chain (e.g. shark, marlin etc) the benefits of seafood (which contains a lot of other beneficial nutrients) are likely to outweigh any concerns about mercury toxicity.
Vitamin B9 (Folate) is vital for healthy growth and development. Without vitamin B9, living cells cannot divide. Folate works synergistically with vitamin B12 and vitamin C to help the body break down, use, and make new proteins and is essential in forming new red blood cells and replicating DNA.
Our satiety analysis shows that we have a very strong satiety response to foods that contain more folate and the Recommended Dietary Intake levels are well below optimal. As we can see in the chart below, foods with more folate tend to be more satiating.
Folic acid (from supplements) is 100% bioavailable when taken without food. If taken with food, folic acid is 85% bioavailable. Meanwhile, naturally occurring folate in food is 50% bioavailable. I am not aware of any data that suggests that folate is more or less bioavailable from plant sources vs animal-based sources.
With his high intake of raw liver, Paul is meeting the RDI for folate, but people on a carnivorous diet often aren’t meeting their minimum folate intake. Paul is getting plenty of folate in his diet from liver and egg yolk.
It’s true that a number of nutrients are more bioavailable from animal-based sources. But this can all get complex pretty quickly!
- Magnesium absorption is affected by phytates (in grains and legumes), oxalates (in spinach and beet greens) and excess calcium. If you do eat plants, there is good reason to consume a range of non-starchy vegetables, avoid grains and legumes and not drink your spinach.
- Vitamin A is much more bioavailable from animal sources, and the amount of Vitamin A in our food system has been on the decline since the introduction of the 1977 US Dietary Guidelines. However, very few people on an omnivorous diet are not getting the minimum DRI For vitamin A. Vitamin A is also thought to be one of the nutrients you can overdo from food (i.e. from very high intakes of liver).
- Iron is more bioavailable from animal-based sources, but this is not a concern for men who don’t bleed often in modern times and can often suffer from hemochromatosis. You will absorb 15 to 35% of animal-based iron while you will only absorb 2% of plant-based iron. Strict vegans may be at risk of anemia. Low iron levels can be a real concern for women of reproductive age, particularly if they have digestive issues and/or consume a lot of grains.
- Plant-based proteins are also less bioavailable, so people following a strict plant-based diet will need to compensate with more protein. Protein tends to correlate with a higher Nutrient Optimiser Score.
However, one thing I think that people miss in the discussion around bioavailability is the fact the amount of a nutrient you absorb is a function of both the bioavailability of a nutrient and the amount it contains. Bioavailability doesn’t really matter if the foods you are eating contain very little of a number of nutrients. 100% of nothing is still nothing.
One “beef” I have with Paul is his constant reference to a study by Bruce Ames listing the various toxins in plants in his 1990 paper Dietary Pesticides (99.99% all-natural).
Firstly, I think the use of this study is out of context. The intent of Ames’ study is to say that most toxins are not of concern in low doses. It’s ridiculous to try to eliminate all toxins from the food you eat, hence it’s just as ridiculous to eliminate all the toxins from our environment.
We can only manage them down to safe levels and try to maximize our risk/reward ratio. In the conclusion of the paper, Ames says, “We also conclude that at the low doses of most human exposures the comparative hazards of synthetic pesticide residues are insignificant.”
Bruce Ames is a highly respected and prolific scientist who practices what he preaches and is still going strong at 90 years of age. The last part of his career has been devoted to micronutrients and nutrient density, which he believes is the most important thing that we need for humans to thrive. His work has been a big inspiration for the development of the Nutrient Optimiser to enable people to optimise their diet to obtain more micronutrients from food.
Ames’ Triage Theory says that in the absence of nutrients, we tend to sacrifice long term maintenance and repair in favour of short term survival. The explicit implication of Ames’ work is that, if we want to reduce the risk of the various diseases of ageing, we should be doing everything we can to maximise our intake of nutrients well above the minimum levels to prevent deficiency.
We cannot live life in a bubble that excludes everything that could harm us. Everything in life has a cost/benefit trade-off. It is also thought that many of these toxic plant compounds (e.g. caffeine in coffee sulforaphane etc) provide benefit by providing some level of hormetic stress (e.g. exercise will damage your muscles but make you stronger in the long run).
Rather than thinking in terms of plants = bad, animals = good, a more useful paradigm is to think in terms of the cost benefits of the food we eat is in terms of nutrient density vs satiety as shown in the chart below (see more detail in the interactive Tableau chart here).
The nutrient-poor junk food in the bottom left corner should essentially be treated as a recreational drug (if not avoided completely). Not only are the foods based on grains and seed oils nutrient-poor and easy to overeat, but they are also typically highly inflammatory and contain pesticides, phytates and a whole host of anti-nutrients with very few benefits.
However, while some of the plant-based foods in the upper right corner may have some antinutrients and compounds that could be damaging if ingested in excessive amounts (e.g. drinking three kale shakes a day), I think the cost : benefit for most people will be largely positive.
The great thing about going carnivore is that it excludes all the nutrient-poor hyperpalatable junk in the bottom left corner that most people are eating too much of most of the time (click here to see the interactive Tableau chart for carnivore).
These animal-based foods tend to provide the majority of the calories in a healthy diet. But at the same time, I think there is no need for everyone to exclude the most nutrient-dense foods that can boost the nutrients that are harder to find from animal sources.
The gut microbiome is a very new area of research and unfortunately, we don’t know much mechanistically about how it works and how we can make it strong. While some people may benefit from reducing toxic elements from plants for a period, I think our goal should be to become strong, resilient and ideally anti-fragile.
I’ve heard from a number of people that, while avoiding plants can help relieve symptoms, it can ultimately make people even more sensitive to any environmental toxins that they may accidentally come across. So, with a decreased resilience, they become effectively trapped, forever only able to tolerate animal products.
While lots of people are curious about the carnivorous diet and are eager to try it, it’s still early days. There aren’t a LOT of people who have been doing it for years.
People who find benefit from a carnivorous diet initially as an elimination diet could potentially start to slowly add back in some nutrient-dense foods. In this process, they should prioritise nutrient density while minimising oxalates, phytates, FODMAPS etc.
So, which foods will actually help Paul optimise his nose-to-tail carnivore diet?
If you’ve made it this far, congratulations! Hopefully, you can see that, while this topic is important, it’s also somewhat complex. The discussion needs to go beyond the simplistic plants = bad, animals = good narrative. Arguing about the pros and cons of extreme diets does little to help people who just want to improve their diet from where they are now without having to jump to an unsustainable extreme.
This analysis has been an interesting exercise in stress testing the Nutrient Optimiser algorithm to refine our understanding of how the nutrients that are required for someone following a carnivorous diet may change given the different context.
While we are trying to make this all as simple and applicable as possible, there is a lot of nuance and context that needs to be considered.
- People eating fewer carbs likely don’t need as much vitamin C due to less competition with glucose and Paul is getting some Vitamin C from his regular raw liver intake.
- Manganese, Vitamin K and Vitamin E are based on average population intake levels, so we probably don’t need to hold people following a carnivorous diet to meeting the average population intake levels.
- Vitamin D is hard to get from food, but there’s no harm in trying. The best sources are actually organ meats and oily fish anyway.
- Omega 3 is important due to Paul’s low omega 3:6 ratio. As with vitamin D, the best sources are not plant-based.
- Magnesium is still important, particularly due to Paul’s high calcium:magnesium ratio.
- Zinc is still important and no less important for carnivores and is important for Paul given his low zinc:copper ratio.
So which foods will fill these remaining gaps.
- whole egg
- sirloin steak
- Brussels sprouts
- dill pickles
- sour pickles
- red bell peppers
- green beans
- pumpkin seeds
- sunflower seeds
The nutrient fingerprint chart below shows nutrients that would be provided by these foods, with the nutrients that have been emphasised in red. Due to the fact that these foods contain a lot of these harder to find nutrients, he wouldn’t need to eat a lot of them to balance out his nutrient profile.
- Paul is doing a great job focusing on nutrient density from a nose-to-tail style carnivore diet.
- However, Paul could potentially improve his nutrition even more by focusing on boosting his intake of potassium and magnesium, which can be hard to find on a carnivorous approach.
- His low intake of vitamin C, B1, E and manganese are unlikely to be a significant concern.
- Bioavailability is a concern for some nutrients in some circumstances, although most people are getting plenty of the nutrients that are affected by bioavailability, particularly if they limit grains and legumes.
- People thrive on a carnivorous diet when they eliminate low nutrient density hyperpalatable grains and seed oils that are the signature for modern processed junk food and get more protein. Some people with poor digestion do well when they eliminate the most inflammatory foods. However, I don’t think carnivore is necessarily optimal for all.
- We can’t run away from all toxins in our environment and live in a sanitised bubble all the time. Some toxins are even thought to provide a hormetic effect.
- Nutrition is always going to have some trade-offs between getting the nutrients we need vs detrimental elements. The most nutrient-dense foods typically eliminate the most inflammatory and reactive foods while providing the highest level of nutrients that will enable us to maximise our chance of short term and long term health.
If you’re interested in trying a nutrient-dense carnivore diet you can check out our free food lists here.
The nutrient-dense version will be great for satiety and fat loss while the maintenance option will still provide plenty of nutrients, but enough energy from fat to maintain your weight.
If you want to check the nutrients in your diet and see which ones you might not be getting enough of, you can try our Free 7 Day Food Discovery Challenge.
If you’re intrigued by the carnivore diet, you may also be interested in our nutrient-dense recipe book of recipes that contain meat.