The Carnivore Diet: Your Health And Your Teeth
There is a growing movement of people who eat a carnivore diet. Can humans survive on a carnivorous diet, let alone thrive? The short answer is I believe we can. I am not trying to convince you that the carnivore diet is a better way of eating, I am just musing over whether it is a viable diet strategy. There are too many reasons why someone would choose this diet to include in this post, but I will focus on four of them today. One, the large brains we possess. Two, Humans have a digestive tract well suited to digest animal protein. Three, meat (nose to tail) is more nutrient dense than vegetables. Four, there are some healthy cultures that eat primarily animal products while minimizing vegetables.
What is The Carnivore Diet?
The carnivore diet is similar to the keto diet, which I have written about in this post if you want more information. Essentially, the keto diet requires eating little to no starchy vegetables. This leaves protein and fat and non-starchy vegetables. The protein and fat supply the lion’s share of the calories. The non-starchy vegetables supply additional nutrients and fiber. Provided an individual on the keto diet is getting their protein and fat from animal sources, removing the vegetables gets them to the carnivore diet.
Why Eat Like A Carnivore?
There are too many reasons why someone would want to eat like a carnivore, so I won’t get into them. The best reason to choose to eat like a carnivore is that it may lead to better health and performance. There is some evidence that most biomarkers (medical tests for health) remain favorable or improve on a carnivore diet. Carl Linnaeus found the people in northern Sweden that lived on meat and fish were fit and healthy compared with populations in south Sweden who ate peas, buckwheat porridge, bread and vegetables. The southerners were fat, deficient in iron, and had rotting teeth. (1) The Masai of Africa and the Inuit tribes of the Arctic have meat-based diets and do not suffer from modern health issues like heart disease and cancer. (2,3)
Animal Fat = Big Brains
At some point, humans diverged from an ape-like ancestor. Two of the most obvious features of apes are their large digestive tracts and small brains. This is what scientists expect for herbivores. They must continually eat plant matter and ferment it in their gut in order to survive. Since they are dependent on bacteria in their gut to do most of the digesting, they possess large GI tracts, and must feed all day long. Humans are just the opposite. We have very large brains and small GI tracts like carnivores. The “Expensive Tissue Hypothesis” by Leslie Aiello and Peter Wheeler explains that because we gave up herbivory and ate caloric and nutrient dense animal meat and the fat that comes with it, we could afford large brains. We also did not have to constantly seek food all day long, freeing us up for other complex activities that our bigger brains afforded us.
The Human Gut Is Similar to A Carnivore’s Gut
Humans (although omnivores) share many traits with carnivore GI tracts:
· Both possess canine teeth
· Both possess highly acidic stomachs
· Both have similar enzymes in their intestines
· Both have very few bacteria in the small intestines
· Both lack a functioning cecum
· Neither breakdown plant fiber
The Human Gut Is Not Similar To An Herbivore’s Gut
· Herbivores don’t have canine teeth
· Herbivores have a cecum to bacterially ferment indigestible plant matter
· Little to no digestion takes place in the stomach of an herbivore
Meat Is More Caloric and Nutrient Dense Than Plant
A quick comparison between common vegetables and beef will surprise many. Comparing equal servings of beef and carrots, the meat contains on average almost 5 times the minerals. Similarly, meat contains 10 times more vitamin E. Carrots contain no vitamin A or D or B12 but wins for vitamin C. Beef Liver contains on average 3 times more minerals than the muscle tissue from beef. It also contains on average 25 times more vitamins like thiamine, B6, folate etc., with 60 times more B12. Beef liver even contains vitamin C and over 10,000 times more vitamins A and D!!! . B12 is critical fot life and is not found in any vegetables. Beef and other meats come along with precious fats, making them the best bang for the buck when it comes to calories. Other nutrient dense animal foods are shellfish and eggs from any animal. Eggs contain every ingredient needed to make an animal, logically than, they are a well-rounded source of most of the nutrients we need.
Examples Of Traditionally Carnivorous People
Human Ice Age Europeans remains have been studied using isotopic analysis. The conclusion is that Neanderthals were top-level carnivores, and the modern humans that lived near them were as well. Both were ranked as higher order carnivores than wolves and hyenas. There are many examples of healthy traditional people who ate a carnivorous diet or nearly carnivorous diet including the Inuit, Cree, and Nenet tribes of Canada, the Sami of northern Scandinavia, the Masai, Rendille, and Samburu people of Africa, and the Gauchos of South America.
Starch Caused Tooth Decay In The Paleolithic Era
One more bit of evidence that meat is more compatible with human health comes from paleolithic people in Morocco. The human remains found there showed that their teeth were riddled with decay due to a diet of acorns. I can’t say that acorns are all that bad from a dental standpoint, but the way they processed them caused them to be. I don’t know of any examples where meat processing causes it to become cavity causing.
The Carnivore Diet Is A Great Elimination Diet
Plant defense mechanisms include woody structures, thorns and nettles, and toxins. Removing the thorns and hard structures to make them edible is within reason. Removing toxins is not so easy, that is why elimination diets exist. A good example of an elimination diet is the FODMAP elimination diet. There is a long list of foods to avoid, which makes following the diet quite difficult. By comparison, the carnivore diet is simple. You don’t need a list. This is its strength, and probably the best reason for its existence. Many people are reporting miraculous remission of health problems like ulcerative colitis and arthritis. A great source for more information is the YouTube channel of Dr. Shawn Baker. This video is a good place to start.
Humans can eat plants and animals and are omnivores. I believe that we survived in ancient times because of this. We ate what was available. In the ice age, plants were scarce, and we survived on mostly meat. Seasonally, there may be no plants to eat in cold regions, and meat may comprise more of the diet. Often, we starved. When game was scarce we were mainly vegan. I believe we are well suited to altering our diets when needed for survival and can survive weeks without food. Omnivory is our strength. This may be the reason why nobody can stay on a “diet” for very long. It is in our nature to eat a variety of foods to ensure that we are healthy. My personal choice is to ensure that I am eating a nutrient dense diet, and I do practice intermittent fasting regularly. It is nice to know that if I chose, I could eat only animals for a while and probably survive with no real health issues. I also know that protein is not implicated in tooth decay or gum disease. I see no reason to change what I am doing with my diet, and I do not fault anyone for giving up vegetables, just as I don’t fault anyone for choosing veganism. If a diet contains all the required nutrients, it will work, provided there are no food sensitivities, or allergies. Bon Appetite.