Is a Zero Carb Diet a Ketogenic Diet?


The answer to this question might surprise you. Many people assume that carbohydrates are the only factor that matters for ketone production, but this is not the case. Too much protein per day, too much protein at one time, and too much protein late in the day can also prevent ketosis. So, no, a Zero Carb diet is not – by default – also a Ketogenic diet.

The Zero Carb community has been quite vociferous about discouraging practitioners from testing themselves for ketones and have even gone so far as to ridicule and make fun of people who chose to do say. They claim that it is neither necessary nor important to test for ketones while practicing a Zero Carb diet. Some even go so far as to say (and apparently believe) that a Zero Carb diet is automatically a ketogenic diet which is absolutely not true.

People new to Zero Carb are generally instructed to eat as much fatty meat as they need to feel satisfied and to eat according to hunger. This advice can work well if the meat actually is fatty, but much of the meat we have available to us today is no where near as fatty as meat was in the past. On the one hand, animals are being preferentially bred for leanness, and on the other hand, butchers have been trained to remove much of the “excess” fat before putting it up for sale. This means that much of the meat we buy to day is quite a bit leaner than what practioners of an all meat diet ate.

For example, in the 1928 Bellevue study with Vilhjalmur Stefansson, author of The Fat of the Land, and his collegue Karsten Andersen, the macronutrient ratios were 20% protein and 80% fat. These two men consumed between 100-140 gm of protein and 200-300 gm of fat each day. Now, it is not possible to achieve this ratio if one eats even the fattiest cuts of beef sold in most supermarkets. Chuck roast and ribeye come the closest, but even the cuts are often below 70% fat by calories.

Many people who practice Zero Carb today rely predominant on ground beef because it is the most affordable option. However, most ground beef is surprisingly lean. Even 70/30 (70% lean and 30% fat by weight) ground beef after cooking is only 60% fat and a whopping 40% protein by calories. So, if a person eats only 70/30 ground beef – assuming they can actually find this ratio – they will be consuming much less fat and much more protein than Stefansson and Andersen did during their year long study.

However, it should be noted that the numbers above are for cooked ground beef. If you include all of the fat that renders out of 70/30 ratio, or if you eat the ground beef raw like me, then you would not necessarily need to add extra to the 70/30 ratio. So, it depends to some extent on your method of cooking and length of cooking time. You can use a program like to help you figure out exact how much fat you are eating.

Too much protein can raise insulin in the same way that too much carbohydrate can, and this – in turn – will prevent you from making ketones. If you do not get enough fat on a Zero Carb diet, you can easily over eat protein. Two pounds of 70/30 ground beef supplies 230 gm of protein, about 100 gm more than a person needs. When eating ground beef with no added fat, it is very easy to eat 2 lbs a day because it is not very satiating.

I went through a period of eating only lean ground beef and my fasting blood glucose was consistently elevated to between 100-115 mg/dL all the time. Furthermore, my blood ketones were barley registering at 0.3 mmol/L. The minimum level of ketones need for nutritional ketosis is 0.5. However, after I decided to lower my protein and increase my fat, my fasting glucose decreased to between 75-85 mg/dL, and my ketones increased to 0.8 mmol/L in just a few day. Additionally, I FELT MUCH BETTER.

Eating 2 lbs of ground beef a day with no added fat left me feeling bloated, tired, and less able to focus mentally. I also experienced a chronic low grade headachiness and made me edgy and irritable. It also left me physically dissatisfied and craving more food. I was thinking about food constantly and wanting to eat again. Clearly, both my brain and body were not being satisfied by plain ole ground beef. Since I reduced the protein and increased the fat, all of these negative symptoms have disappeared.

Dr. Blake Donaldson, a doctor in the early 1900s, also discovered the merits of a very low carb mostly meat diet for curing his patients of obesity. He based his program largely upon the research of Stefansson and instructed his patients to eat 6 ox of lean and 2 oz of fat 3 times per day. He told his patients they could eat more if they wish, as long as they kept the ratio (3 parts lean to 1 part fat) the same, but they were told to never eat less than this amount. Donaldson felt that 18 ounce of lean, which provides a little over 100 gm of protein, was the amount necessary to replenish and repair vital body tissues and to facilitate the burning of body fat. He says that if his patients ate less than this or skipped meals, their weight loss would slow or come to a complete halt. He apparently has excellent results with this protocol. Please see his book Strong Medicine for more details.

Michael Frieze has been practicing a Zero Carb diet successfully for over 5 years now. However, he will be the first to tell you that his first 6 to 12 months of eating this way was fairly difficult. It took his body a long time to adapt to the diet, and he had to work out some kinks. The three most important things he discovered – from my perspective – was 1) eating enough meat; 2) eating the meat rare; and 3) eating the fat parts of the meat preferentially before eating the lean. Each of these changes improved the way he felt on this diet.

For the purpose of this discussion, the most important of these discoveries by Michael is number 3. As he explains it, he will eat as much of the fat on the meat first until his “fat” hunger is satisfied. If there is not enough fat on the meat to satisfy him, then he will eat butter straight until he feels satiated. Then he will eat as much of the lean part of the meat as he desires. He says that this prevents him from both over eating and under eating fat. Basically, this approach acts as a biological barometer for his fat requirements. Once he has reached his limit, the fat will start to make him feel nauseated and he knows – at this point – that he has had enough.

The problem with ground beef – aside from being generally low in fat – is that the fat and the lean are all mixed together, making it impossible to preferentially eat the fat first. So, there is no way a person’s biological barometer can guide them with ground beef. Therefore, it becomes imperative to do some calculations to figure out how much fat you will likely need to add in order to achieve 80% fat by calories for a meal. If you are lucky enough to find 70/30 ground beef which is 60% fat by calories, you would need to add 1 oz of butter per 3 oz of ground beef to attain close to 80% fat by calories. This is the exact ratio that Dr. Donaldson’s recommends.

So, while a Zero Carb diet can have benefits even if you are not in a state of nutritional ketosis, those who are looked upon as early Zero Carb pioneers (i.e. Stefansson and Donaldson) were definitely eating and recommending macronutrient ratios that would almost guarantee nutritional ketosis. It is my contention that if we were eating the meat they were eating, then our Zero Carb diet would also be a Ketogenic diet. But, the changes in the meat itself, as well as the butchering practices, has removed much of the fat that would naturally be present in the meat we eat.

While some people do just fine eating as much meat as they wish on a Zero Carb diet, others like myself, do not. If you are following a Zero Carb diet and not experiencing the result you desire, then it seems logical to me that one should take a closer look at what our Zero Carb predecessors (i.e. Stefansson and Donaldson) were eating, as well as what our current long term Zero Carb practioners (i.e. Michael Frieze) are actually eating because these are people who have successfully practiced this way of eating for many years.

It is important to understand that I am not advocating any type of restriction here. I am simply suggesting that if you are following a Zero Carb diet and experiencing the benefits you desire, then you may wish to adjust your macronutrient ratios according to what Steffanson and Donaldson practiced and recommended. Donaldson set a minimum intake for his patients, but not a maximum. He told them to eat as much as they needed to satisfy hunger as long as they kept the 3:1 (lean:fat) ratio the same. If you do this, it is unlikely that you will still want to eat a full 2 pounds of ground beef because that would require eating an additional 10 oz of fat along with it.

After much reading and experimentation on my own body, I have come to the conclusion that combining the philosophy of a Zero Carb diet (eat only from the animal kingdom, primarily meat) with the knowledge of a Ketogenic Diet (eat a balance of macronutrients that supports ketosis) is vastly superior to either approach by itself. If you wish to learn more about the benefits of and how to eat ketogenically, I highly recommend Keto Clarity by Jimmy Moore and The Art and Science of Low Carbohydrate Living by Stephen Phinney and Jeff Volek.


25 thoughts on “Is a Zero Carb Diet a Ketogenic Diet?

    • I like this so much! I needed this! Many people live near Costco in US..i have found cryovac ribeye untrimmed fat unwrapped for $ husband said they are like cutting butter…also they have prime rib steak in cryovac for $9.29lb there is so much marbling and fat around..melts in your mouth! It is like the meat used to be.. wow! Wow! WOW! I was glad to read what you wrote…it lets me know and others know the way to do this right.


      • Yes, many of us Zero Carbers shop at Costco for this reason. The New York strip in bulk also has a lot of extra fat, as does Prime grade brisket if your particularly Costco offers it.


        • Thanks..will try them. I so appreciate your help on many subjects Esmee. You really care about people.. rare and refreshing these days☺
          Quick? I had some serious nausea and even up chucked(or up prime ribeyed😄) after my 1 meal at 4:30 yesturday. I never do that..and i havent had any nausea. I thought i was really enjoying the extra fat on it…i ate the whole 16 oz steak…doing 24 hr fasts now… i had 1 upchuck and 1 diarrhea(you can delete this personal post) after dizzy pain..and then as quickly as it came it cleared up! Powerful and strange action. I wondered if it could have been due to my husband bbqing and the xtra fat was charred. Maybe i reacted to that…? Has blackened fat ever been a problem that you know of? Or is that how the body reacts when it gets too much fat?
          Dont want to scare the new zc ers away! Because ZC has been a wonderful thing for me…
          I thought since you had so many struggles getting might know this answer…brave girl you are!😃


          • Some people are very sensitive to cooked fat. I am one of them. If it is too cooked and I eat too much, I get extremely nauseated about 5 hours later. The nausea can last 12 hours! So, believe me, I know what you are taking about. I also do not do well with browned meat or fat. I do best with very rare pan fried steak. I cut of the fatty pieces a cook the a little longer than the meat itself. But I have to be careful with how much I eat. I can easily eat more than my body can digest. I find that if an eat my meat raw (which I grind fresh myself just before eating), I can eat a higher percentage of fat without becoming nauseated. I think the raw fat has enzymes that aid its digestion. So, go slow, and start with less fat, less cooked fat.


          • Everything you said is helpful…i may have been forcing too much in 1 sitting..thinking it had to last me 24 hrs…i prefer less in my stomach…i have no gall bladder.
            I still taste charcoal today😀…i will eat less at 4:30 today and maybe i should eat 2 smaller meals per day till adapted. I will keep the raw meat in mind….i can do medium rare..but not ready for rare…but im still mind has changed radically about food already. I read you were a raw fruitarian..i was a raw foodist also…with health problems we have tried so much, right? ZC is like finding a treasure for yourself and to share . Something valuable…to buy a better life with!
            Thanks for your help, Esmee!


  1. Excellent post! This answered a few questions that were brewing in my mind but that I had not fully formed. I have not been experiencing the results I want; so will now increase my fat and eat it first. Thank you!


    • Lynda are you in the US? 50grams…I think is only 1.7 ounces of meat…is that right? So do you eat less that 2ounces of meat a day? And the rest fat? oMGoodness…I am so clueless to this??? What do you eat all day? Butter? Coconut oil? Bulletproof coffee? This is so clear to others? How am I not getting this?



  2. Pingback: Optimal Protein on a Zero Carb Diet | Eat Meat. Drink Water.

  3. Pingback: A High Fat Ketogenic Diet is Protein Sparing | Eat Meat. Drink Water.

  4. In their book, Phinney and Volek, do nothing to encourage a zero-carb diet. They explain much about the science of nutritional ketosis and the metabolic benefits of minimising insulin-stimulating carbohydrates. There is a world of difference, in my eyes, between a VLCMPHF (Banting/Rosedale/Atkins/Volek and Phoney style) and a ZC (all-meat) diet.

    I have read a lot of about human evolution, and there is only the last glacial period about 13000 years ago during which our H. Sapiens ancestors living at northern latitudes must have changed their varied mixed plant and animal diet to basically only animal foods. And this was done out of necessity for survival.

    It is also pretty sure at this stage that all living humans are descendants of a single mother and father (based on molecular studies of the evolution of mutations in mitochondrial DNA), and that they lived on costal south western Africa some 70000 year ago. It is sure that some humans, descendants of those who populated Eurasia during the last ice age will be preferentially adapted to eat a lot of animal food, but this is certainly not the majority of people alive today. The shortest amount of time needed to adapt genetically to a particular extreme diet (ex: only meat, only dairy) is about 5000 years (ex: the inuits or Masai). So, I think it would be intelligent to check one’s genetic makeup to be in the know about what we are best adapted to eat.

    And please, don’t get me wrong, I find your articles very interesting, and I have been in nutritional ketosis pretty consistently for the last 7 years, getting 70-80% of my calories from fat. However, most of this fat is coconut fat from oil and milk, I drink green juice every day, and I love my huge green leafy salads with nuts and nut butters. Having said that, my curiosity for trying out a ZC diet for a while is steadily growing. And in fact, it has occurred to me that living on green juice and fatty meat from healthy animals might be close to ideal, but I’d need to try it to see what it’s like.

    There is one thing about which I am extremely curious: how are your stools (smell, texture, consistency and passing) and your body odour? Would you mind sharing these intimate details with me either in a dedicated article or by replying to this comment?


    • Thank you for your long comment and question. I have taken the journey you describe on studying human evolution and diet. I am by no means an expert, but My major in college was Anthropology and it was then that I first began looking at the diets of modern day hunter-gatherers.

      I believe that humans should be able to handle some plant foods in their diets without ill effects. But some of us have complicated health problems that seem to be exacerbated by any plant foods.

      In the same way some people are more prone to insulin resistance due to excessive carbohydrate consumption, I suspect that some people are also prone to salicylate and histamine intolerance due to excessive consumption of these chemicals present in many fruits, vegetables, and aged and fermented foods.

      After almost 25 years as a vegan and vegetarian, I think I exhausted my capacity to metabolize both salicylates and histamines (although have experienced some improvement with my histamine sensitivity). So, I am not advocating a Zero Carb all-meat diet is the diet for everyone on the planet. The planet could not support that anyway. I am simply sharing my own journey and the hourney of others who have benefited from this wat of eating.

      As far as my gastrointestinal function is concerned, it is better than it ever was eating a high fiber plant-based diet. I have a bowel movement about every 3-5 days, the consistence is soft, and there is no discomfort associated with it. I had a long history of chronic constipation and painful bowel movements as a vegan and vegetarian. Reading Fiber Menace by Konstantin Monastyrsky was a real eye opener for me. Almost done very one I know following an all-meat diet has no issues with constipation. The only exception is if a person eats too much cheese, that can cause problems for some people.


      • Do you need to wipe? What colour is it? What does it smell like? What does your sweat smell like? I think dairy is probably as bad as grains and gluten for most people. And vegan/vegetarian for 25 years! That’s worse than me (20 years veg). Pretty bad, I know. But have you supplemented enough to replenish all the deficiencies that come from being vegan and to a lesser extent vegetarian? I’ve been gradually correcting these deficiencies over the past 5 years or so, but I’m not there yet. What are your B12 and Homocysteine levels now? Do you do regular extensive blood-work? What’s your thyroid function like (free T3, T4, TSH)? What about kidney function (creatinine, uric acid, urea, glomerular filtration rate)?


        • I do wipe, yes, but it is almost as clean as when I ate an all raw fruitarian diet, nothing sticky or pasty. It is light brown and almost odorless. It does take time for the bacteria to change though and so stools can be watery and smelly for the first weeks or even months. That is common and normal experience.

          I have seen a lot of doctors over the years for my CFS and digestive problems and had blood work and hormone tests. I used to take $400 worth of supplements every month for years. None of the tests were particularly abnormal, except very low total cholesterol and HDL. And none of the supplements ever made any difference in how I felt.

          I have taken B12 injects off and on over the years, just to be safe. I have not had any medical test since I started a Zero Carb diet on January 1 of this year. I wanted to work out all the “bugs” with this diet first and give my body a little time of being on it before getting tested.

          I do not have comprehensive medical insurance, so I would have to pay for many tests out of pocket (and my pocket is very light at the moment). I am just trusting that if I feel better, then things must be improving.

          Liked by 1 person

          • Very good. Thanks for being open about all these details that most people overlook or dismiss as unimportant but that are fundamental. You really should check Hcy and take more B12 shots if Hcy is high.


          • I plan to do a bunch of tests in the future and will be sharing the results here. It is just a matter of finances at the moment. Thanks for your interest.


  5. Keto Clarity was written with Dir. Eric Westman. Jimmie Moore has no medical experience, but has collected many podcasts over the years. He published this book with Dr. Westman as it could not have been published without medical support. Dr. Westman wrote chapters in the book. I respect Jimmie Moore for what he has done, but let’s give Dr. Westman his due credit as well. Both of their names are on the book. Without Dr. Westman, who knew Dr. Atkins, the lowcarb world would not have been this far along. He is a clinician, doctor who sees actual patients. He is the man who directed Dr. Noakes into his Banting diet. Dr. Westman is a quiet soul, not a publicity seeker, and I just want to state this. He has quietly helped hundreds over the years, never seeking the limelite. Jimmie makes his living from the limelight. No problem with that.

    Secondly, I am LCHF for 7 years and think too much protein has stalled my last bit of weight loss. Coconut oil can stall your weight loss as it is a med triglyceride (Phinney and Volleck) and burns first before your stored body fat.

    I like this article a lot, very clear. Thank you so much for publishing. I like Franziska Spritzler a lot, found a lot of her articles informative.


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