Is An All-Meat Diet Really So Extreme?

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The Zero Carb interview I did with The Andersen Family was recently shared on the popular Facebook page Authority Nutrition. It generated several hundred comments from readers. Some of the comments were sincere and thoughtful, while others were down right ignorant and unkind.

Even though Charlene – the wife and mother of this lovely family – healed her very ill body from Lyme Disease, and then went on to produce two beautiful and very healthy boys, by adopting this diet 17 years ago, they were none-the-less criticized by many for their dietary choice. Apparently, even the hardest evidence is impossible to accept when one’s beliefs are in the way.

As long term Zero Carb carnivore Michael Frieze said in response to the general tenor of these comments, “People like to say what they think without really thinking.” Unfortunately, this observation is all too true, and I was probably guilty of the same kind of unthinking remarks myself at one time – being the former vegan that I was – before I decided to broaden my horizons and read beyond my comfort zone of beliefs.

One of the most frequent comments I heard from the readers of this post was that they felt an all-meat diet was too “extreme” and “unbalanced” and – by implication – therefore somehow “inappropriate” and “wrong.” There is a strong bias toward the idea of “moderation” in all things in our modern Western culture, and this perspective is often applied to the foods we eat.

But, as low carb doctor and scientist Stephen Phinney – author of The Art and Science of Low Carbohydrate Living – has pointed out, it may be neither wise nor valid for us to apply “moderation” thinking to our diet, especially if we are sensitive or even intolerant to carbohydrates.

For example, when someone has a problem with alcohol, the treatment of choice is the complete elimination of all alcohol from the person’s diet. A moderate intake of alcohol is generally considered to be an incredibly dangerous and unhealthy practice for an alcoholic. Exiling it from one’s life is neither labeled as “extreme” and “unbalanced,” nor seen as an “inappropriate” and “wrong” approach to the problem.

As Dr. Phinney further argues,  “If consuming lots of carbohydrate provided some essential nutrient that would otherwise be lacking, then we might agree that a low carbohydrate diet is unbalanced or even extreme. But that’s clearly not the case. Think of it this way – what if you lived in California and planned a vacation in Hawaii. Would you believe someone who told you going that far was ‘extreme’, and therefore you ought to try flying just half way there instead? In this analogy, practicing this form of moderation would land you in seriously deep water. ‘Moderation’ and ‘balanced’ are meaningless terms when we are talking about ‘islands of safety’. And if your body is carbohydrate intolerant, eating a low carbohydrate diet is your island of dietary safety. Should a person with gluten intolerance consume moderate amounts of gluten so they can have a balanced diet? Of course not. Then why should a person with carbohydrate intolerance consume moderate amounts of carbs to meet some arbitrary criterion of a ‘balanced’ diet?” (p. 43)

So, why is the elimination of all carbohydrate-containing plant foods considered to be “extreme,” “unbalanced,” “inappropriate,” and “wrong” for people who feel less than well after eating them? Especially given the fact that humans evolved on an all-meat diet, as explained by Nora Gedgaudas in her book Primal Body, Primal Mind. (Please see my page on the Original Human Diet for a detailed explanation.)

In fact, examined through this lens, veganism is a lot more “extreme” for humans than an all-meat diet is because no human population in history has ever willingly eschewed all animals foods for any length of time. Many long-term vegans – like myself and Lierre Keith (author of the excellent book The Vegetarian Myth) – are discovering the negative health ramifications that occur as a result of avoiding all animal foods for years.

Another reason I find it odd that an all-meat diet is viewed as “extreme” by so many people is that a significant number of wild animals – that we are all familiar with – rely on a single type of food for their nourishment. For example:

Bison live almost entirely on prairie grasses.

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Koala Bears live almost entirely on Eucalyptus leaves.

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Panda Bears live almost entirely on Bamboo plants.

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Wolves live almost entirely on the flesh of other animals.

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And none of these animal’s diets are deemed “extreme” or “unbalanced” or “inappropriate” or “wrong.” Instead, it is widely understood that these animals evolved to eat specific foods and that these specific foods provide all of the nutrition required for optimal health in these animals.

Many a zoo keeper has discovered that if these animals do not -in fact – receive the foods they evolved to eat, they will become ill and unable to reproduce. Once the appropriate food is supplied to their captive animals, the animals in their care recover their health and reproductive capacity.

It is truly astonishing that human doctors seem completely incapable of drawing a connection between their patient’s food intake and their patient’s health or lack there of…but that is a different discussion altogether. Suffice it to say that veterinarians are quite a bit more advanced in this understanding.

Why should it be any different for humans who evolved to become the large-brained creatures that we are today precisely because of the very high fat, predominantly all-meat diet that we ate for Millenia? (For an interesting look at how our biological need for fat likely drove us to become the humans we are today see Man: The Fat Hunter by Miki Ben-Dor.)

We even have the example of several modern remnants of our hunter-herder ancestors such as the Arctic Eskimos studied by Stefansson (see The Fat of the Land) and the African Maasai studied by Weston A. Price (see Nutrition and Physical Degeneration) to show us just how healthy an an all-meat and animal foods diet can be.

From an anthropological, archeological, historical, and ecological perspective, an all-meat diet appears to be the most natural nutritional choice in the world for nourishing the human body and mind. The only thing extreme about an all-meat diet – as far as I can tell – is that is allows us to live extremely well.

 

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