Zero Carb

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What is a Zero Carb diet?

Traditionally, those who practice a Zero Carb diet consider almost anything from the animal kingdom to be fair game, as long as it does not contain a appreciable amount of carbohydrates. Many long time practitioners express a preference for beef because they find it to be the most satisfying of all the meats. But, Zero Carb-ers may also eat pork, bacon, sausage, lamb, poultry, fish, eggs, hard cheese. They eschew milk and yogurt because these dairy products contain significant quantities of carbohydrates. If the meat they are eating is too lean, they will add extra butter, ghee, tallow or lard. Some may also use coconut or olive oil, but these two oils come from plants and may be problematic for some people due to their salicylate content. Similarly, some Zero Carb-ers use herbs and spices to season their meat, but if you do this you need to be observant of your body’s response and make sure they don’t cause you to be abnormally hungry. Because spices are derived from plants, they too contain salicylates and can have a negative affect on some people. See my page Salicylates for more information on this.

The term “Zero Carb” is a bit of a misnomer because there is a small amount of carbohydrate in the form of glycogen in some animal foods such as egg yolks and liver. Cream also has about 1 gram of carbohydrate per ounce and can be problematic for individuals who are very sensitive to carbohydrates. A more accurate way to describe this way of eating would  be to call it a “Zero Plant Foods” diet. That is a bit cumbersome, however, so “Zero Carb” remains the dominant descriptive terminology. I am not sure who first use the appellation, but it may well have been Owsley Stanley, also known as The Bear. Mr. Stanley ate a Zero Carb diet for over half a century and is, perhaps, the most well-know of the Zero Carb-ers. He ate a diet free of all plant foods from 1958 (age 23) until his untimely death in a car accident in 2011 (age 76).

For those wishing to follow a Zero Carb diet, Mr. Stanley offered these tried and true Words of Wisdom:

  • Eat only from the animal kingdom.
  • Eat nothing from the plant kingdom.
  • Do not eat milk and yogurt.
  • Cook beef rare to preserve nutrients.
  • Eat plenty of animal fat.
  • Eat the fattiest parts first.
  • Organ meats are not necessary.
  • Supplements are not necessary.
  • Do not eat vegetable oils.
  • Do not eat salt or salted butter.
  • Spices are okay for flavoring.
  • Drink plenty of plain water.
  • Eat as often as you are hungry.
  • Do not worry about calories.

This is how Mr. Stanley ate for more than 5 decades. It is hard to argue with his degree of experience and success spanning so many years. Clearly, he did not seem to suffer from a lack of plant foods in his diet. For read more of Mr. Stanley’s thoughts, see The Bear’s Writings which have been extracted from comments he made on a now defunct low carbohydrate forum back in 2006. He is quite a character and – while I do not agree with everything he says – his ideas are certainly worth exploring if you have chosen the Zero Carb way of life.

Some long term Zero Carb-ers have found that dairy products do not agree with them, especially cheese and cream. Either it reduces their feeling of well-being, or it causes them to gain or retain excess body fat. Therefore, these folks choose to eat only meat, or meat and eggs. Butter is rarely a problem, but – for the small minority who do react negatively to it – ghee (which has had the milk solids removed) can usually be used instead if desired. Likewise, some people following the Zero Carb diet follow Mr. Stanley’s recommendation to abstain from salt, while other use it liberally. The best advice is probably to experiment both ways and see which feels best to you. Please read my page on Salt for a more thorough discussion of this subject.

Another question often asked by those new to Zero Carb ask is whether or not coffee and artificially-sweetened or flavored drinks are acceptable. The zero Carb veterans take a very firm stand against non-caloric sweeteners of any kind, natural (Stevia) or artificial (Sucralose, etc), because they keep the desire for sweet things alive. According to Dana – an 8-year Zero Carb veteran – they are the number one reason that people get derailed from Zero Carb.

Dr. H.L. Newbold, an early proponent of an All-Meat diet, writes, “No patient attempting to lose weight should be given any source of sweets…over-weight patients need to forget about the taste of sweetness. Unless they do, they are setting themselves up for a lifetime of torture and probably ultimate failure in maintaining a normal body weight. If you avoid sweets altogether for a long enough time, you forget about them.”

However, they tend to take a more lenient view of coffee because different people seem to react differently to it much like dairy. Many long term veterans started Zero Carb while continuing to drink coffee, but eventually decided to give it up. Charles Washington, the founder of Zeroing in on Health strongly recommends the Zero Carb newbies refrain from drinking coffee until they have a clear baseline. Please read my page Beverages which discusses this subject in more depth.

Dr. H. L. Newbold, author of The Type A/TypeB Weight Loss Diet (now out of print) was also a proponent of a Zero Carb diet – though he never called it that. It was his belief that some people’s genetic inheritance was less well equipped to metabolize the “newer foods” that came first with animal husbandry and then with the agricultural revolution. With few exceptions, he found that most of his patients felt best on beef, specifically dry-aged ribeye steaks. Incidentally, dry-aging produced fewer histamines than wet-aging and cryovacing, but he was not aware of this at the time. He just observed that both he and his patients felt better with dry-aged beef.

Dr. Newbold helped many people suffering from morbid obesity and eating disorders (especially binge eaters) recover their health and natural weight by recommending a diet of fatty, bone-in, ribeye steaks. He did allow his patients to eat 1/2 cup of vegetables per day if the could tolerate it, but it was not a mandatory part of his diet. He did prescribe basic nutritional supplements like vitamin C, B-complex, as well as calcium and magnesium. He was a pioneer and did not want to take the chance of his patients becoming deficient in some essential nutrient.

However, many of the folks I have met through the Facebook group Zeroing in on Health have told me that they do not taken supplements of any kind and have remained perfectly healthy. Some of these Zero Carb-er have been eating this way for 2, 5, 10, or 18 years. Not only have they not developed any deficiency diseases, but they have all experienced dramatic improvement in both their body composition and their overall general health. One person actually recovered from a very severe case of Lyme’s Disease by adopting this way of eating. While many Zero Carb-ers say they prefer beef, they do eat other meats, and the when they do eat beef they don’t all cook it rare. Interestingly, several of individuals have stated that they eat ground beef almost exclusively because it is inexpensive and it leaves them feel great. Kelly Williams Hogan is one such person. You can read more about her experiences on her blog My Zero Carb Life.

If you think you might be interested in trying a Zero Carb diet, the long term veterans I have come to know all recommend starting with a 30-day trial of just meat and water. This provides the clearest picture of what it feels like to eliminate all plant foods from your diet without the confounding variable of dairy products. For more information on how to do this, please read Amber Wilcox-O’Hearn’s blog post Eat meat. Not too little. Mostly fat. A minimum of four weeks is recommended because it can take this long for the body to switch from being a sugar burner to being a fat burner, i.e. enter a state of nutritional ketosis or become keto-adapted. This process is explained in Jimmy Moore‘s book Keto Clarity and in Dr. Stephen Phinney and Jeff Volek’s book The Art and Science of Low Carbohydrate Living. None of these authors are Zero Carb proponents or practitioners, but the science they explain regarding a ketogenic diet is still highly relevant.

58 thoughts on “Zero Carb

    • Charsanna, most people who do Zero Carb start out eating their meat medium or well-done, and – over time – they find that they prefer it more rare. It is important to cook the meat the way you like it. Eating meat rare is a preference, not a necessity.

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    • Florian, lard is great choice for extra fat if you need it, or for cooking because it is very heat stable. Apple cider vinegar is a fermented plant product , so may not be a good choice. You would have to experiment with it and see if has a negative affect on you. Does it make you hungry or tired, for example? Thanks for your questions!

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      • Thank you very much for your response. I did the apple cider vinegar (as well as sauerkraut) because of the probiotics. I’ve seen some pictures of you having a little sauerkraut as well. Do you still do that and if so, do you see any benefits compared to having only animal sources of food?

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        • Florian, I was using sauerkraut in the beginning of my ketogenic diet journey before I discovered Zero Carb. I then discovered that I have histamine intolerance (as well as salicylate intolerance), and histamines are in ALL aged foods. So, I stopped eat everything aged. Even most meat sold in US supermarkets is aged and high in histamines, so I have had to seek out sources of very fresh meat (not easy!). However, eliminating high-histamine foods has made an enormous difference in the way I feel. I suffered from food reactions for almost 20 years, pretty much all food made me sick, and not one single doctor every came remotely close to suggesting salicylates or histamines were the underlying issue. I have had to unravel all of this myself. I am so glad I have. Everything is understandable to me now. You can read more about histamine intolerance here: https://eatmeatdrinkwater.wordpress.com/histamines/ Blessings.

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  6. Hi, I’m new to zero carb and have been trying to follow a LCHF way of life for the last 8 months now…
    I’m quite frustrated at this stage as my weight loss is incredibly slow 😢
    I’ve found that there are carbs in EVERYTHING 😤
    In order to keep my Carbs low i.e. below 5 or even 10% (which is nearly impossible) my calaries in turn are very low, which I think is causing my metabolism to slow down and thus preventing me from loosing the weight (??? Not sure).

    Are there any vegetables / plant foods that are zero carbs?

    In anticipation for some info / support
    Janice

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    • Hi Janice, zero carb is a bit of a misnomer, as this diet is more about eating only foods from the animal kingdom than it is about zero carbs per se. We get the majority of our calories from fat, between 70-80% usually. If you do this, it is easy to get the amount of calories you need to properly fuel you body. Please join us in our Facebook group Principia Carnivora if you wish to learn more and read a description of the diet here: https://zerocarbzen.com/zero-carb/

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      • Thanks for your response Esmee,
        I suppose I’ve been trying to keep my carbs down as a priority rather than focusing on a HF ratio…
        My concern with HF will be adapting to a HP (high protein) diet – is this correct? If it is, does the protein not convert into carbs for digestion?
        My limited knowledge tells me I’d have to only eat butter & coconut oil to obtain my required fat levels (& at the same time keeping my carbs down) – even an egg has 1 carb to each egg,
        Are you able to steer me to a web site where I can find alternatives to meat that have zero carbs (don’t get me wrong, I love meat, I just like having something to accompany the meat on my plate)…
        Janice

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  9. Your blog seem unclear to me. Why such a diet? To lose weight? For other purposes? Can this diet be used for a lifetime? What about deficiencies, for example calcium deficiency? Are meat and eggs able to provide every nutrient we need? Isn’t it very hard to eat only meat day after day? Is a typical day of this diet just a plate of meat and nothing else at each meal? Isn’t a good diet supposed to be varied? What about vegans who say that they started to feel much better when they stopped eating meat? I’m not one of them, but I wonder why I should believe this blog instead of them. Are the benefits of a zero-carbs diet worth the inconveniences (like never eating or drinking so many delicious things like cakes, wine, etc)? If someone feels healthy with a regular diet, should he switch to zero-carb?

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    • For an explanation as to why I decided to try this diet, please read the “about me” page linked at the top. To read why others have decided to try this diet, please read the many “interviews” I have published linked at the top.

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  10. Esmee, I’ve been spending a lot of time educating myself about the zero carb regimine by scouring your blog. What an incredible resource! Thank you for the tremendous effort you’ve put in to help people find the information they need to be healthy. Thank you also for responding to people’s posts on Principia Carnivora. Everytime you do, i learn something new.

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  11. Hi, i have searching for a diet to help me to lose weight. My weight stands at 90kg.I have a high BMI of about 36. I have hypothyrodism and experiencing knee cap pain. I cant exercise. When i chance on this website, i was so excited and wanted to try on it. Would appreciate if there is anyone who has the same medical condition can share your zero carb experience with me.

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    • Hi Sandy, if you are on Facebook, we have a Zero Carb group called Principia Carnivora. Please join us and we can provide you with some personal guidance. In the mean time, I recommend you read the interviews and testimonials linked at the top of this blog. I look forward to meeting you. Esmée

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  12. Great website! Its nice to find a safe place for ZCers… Day 4 in ZC and my level of grumpiness is higher than usual, can I blame sugar withdrawal? Also, when I started ZC everybody is giving me shit, everybody defends carbs, say that I should quit, that I’m wrong, what’s wrong with people?

    Regards from Chile!

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  13. Hi!
    Maybe someone can help me.
    I’m female 168cm height and my weightbefore ZC was 50kg.
    It’s my 42nd day of ZC. (After some time on ZC my weight dropped and was 47 kg). I eat raw beef and raw lard. I eat until satisfied. My single portion usually is 1:1 ratio(lard to beef).
    I eat 3-4 times a day.
    Five days ago I stopped eating salt(I think because it’s causing my joint pain). After eliminating salt my weight dropped to 45 kg. I feel like a walking dead now.
    Maybe somebody had the same problem. I’m afraid to loose more weight.
    I drink a lot of water

    Thanks

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    • Tanya – when you abruptly stop eating salt, your body has to go through an adaptation period. It might be easier on you if you reduce it slowly. What kind of salt were you eating? Was it a natural sea salt? how much were you using per day? How many grams of protein are you eating verses how many grams of fat? You need at least 100 gm of protein per day to support your lean body mass. This equals about one pound of meat. Are you eating this much meat (not including fat)? How much of the raw pork fat are you eating? Lard is technically rendered pork fat, so it does not sound like you are actually eating lard, but rather uncooked pork fat.

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  14. Thank you for your reply!
    I was wrong about 1:1 ratio:-) I just measured the amount of fat and beef I eat.
    So, usually I eat 60-70g of fat( it’s raw unrendered pig fat, that one they cut off off the pig. I order it in butcher shop) and 100-120 g of grass fed beef. The amount is per one meal. I eat 3-4 times. Now Because I need to stop losining weight I try to eat 4 times but no less than 3.
    I used Himalayan pink salt and White Sea salt with no additives.
    I can’t eat anything else because it triggers my acne and joint pain.
    I tried eggs and broth and cooked meat all with negative results.
    I think maybe my body looses water. I just hope that it’s adaptation period and my body will return to at least 50 kg…

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  15. Oh if I need at least 1 pound of meat than I don’t eat enough. 1pound is 450g.
    I’ll try to eat more.
    It’s probably a reason

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    • Right, you are eating 24 gm of protein in every 112 gm of meat. The pork fat is almost pure fat, so probably provides about 50 gm of fat. So that is 2 gm of fat for every gm of protein. That is usually a good ratio for maintenance of building. However, you might see if eating less fat would allow you to eat more protein. We often recommend starting at a ratio of 1 gm of protein to 1 gm of fat. Some cuts of meat in the US naturally have this ratio, like ribeye and chuck roast.

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  16. I have a question about water consumption on the zero carb diet and that is there a ‘rule of thumb’ as to when to drink (e.g. at meals or not?) and how much water to consume daily etc.? Thank you !!

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    • It is not recommended to drink with meals because this dilutes the hydrochloric acid in your stomach needed for proper digestion. I eat one meal per day in the late afternoon or early evening and I drink all my water throughout the day. I drink approximately 2-3 quarts depending on my level of activity and the weather. If you eat 2-3 meals a day, I suggest finishing your water 30 minutes before a meal and not drinking water again for at least 3 hours after a meal. When I ate several meals a day, I usually drank a quart of water before each meal.

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  17. Esmee, I’m curious if adding coconut oil is allowed on ZC (?) as it’s carb free and high in saturated fat which is good yet derived from coconuts a plant and so I’m not sure if I should consume it to add more fat to my beef or not?

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  18. I apologize as I just went back and re-read in your above article about not adding coconut oil do to it’s high Salicylates.

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    • Yes, that is correct. However, if salicylates are not an issue for you, then there is nothing wrong with trying it. We just recommend doing only meat and water for at least 30 days so you can establish a baseline from which to test other foods like coconut oil, or even dairy and eggs.

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  20. I’m concerned with the effect of Zero carb on coronary calcium and health of arteries. Has any of the long term low carbers got a test for that?
    I read about “the bear” and he lived until 76 and didn’t die of a heart attack but I’m still concerned and would like to be reassured before adopting this/similar way of eating.
    Thank you.

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      • Thanks for the quick reply.
        I have another question. “The bear” said he was drinking rainwater which I think is high in magnesium and maybe potassium(not sure). Will I need to take magnesium and potassium supplements as the daily recommended for potassium and magnesium is much more than what I think I’ll be able to get on ZC?
        Thanks again.

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        • The long term Zero Carbers do not take any supplements. Many of the newer Zero Carbers do take mineral supplements, but I am not sure it is wise. I played around with potassium, magnesium, and sodium for the first year and a half on my own Zero Carb journey, and I finally came to the conclusion that they were actually messing up my electrolyte balance. I feel much better since I removed them all and only eat fresh fatty beef and drink pure water. I have a Berkey filter system. However, it takes the body a good month to adapt to the diet and you may experience leg cramps, low blood pressure, rapid heart rate, etc. during this time. All of that is normal and eventually goes away.

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          • Thank you. I started ZC around 3-4 weeks ago and still experiencing some of the symptoms of adapting. Almost a week ago though my left foot toes started hurting and its still going on. I read that this is a symptom of gout. I saw on a link you posted that purines don’t really cause gout but I’ve read of someone saying they got gout from atkins diet. So I wanted to know if ZC could cause gout and if you’re familiar with such symptom.

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          • In the beginning of a Ketogenic diet, some people can experience symptoms of gout. The reason for this is because uric acid and ketones both use the same pathway for elimination through the kidneys. It takes a good month or longer for the body to become better at burning ketones for energy. Once you get better at burning ketones, you will stop spilling so many into the urine and it will not interfere with the elimination of uric acid. If you are on Facebook, please join our group where we can give you more one-on-one guidance.

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  21. You don’t have a sugar page…is it me or is that strange? I have ONE thing I need tips on kicking and it’s my coffee with 1/2 tsp of sugar. It doesn’t even taste good. So, why do I still crave it? I LOVED bread but don’t crave it. Muffins? I’ve had a muffin but have no trouble living without them but the coffee? It doesn’t even TASTE good! Everything else is easy – all I have to do is not buy it or have it in the house but…I don’t know…I’m basically on the keto diet, eating beef, an occasional egg and drinking 20 grams of carbs in the form of sugar in my coffee…I practically panicked when I ran out of sugar! I used the honey from the first aid kit! I’ve tried the liquid sucralose, which I have to mix with water so I can get 1/4 of a drop because it’s so sweet but it just tastes dead or something. Is anyone using that flavored sugar free syrup in their coffee? Maybe if I use HWC or butter in my coffee it will hide the dead taste of the sweetener…I don’t know…

    Cutting everything else was easy because once I let out the stops on meat consumption it just didn’t feel good but the sugar doesn’t feel good either, so what’s my glitch? Any tips?

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    • If you are on Facebook, please join our group Principia Carnivora. Then access the group files and look for a book titled The Type A – Type B Weight Loss Book by Dr. H. L. Newbold. He was a New York phycisian that helped his patients overcome sugar addiction with an all beef diet. I would also recommend clicking on the “interviews” link above and reading Amy Menke’s story. She was a hard core sugar addict before Zero Carb.

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        • Okay – I’ve read Amy’s interview…I guess there isn’t going to be any “transitioning” – I’ll just stop buying both coffee AND sugar and let the freak-out happen so I can get past it…thanks for your help! And thank you for sharing your story and creating this site!

          I was looking for convenience in the form of one food I could eat once per day without dying and ALL of you zero carb folks have certainly fulfilled THAT wish! I’m sending awesome happy vibes to each and every one of you! Thanks for being who you are!

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          • Yes, that is exactly right, no transitioning. You just have to remove it completely. This is what Dr. Newbold explains in his book too. When he stopped sugar himself, the withdrawal was so bad he thought he was having a heart attack and called an ambulance, twice! Now he is a medical doctor and a psychiatrist who was a very bright man, so I hope this makes you feel better.

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  22. OK – I have found a relaxation technique for the sugar panic. “Primal breathing”. Probably the very reason the body craves stimulants in the first place, which I did not know. Along with the increase in sugar consumption – right along the same timeline – is when diabetes and asthma and the general cornucopia of modern diseases skyrocketed AND man began to develop chronic hyperventilation! Which, apparently, confines oxygen to the blood so that it can’t get into the cells! Holy cow! Of COURSE the body is going to latch onto stimulants in the absence of cellular oxygen – it doesn’t have any choice. It’s stimulation or death. Wow – primal breathing AND primal eating, together…I can dig it! Buteyko breathing correction. The perfect detox, as well, because disease got INTO the cells because there wasn’t any oxygen because they cannot coexist. So, correct your breathing to introduce oxygen, kill off disease and pathogens, and eat meat to make repairs to the damaged/ravaged cells and tissue! Perfect! PLUS, stop the sugar-withdrawal jitters. It’s like winning the Trifecta! Man – if the diabetes/high fat diet community could get together with the asthma/Buteyko community – wow…mankind, SAVED! Health-wise, anyway…

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